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Networking at Conferences

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Attending large professional conferences can be rewarding to network with other peers and experts in your field. Here are some tips to get the most out of these events, even if you aren’t an extrovert!

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#AskMikeReinold Episode 270: Networking at Conferences

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Show Notes


Transcript

Morgan Kennedy:
There are no oinks but I appreciate that Mandy from Ohio, put this question now, so here we are. What advice do you have for students and other young professionals regarding networking at professional conferences?

Mike Reinold:
Good question, Mandy. So I like this, so we just had the American Academy of Sports Physical therapy, we just had our first annual meeting a couple of weeks ago or so, I don’t know when this episode is going to come out, but I think that’s why Mandy submitted this question because she was starting to think of stuff like that. And it was funny, there, there was a good amount of networking events where, it was about trying to gather people, a bit of a community. We’re trying to have a little bit of that sense to that meeting where there’s a bit of community behind it. And it was funny, if you’re an extrovert you thrive in that environment, right. You just show up to the bar, the hotel lobby for the registration cocktail hour stuff and just start talking to people.

Mike Reinold:
So, extroverts that are in their wheelhouse can dominate those settings because they’re not afraid to go up to people and start talking. But introverts, I would imagine, I mean you don’t even show up to the cocktail hour. You just avoid it completely. So I think this is a great question because I think there’s, maybe some strategies we can talk about that you can do this. We’ve all had good success stories and some funny stories of people at meetings that come up. We always talk about the students, they like to… we talked about this at times where they come up to me like, “Hey Mike, I really wanted to ask you a question, what do you think about the shoulder? And you’re just like, “Man, ah, that’s too broad of a question”. Can we chat for a little bit first and get to know each other?

Mike Reinold:
But, it was funny, I was with my friend Chuck Thigpen, so great PT researcher that you guys probably know his name. And it was funny, he was coming back from dinner and he joined us at the reception and he jumped right into the conversation. He was just like, “Hey I’m Chuck, hey I’m Chuck, hey I’m Chuck, hey I’m Chuck”. And he just introduce himself to like six students and all those students, then they had this open window to just boom, talk to Chuck, which was amazing for them because he’s a little more extroverted than other people, right. So, before we get to the question, I’m going to challenge you. If you’re at a meeting like this, especially if you’re somebody with a little experience underneath you, is make it easy for people to come talk to you and to network with you a little bit and be a little bit more outgoing and welcoming and friendly. I think that’s super helpful. So, I’ll throw that kind of back at the other people that want to be talked to, not the other way.

Mike Reinold:
But all right so good question. I know we all have been in these situations… Who wants to start off with some advice? I know we all go to big conferences and stuff like that, who’s got something to add? What’s up, Dan?

Dan Pope:
I kind of say this. I classify myself kind of like an introverted-extrovert, just because I think when I’m at work, I think I probably appear pretty extroverted, talking to my patients, having a great time. But then when I go home, I just don’t want people to talk to me, generally.

Dan Pope:
And that creates a lot of anxiety because you go to a big conference, you’re like, man, I want to talk to these people, but I don’t really want to talk to anyone, so it’s challenging. You put a lot of pressure on yourself. I think what’s helpful is just to go into it and try not to stress out about what you say, and just have a nice conversation, introduce yourself, say, “Hey, I kind of like what you had said earlier. I’ve read some of your stuff, I’m a fan”. And then if it goes somewhere, awesome, if it doesn’t, don’t put a ton of stress on yourself. That’s okay. Sometimes you speak with someone and it ends up with something really cool down the line. And sometimes it doesn’t and that’s all right. I think it’s a matter of just continually putting yourself out, not putting so much stress on yourself and just going and kind of doing it.

Mike Reinold:
I like that too. And I like how you said that you don’t have to go in there with a big question, because I think sometimes people… And I think that was kind of the point I was getting at with my thing too. Sometimes people put so much stress on themselves. It’s like, oh, I have to come up with this epic question that I’m going to ask them so that I sound so cool and knowledgeable, and succinct. But all you have to do is just, go up and say, “hi, I really liked your presentation”, or “hey, I’ve been following you for a while online, great stuff, thanks”. And right there, let that other person come back to you and either start a conversation and be like, “oh, thanks so much. Where are you from? Where do you work? What do you do?”. If they don’t do that, then you can pretty much just like knuckle and take off. That conversation is probably not going anywhere because that person doesn’t really want to talk.

Mike Reinold:
But I think what you’re going to do, if you do that strategy of just saying hi to people is you’ll see the people that are a little more outgoing and you’ll see maybe some people that you kind of jive with in terms of personalities. And I think that’ll help a little bit. So that was a good tip, Dan. Just go say hi, give them a compliment and just say, “thank you”, “thanks for speaking at this meeting”, “thanks for publishing that paper last year, I thought that was really cool, it really helped me in my practice”, and that’s it. You don’t have to say “hey, I wanted to talk to you about your methodology”. No, that’s the last thing we want to talk about at a reception. So kind of think of it that way. But who else? Who else got some tidbits? What else have you guys done?

Mike Reinold:
Kevin? What do you do?

Lenny Macrina:
I agree with what you guys just said. I don’t have much to add, so I’ll let Kevin, go.

Kevin Coughlin:
Yeah. I was just going to say, so this wasn’t at a conference, but I think if you get nervous at the conference type setting, when I met Dave Tilley was at, we were working for the same company at a work party. And I knew he was getting into some of the CrossFit stuff and stuff like that. And it was just something I was super interested in, so I just went up and introduced myself and talked to him. We kind of got to know each other through that. And I don’t see why you couldn’t do the same type of thing at a conference. Kind of what Dan said, if someone’s presenting on something you’re interested in, you can make it more of a one-on-one thing and just, you don’t need to expect to get something out of the interaction, but kind of just tell them you’re into the work they’re doing your…

Mike Reinold:
Yeah, it was great. I mean, go in there, and I don’t want to say compliment them, but just show that you have maybe a shared interest, you have a shared interest in what you’re doing. Right Dan?

Dan Pope:
Yeah, I think that flattery is huge, because oftentimes when you’re a student you’re going into a big conference, you’re really trying to network with someone and you want something positive to come out of the situation. I think if you’re looking for something positive, there’s nothing better than maybe doing some research on the individual and then giving them a really sincere compliment. They love that. It’s like, if someone told me they really liked this article, it helped them out a ton. That feels extremely good to me. I’m more likely to maybe reciprocate along the line and say, “oh, I met this physical therapist at this conference and I think they were great”. You can maybe check out them or something if they’re looking for that network, that contact in the future.

Mike Reinold:
I think that’s great. And people don’t realize that blog post that they read in five minutes that they really like, that took you three weeks to write and put together, you put your heart into that thing. So if somebody comes up and says, “hey man, that was really impactful for me”. You’re just like, “thank you”. I’m glad somebody told me that they liked my work and it helped them. So I thought that was pretty cool. But let’s see anybody else?

Lenny Macrina:
I think the moral here is you have to praise the person you want to meet, in order to gain access to them.

Mike Reinold:
I mean, that’s a strategy. It’s usually good strategy, but yeah…

Lenny Macrina:
I’ve seen things go bad because the other way you can be like the “tell me about the shoulder” thing. I think that’s the examples that we see more than once. We’ve seen it before where it’s just like, man, this is awkward. There’s a little Chris Farley skit on Saturday Night Live was talking about something and it’s more, “you remember that? Do you remember that thing back in the day? That was awesome. That was aaawesome”. It gets awkward then. Hopefully that person that you’re trying to meet will facilitate the conversation. Because hopefully if you’re the veteran PT, the older PT, you’re going to recognize that and try to make that person more comfortable. At least I would.

Mike Reinold:
I kind of like what you said there too. And I would say another common thing you could do wrong is don’t be the guy that comes into that conversation as the contrarian or go in and they’re looking to argue with that person or something or call them out on something. I don’t know what your strategy is there, but you’re certainly not networking. You’re not going to impress me if you come visit me and tell me the things that you didn’t like about what I wrote about an article. Because man, that’s just a snapshot of my brain, and my day, and my time. That’s not everything in context. So, don’t start that conversation like, “hey, I really liked your presentation, but don’t you think you should do A instead of B?” That conversation is probably not going to go well. Let the relationship blossom and then get into a conversation.

Mike Reinold:
And I bet you, the person that’s going to say, “yeah, of course I do both A and B I just couldn’t put that in my 12 minute talk that I was asked to do at this presentation. But of course, yeah, I completely agree”. But if you start off hot like that, I mean, there’s a lot of people at these events, we’re just going to go to the next person. And just be trying to have fun. But awesome, good stuff. So good, anybody else have any tips or anything? Lisa? What do you do? Any things you’ve done in the past that you want to share?

Lisa Russell:
I’m the awkward kid that doesn’t really know how to say hi to people when I’m at a really big conference. So I’ve, I haven’t really actually been to an in-person networking conference. I’ve attended a virtual one and I would say that’s probably been more awkward. They had this virtual meeting room where you just wrote this bubble that you could move around and talk to people you were near. It was very strange. But in having gone to a couple of smaller networking things and sort of, like Dan said, put a lot of pressure on myself for trying to talk to a lot of people in that kind of a thing. In meeting more people since then, everything we’ve talked about has been way more comfortable and worked way better, of just being like, “hey, my name is Lisa, thanks for your talk. Thanks for being here, blah, blah, blah”. And not really caring what comes after that. Because then…

Mike Reinold:
Yeah, that’s great. I wrote that in a newsletter a few months ago, but it’s… You’re planting a seed and that thing could grow or where it won’t, but it is what it is and you end up jiving with certain people in different ways and it works, but you plant that seed with just a mild conversation. You just see how it goes, so I like that.

Mike Reinold:
Couple of things I think I’d add to the conversation just that I was thinking of. One is remember, say you’re with the Sports Academy, we have teammates events where you get to kind of mingle with leaders and they pair up leaders with topics that you’d like. We did dine arounds, which I did not do because that’s anxiety for me. I don’t want to go to dinner with 10 strangers. But lots of people did and they had a blast, and that’s good.

Mike Reinold:
But keep this in mind here. We just went through this, almost everybody on this podcast right here. And most of you probably think we’re all extroverts, right? Because we’re online, we have a presence, we educate, we’re out there. But all of us expressed stress and anxiety and how a little bit of these situations are awkward for us. So they’re awkward for all of us. Keep this in mind. It’s for everybody. If there’s somebody you want to talk to and they’re at that event that at least shows you that they’re willing to try. Because there was a lot of people that don’t go to these events because they just want to go to have dinner with two people instead of a big group of unknowns. So keep that in mind if you’re there at the event, there’s somebody there. They probably want to talk him.

Mike Reinold:
George Davies. Great example. He’s just sitting there. He’ll talk all night to everybody. He’s just really good and puts himself out there for everybody. So if you see George at a meeting, go talk to him because he’ll talk back. And it’ll be a great conversation just that, as an example.

Mike Reinold:
But one other thing I’d add. And I picked up on this with our Academy meetings. There’s a couple of our past students there this week. Beau and Joey were both there and they, I don’t want to say they gravitated towards me by any means, that’s not it. But there was a bond where they could come right over and start talking to me and I put it on myself and I helped them. But then I introduced them to people that we were talking to. So that way, then they had somebody. So sometimes you need to seek out like a gatekeeper, or somebody that can help open a door for you. And I did that intentionally because I was very strategic with that. Joe, Joey, and Beau if you’re listening to this, I didn’t tell you this at the time. Beau comes over, he’s talking to me, we’re catching up, we’re talking some stuff. And then I’m like, “hey, here’s Mick Melaney, he’s the Vice President. And then they started talking, and then I start stepping away, and then I go talk to George. I’ll leave it and let them talk to see what happens. And then you do that a couple of times you introduced them to everybody. So maybe you need a gatekeeper to, so it kind of keep that in mind. So all good stuff.

Mike Reinold:
And remember if this isn’t your thing and it’s not as cool to do in person. There’s other online ways that maybe you can network people, that’s a little bit less stressful too. So keeping that in mind.

Mike Reinold:
So great question, Mandy. Hope it helps. Hopefully you came up and spoke to me at this meeting because this is after the meeting, so I wonder how it went for you. But thanks so much for the question. If you have a question like that, just head to mikereinold.com, click on that podcast link and we’ll keep doing these episodes. Anytime you guys have questions, we’re going to keep doing these episodes to answer them. So thank you so much. Head to Apple Podcast, Spotify, subscribe, rate us, review us, whatever you’re supposed to do nowadays. And we’ll see you on the next episode. Thanks so much.

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