Annual Meeting Advice: Networking

For our second entry in the 2014 Annual Meeting Advice series, the conference veterans offer tips on how to grow your professional network, break the ice with new colleagues, and connect with senior archivists. Stay tuned later today for a bonus networking post from President-Elect Kathleen Roe!

Check out previous entries in the series here or select the Annual Meeting Advice category in the right-hand column of the blog.

Question 2:

What are your tips for networking and connecting with people you don’t know (especially more “senior” members)?

Conference Veteran Answers:

“Visit the career center and speak with someone — they’re guaranteed to be more ‘senior.’ Having been on the other side of the table, I definitely met younger professionals that way with whom I’ve kept in touch. Also take a peek at the schedule of who’s going to be staffing the career center, and go by or schedule an appointment for a time when someone you specifically want to meet is there. Look for someone who is working in the type of archives that you want to work in.”

“When you give someone your contact info or a card, make it for a specific purpose (other than ‘I’d like a job’). I’m more likely to follow up with people who have a specific question or something I can help them with. Similarly, keep a pen with you at all times so that when someone gives you their business card, you can write a note to yourself on the back about why they gave you their card and what you’re supposed to do in follow-up (e.g. ‘Send resume for processing job’). Then follow-up by email the next week. Most people won’t be monitoring their email during the conference, and when they return they’ll have a pile to go through. So time yours to arrive a few days after they’ve returned to the office.”

“Speak up at roundtable meetings and volunteer. Joining something is the quickest way to get to know people. Having said that, don’t feel like you need to start networking right away. It took me a couple of conferences before I knew a critical mass of people. And I meet more every year.”

“Ask the people you do know if they know any of the people you’re trying to meet and if they’ll introduce you. Last year I missed out on what could have been really good connections for the type of collections I want to go into because I didn’t find out until after the conference that one of my friends knew several people I really should have talked to.”

“Unless they’re in an intense discussion with someone I usually just barge in.”

“Doing a little bit of background research on what they have experience with helps to break the ice. That way, I can walk up and say, “Hi, my name is [fill in the blank], and I read that you have been working on an oral history digitization project. If you have time, I’d love to hear about the process.” Something along those lines. Find something you both have in common and start from there. It might involve some Google creeping. ”

“Have a talking point, such a comment about a session you were just in. I’ve also found that sitting next to someone you don’t know on the but to the reception is an easy way to talk to someone. It’s a short time, so it doesn’t have time to get awkward. People also often make small talk in long lines for the restroom and food.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor, professor, or a friend to make an introduction to someone in their network you might want to meet. Twitter is a fantastic networking tool, and a great way to connect with people before a conference. Plus, sometimes random impromptu events will be announced via Twitter and the conference hashtag (#saa14). ”

“Again, I think attending events that are more social are great for giving you conversation starters. Also, I think when there are conference-wide activities, like the trading cards from a couple years back, by all means, participate, even if it seems a little silly. I had a great time meeting members of all ages by participating in that in Chicago. Another great way to network and connect is to get involved in the roundtables. It’s a great way to meet people who are working in areas you are interested in. If someone is working at a cool archive near you, or one that sound interesting, don’t be afraid to go ask them about the archive or what they do.”

“This is going to be different for every individual, but my approach is to just stop overthinking it, inhale, exhale, walk up to someone, and introduce myself. The great thing about SAA is you KNOW you have something in common with every single person you see; you’ll be able to carry on a conversation with anyone, you just have to initiate. The more ‘senior’ members are probably most excited to talk to you, and the great thing about the ones in leadership roles is that they have a lot of experience with talking to new people, so you can trust that conversations with them will be smooth.”

“Go ahead and eyeball nametags. People are happy to be recognized. If you go to a session and something/someone struck you, feel free to stick around and speak to the person afterwards. Networking is pretty easy at the Networking Cafe, the various receptions, poster sessions, and exhibit hall events. The Roundtables and Sections are a great way to get to know people who are interested in the same areas that you are. People also hang in the hotel lobby and registration area.”

“When I’m in a group and I know not everyone knows each other, I make a point of introducing everyone, name and institution, and sometimes I’ll add relevant projects or schools if I think that will help people connect. I know how awkward it can be to be in a group and not know everyone, and feel shy about introducing myself.”

“Listening to what others have to say in component group meetings (roundtables, sections, etc.) and connect with them afterwards. Having something tangible to discuss can make the interaction memorable for both of you and can also facilitate future collaboration and networking.”

“If you’re on Twitter and recognize people, say hi! It can be awkward, but that’s just life. Might as well take the chance to put a voice with an online profile. I can be a scaredy cat, but I always appreciate when others aren’t – and those brave efforts encourage me to ‘network it forward,’ if you will. If you want an introduction, ask! Former bosses/supervisors, friends, colleagues, mentors, folks from Twitter: all are possible ins to other experienced archivists. And we’re nerdy but we’re kind. I’ve also had success just sitting down to someone, turning to him/her, and saying ‘hi, is this __ session? I’m really excited to learn more…’ Cheesy but it opens the door! Most people are happy to chat a bit to someone new.”

“Go to the new member/first-timer orientation and forum, held on Wednesday evening, but also the networking cafe, career center, and all-attendee reception. I’d also get hooked up with an SAA ‘Navigator’ and sign up as a ‘mentee’ in the mentor/mentee program.”

“First off, if you don’t have business cards get some cheap ones printed (Staples, Kinkos, etc), even if all you have to print on them is your name, (school attending if still in school), mailing address, email (vital), and phone. You’ll need these to do everything from asking speakers to send you copies of their papers to ritual exchanges after conversing w/someone. Second, don’t be worried about a senior archivist rebuffing you in some way; the vast majority are not only nice people, many of them truly enjoy meeting newer colleagues, and indeed look forward to it as a perk of attending the conference. Third, if you’re worried about what to say, try a variation on one of these themes: ‘This is my first SAA and I promised myself I’d meet at least 5 new people–may I impose on you to suggest which session I should attend in the next slot?’; ‘You’re article on x was on one of my reading lists, and I just wanted tell you how much I enjoyed it’ (flattery will get you almost anywhere a variation would be ‘I attended your session and really enjoyed your paper–would you be willing to send me a copy?’); ‘I’m very new to SAA and I wonder if you have any tips for how I can best get involved?'”

“Say hi. Pretend you’re on a plane or grocery line and ask non-archives stuff like where they’re from, complement their shoes/piece of clothing, make a dumb joke. Once the personal connection is there (or not) you can discover what archives interests you have in common (or not).”

“To quote the overused phrase, Just Do It. I’m an introvert so I know how intimidating it can be to approach folks, but to a certain extent you have to just swallow your anxiety and just talk to people. It’s helped me to get over this by finding appropriate pretexts, e.g. asking speakers questions during or after a panel, talking to an author about his/her article, etc. I’ve also found the Lunch Buddies program to be invaluable– you get a chance to eat lunch with (and have conversations with) people you might not otherwise have. Oh, and bring your business cards. If you don’t have business cards, make them. The whole point is to give these people something to remember you by, so if you talk to them about something specific you may find it useful to scribble something about that topic on the back.”

“Do not be afraid. Smile. Say hello.”


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