12 Tips for Creating Meaningful Connections

Networking can be challenging for people of all personality styles, but aside from learning the latest science in topical workshops and poster sessions, past World Congress attendees rank networking as the third most important reason they attend the conference.

Receptions, tours, and events offer valuable opportunities to connect meaningfully with professionals and trainees around the world and to establish longer-term ties of mutual support and learning. However, productive networking is far more than simply showing up to a get-together. It takes planning and practice to obtain the most benefits.

Start first with your goals. Why even attend networking meetings? What do you need or want? Are you job hunting? Looking for research partners? Seeking funding or a mentor? Aiming to learn a new skill? Don’t walk into any networking opportunity cold, which wastes everyone’s time.

Second, and especially important, is asking what you can give! How can you make yourself valuable to others in a way that prompts them to connect and build a positive two-way relationship with you? Identifying these specifics helps you choose the “right” individuals or groups at an event rather than to permit serendipity to reign.

Here are 12 more ways to boost the success of your networking at the World Congress:

  1. Be yourself. Good relationships are built on authenticity and trust. It takes time to build those, and people are very good at spotting a fake. While you may have to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit—or even a lot—go into a networking event with the confidence to be the real you.
  2. Arrive early to networking events. Other attendees won’t have formed sometimes-intimidating groups yet, and the atmosphere is quieter, so conversation is easier.
  3. Be the first—the first to hold out a hand for a handshake, the first to smile, the first to repeat someone’s name. Don’t loiter around the room perimeter, waiting for someone to notice and talk to you. Walk over to someone or a group and ask, “May I join you? I wondered what brought you to the Congress.”
  4. Smile and make eye contact. Your body language is critical in a networking situation. Your posture and facial expressions need to communicate openness and receptivity, so individuals feel welcome to smile back, speak, or walk toward you to engage. Don’t just glance at someone; hold the gaze and smile or wave. Be the first to reach out for a handshake and to give your name. Smiling also calms your own body, sending reassurance to the brain that it does not need to fear anything.
  5. Listen actively. Demonstrate this by asking follow-up questions, looking into their eyes, and keeping an attentive expression on your face.
  6. Avoid yes or no questions and keep initial queries easy. You want to prompt a relaxed, organic give-and-take, and open-ended questions are the framework to achieve that. Prove yourself to be a good resource by providing any referrals or suggestions based on their comments.
  7. Remember the goal: relationship-building. That means no hard selling of yourself. You want the conversation to be positive and interesting, not stressful. What is that person looking for both at the conference and in his or her work and career? Ask.
  8. Practice a short introduction of yourself. Practice this a lot! You must be able to communicate an articulate description of your work in just a few sentences. If the person is interested, he or she will ask for more details, so don’t give the complete backstory of your work or career. Also, a good self-introduction sets up others to question you about your skills, goals, and even job availability.
  9. Bring far more business cards than you think you will need. It does not look professional if you run out of cards early in the conference, and that creates an awkward moment in an early relationship if you cannot give them your basic contact information on the spot.
  10. Share your enthusiasm. People enjoy being around others who care and are committed to working hard toward a goal, especially one that is greater than themselves such as patient pain relief. Tell a story about why you got into your specialty and what keeps you in it. Your passion leaves an impression, and it can spark additional conversation about the other person’s passions, too. Sharing what’s important to you and asking the same of others creates an emotional experience that is memorable and positive—and you want that exchange to be both remembered and to be thought of fondly.
  11. Make others feel special. One way to do that is by repeating their name several times as you both talk. Another is by not hijacking a conversation. Again, listening is vital, which means the other person must have space and an invitation to converse.
  12. Schedule a time for post-conference follow up. Ask your new contact if he or she would like to continue a conversation, discuss new information, or “debrief” from the conference. Your networking event should be the start of new connections, not an end. Ask if they prefer communicating via email, phone, or social media such as LinkedIn. Reach out to them and any referrals from them within 48 hours of the meetup to show you appreciated their time and information. Refer to some points made in the conversation, so the person remembers you better. Again, avoid selling yourself hard; take a long-term view of relationship-building.

The World Congress on Pain offers a unique opportunity to generate a global network of peers, mentors, and others who could be helpful in your work and career. Spending the time to properly prepare and practice for networking should be as much of a priority as preparing for a poster or plenary. Good luck and see you in Boston!