Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Young Women’s Leadership Summit in Grapevine, Texas, hosted by Turning Point USA. Being that it was my first time attending this event, I was not only excited to meet my favorite speakers and make new friends, but also for the opportunities I would have to pursue and the connections I could establish.
No matter what your purpose is for going to a student conference, it is important that you take advantage of all it has to offer. The networking opportunities presented are unlike any other experience you will ever have, and there is a high chance that the connections you make in those moments can open doors that would have been harder to access otherwise. Therefore, it is important to make the most of them. Here are some tips on how to do so.
Establish a connection beforehand
This is what helped me get my foot in the door before I attended the event itself. While there were some connections I already had through previous events and collaborations, it was important that the people I approached would recognize me through prior interactions we had.
Find the email or contact information of the people/representatives you’re hoping to meet with and kindly introduce yourself, mention that you’ll be in attendance and are looking forward to speaking with them. An honest tip that helped me was finding the Instagram handles of the people I wanted to meet, and direct messaging them. While I still made it a point to be polite and professional, it made the interactions I had more natural and relaxed.
When approaching them in person, introduce yourself and refer to the interactions you have had with them beforehand. They may not remember, and that’s okay. But the effort you made to reach out will most likely spark their interest either way.
Be genuine in your interactions
Many of these events are arranged so that you can network with other students. There is an understanding between those in attendance that there is a purpose to many of the interactions they will make. While that can be advantageous for some, it can also seem inauthentic and one-sided.
It is important to develop genuine connections with the people you interact with through common interests, shared passions/goals, and a natural flow of conversation. It is acceptable to have a goal in mind but remember that they are people, too, and most people are turned off to the feeling of being used by others when it’s not reciprocated. Develop true relationships and always be willing to be of service to them in return.
Prepare your purpose
Know the organizations that will be in attendance and have an idea of what you want to say when you approach the representatives at those booths. Make sure to mention your reasons of interest in the organization, experiences and skills that you can contribute to the organization, and any other information you deem relevant to the conversation. Keep it natural and let the conversation flow on its own but do your best to make sure you mention those factors.
Make it a priority to stand out as well. Remember that it is important to be recognizable and distinguishable from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to think of creative ways to highlight yourself and your personality (while staying truthful and professional) to set yourself apart.
Don’t ignore the “unforeseen”
It can be helpful to have a plan of the people and organizations you want to connect with, but always be open to connecting with those you never originally planned to. You never know how helpful someone you meet can be when it comes to pursuing your future, and sometimes the people you never expected can be the same people that have connections to desired opportunities that only they can access.
The same goes for organizations in attendance. Make it a goal to approach booths of the organizations that are new to you and learn about them. Especially the smaller ones, as they can have opportunities that may give you a deeper experience and close relationships that could benefit you long-term.
Continue to connect afterward
The networking does not stop when the conference ends, in fact, for most successful connections, it is just the beginning. Ask for contact information (or be prepared to give yours) especially if you didn’t have it beforehand and follow up after the event is over.
The most important lesson to take away from this is to be recognizable, and the best way for that to happen is if they continue to remember you through interactions made both inside and outside of the conference. Who knows? They may think of you when presented with the opportunity of a lifetime.
This blog was written by Haika Mrema, a NeW Summer 2022 intern.