…But when it comes to true success in making connections, the game of networking at medical meetings has a little more to it than just reading nametags. (Though reading nametags certainly helps.)
To help you brush-up on your technique, here are six things you can do today to become a master-networker:
1. Don’t be shy!
Receptions, galas, meals, and hallway interaction before (and sometimes during) sessions aren’t times to be a wallflower.
Decide to approach people, and your chances of making a connection go from zero to more-than-zero.
Before you to the approach, you’ll need a few good “opening lines”. This could be based on the person’s affiliation, the last session you both attended at the conference, or something interesting that just happened in the room that you can use as common ground (don’t go in trying to talk about the weather…and mention local sports scores only if you can be reasonably sure the person wants to go down that road.)
If you don’t know the person’s name and affiliation, try to find an inconspicuous way to read it before approaching (one colleague actually started covertly photographing people’s nametags with her Blackberry and zooming in to read them before she walked over to introduce herself – She also used this technique as a way to pre-screen people for networking conversations.)
A lot of success with this game lies in being able to quickly (and frequently) get in the game in the first place.
2. Know how and when to introduce yourself
Being forward enough to walk up and introduce yourself to a stranger at a medical conference (especially to a speaker or someone who’s farther ahead in their career than you) is a brave and wonderful first step.
Once you’ve summoned the gusto to do this, be mindful of how and when you plan to approach folks.
A good way to break-in to a group, for example, could be “are you/you guys talking about ___?” (make sure you know what they’re talking about), “I couldn’t help but overhear” (make sure you know what they’re talking about that you ‘overheard’), or offering insight that’s useful to the conversation.
For an individual, you can mention that you read their bio (if publically available – don’t be a stalker!) and are interested in talking further about: a) what they just presented on, b) their specialty, c) how they like the facility/line of work/area, etc… they’re in.
3. Be an expert on you
When you introduce and talk (briefly!!) about yourself, be specific and quickly highlight the most relevant and interesting bullet points of who you are and what you do in the medical field.
Think like a news person: What’s the headline here?
Know your talking points backwards and forwards, but don’t recite them by rote every single time. Change it up: think of your talking points like a good joke or funny story you tell (even when you want to keep it the same, it gets told a little different every time.) By doing so, you’ll keep yourself as passionate as possible about selling yourself.
4. Know what you want and have a plan for getting it
Know what you have to offer in a conversation and as a contact, and have a plan for quickly finding out what others have to offer.
If someone’s a lame duck or a tire-kicker, have a tried-and-tested plan for excusing yourself from such conversations so you can cut your losses and move on as soon as possible. (It’s all fine and good if you wind up having a blast with a person who has nothing to offer professionally, but you’ll be glad you had a plan for getting away from a person who has nothing to offer professionally or socially.)
5. Have a plan for how and when to follow up
Unless you’ve really hit it off (and even then) you’ll want to follow-up with an email to the address on your fellow medical professional’s business card.
Be sure and stop to think about this oft-overlooked deal-closer:
Try sending an email a weekday after the final day of the conference, with a subject line that mentions what medical conference you met at, what you talked about, and an action word or two to encourage an eager response.
This can be as simple as “Additional question about _____ RE our chat at ______ 2012 _____ conference” or “Follow-up RE our talk about ____ at the 2013 ____ society meeting”
You may have talked to dozens or even more than a hundred people and not want to hear back from them all right away, but following up now will get and keep you on others’ radar (and vice-versa) for when getting in touch down the road might be important.
You can decide who you want to continue talking with after this step, but make sure you do this step in the first place
If you want to keep in touch but don’t necessarily want a daily correspondence with someone, a simple “Nice meeting you at _______” is a good investment.
6. Use your new contacts
This is an incredible skill to have and is often what makes the difference between someone who has a successful, efficient, powerful group of contacts working for – and with – them and someone who doesn’t have such an advantage.
A good way to make it possible to access and leverage your contacts is to have a quick, efficient way to grab and organize information from business cards into whatever system of contact details and notes works for you.
Once you have the information close-at hand, you’re many times more likely to use it.
And having your networking contacts organized makes it much more likely that you’ll remember who you know to help-out with insights into a particular diagnosis, project, research, professional development opportunity, or career advancement in the future.