I recently returned from the Editors’ Association of Canada conference in Toronto. It was wonderful! I had such a great time: learned a lot during the sessions, got to see plenty of Toronto, and met some lovely people.

As with any conference, networking was an important part of this one. I’ve been to a number of networking events and conferences in the past, but after attending this one and observing my own behaviour and that of the people around me, I started thinking a lot more consciously about how to network effectively.

Here are some of the tips that I have picked up over the years:

  • Sometimes it’s easier to go it alone.

Personally, I feel a little uncomfortable having someone with me when I’m networking. I prefer to be by myself and go at my own pace. If I’m at an event with Mr Science (such as the opening reception that I brought him to at the beginning of the EAC conference), I feel less inclined to go and meet people. I don’t think I had even realized this until we were actually at the reception!

But now I know: if my intention is to network, then I’m better off attending the event by myself (or attending the event with someone and then each of us going off on our own for a bit to meet people separately, perhaps).

EAC conference
Ready for networking!
  • When there’s a specific time frame involved and you are “forced” together, networking is less intimidating.

I like meeting people by sitting down next to them at conference sessions. I am no good at meeting people at the coffee station or standing around during the break between sessions. Now, this might be because I’m so short that it feels as though everyone towers above me when we’re standing next to each other, but it also might be because when you are sitting together, waiting for a session to start, you know that your time is limited (so you don’t have to get worried about what happens when conversation inevitably grinds to a halt), and everyone is much more approachable when they’re just sitting there waiting.

My new strategy after learning this is to go to the sessions early to start connecting with people who are already in the room. Plus this gives me the chance to pick out the seat that I want!

  • Connecting with others via social media before the networking event can help open the doors to connect with those people once the event gets started.

For some reason, even if you just retweet someone’s Twitter status prior to the conference (assuming you’re all using the conference hashtag, for example), you tend to feel almost like you’ve already met them when you happen to come across each other in person. This makes it much easier to start a conversation!

Twitter and other forms of social media that provide opportunities to connect with other attendees prior to, during, and after the event can be a wonderful resource. If you’re nervous or shy about networking, definitely make use of things like conference hashtags to connect with people while the event is taking place (and to follow up afterwards!).

  • There isn’t any specified amount of time that you “should” spend conversing with someone.

There are all kinds of schools of thought on this one. The most traditional networking advice is to spend no more than five minutes talking with someone (and some say that even that is too long). I disagree. If the person you’re conversing with rubs you the wrong way, or if you have nothing in common or nothing to say to one another, then yes, get out of there. But otherwise, I would so much rather spend longer periods of time getting to know people and starting to build an actual relationship with people than to jump from one person to the next.

If you can make even just a couple of good connections from a networking session, that is success. And you probably won’t get that if you won’t give people a chance and have an actual conversation (or several conversations!) with them.

  • Understand *why* you are networking and the importance of it for you at this particular event.

There’s no sense in networking if you don’t know the reasons for why you are doing it! It might be anything from making new friends to finding clients to learning from experts and more. Understand why you want to network at this particular event before going in to really make the most of the networking opportunity.

And don’t just hand out business cards for the sake of handing out business cards! This is a classic mistake that many attendees make. Give them to people you have a connection with and with whom you’d like to work with or connect with later on. There should always be a reason for why you are exchanging business cards – not just because it’s “what you do” at networking events.

What are your networking tips? What have you learned by attending conferences and events? Share in the comments section below!

If you want to pick up some of the great ideas that were circulating at the Editors’ Association of Canada conference in general, I highly recommend you check out the #EAC2014 Twitter stream!