This post is the second in my 2015 AOTA Conference Countdown series. Read the first post about how to be a successful student when missing classes for conference HERE!
Hello again! This week’s Conference Countdown post is all about how to make meaningful connections at the 2015 AOTA Annual Conference. Whether you’re a student, a first-time conference attendee, or a seasoned conference presenter, these tips will help you become a networking expert.
- Don’t be shy! People are super friendly, and although they may also be super busy, usually they are willing to give you a few moments of their time. One of my biggest regrets from last year at conference is being too nervous to talk to the people who I truly admired. I literally stood in a booth beside AOTA’s Director of Research (Susan Lin) for 15 minutes and was too terrified to say a word…what a wasted opportunity to talk to one of the profession’s leaders! This year I plan to be “brave” and put myself out there more often!
- Bring professional quality business cards. Although some would argue that having business cards is unnecessary in the super-connected, social media-obsessed world in which we live, I disagree. I think that having a professional business card can help you promote a more put-together image and connect others to your website, social media profiles, or other achievements in a way that jotting down your blog’s name on a napkin can’t quite do. Additionally, with websites like Vistaprint, you can create high-quality, professional-looking cards with little effort at a very low cost.
- Stalk Research the people you’d like to meet beforehand. If you love the research being conducted by a particular OT professor or program, search for their name in AOTA’s conference planner and attend their sessions or presentations! When they finish speaking or presenting, you can approach them, exchange information, and discuss their ideas in person. Even if you’re nervous about speaking to a presenter directly, you can attend their session and ask a question at the end to learn more.
- Polish your online profiles. It’s important that your online image is as professional and put-together as your in-person one. Take the time to update your LinkedIn profile and add your most recent accomplishments to your school, work, or personal web page so that these sites reflect the best and most up-to-date version of yourself.
- Keep an eye on social media. I was able to meet one of my OT heroes, Major Erik Johnson, at conference last year because I followed his Twitter account and took him up on an offer to meet conference attendees for an informal breakfast chat one morning. Stay connected to social media, and you’ll be in the loop when it comes to more spontaneous networking and socializing opportunities!
- Make an effort to attend networking events! Although it is tempting to simply lounge in your hotel or relax at a nearby café during your downtime, plan to attend at least one or two networking events at conference, whether they’re formal or informal programs. For example, there is an SIS (Special Interest Section) Networking Reception on Wednesday night that’s FREE to attend. If you feel like that’s too much pressure, you can go to the “Conversations That Matter” areas and participate in informal discussions on topics you’re passionate about, even if it’s just listening to someone talk for 15 or 20 minutes between sessions. And if both of those sound like too much effort for you, you can still network from your hotel room – just write and send follow-up emails to those presenters whose experiences or projects you wanted to know more about. When you venture out to meet other professionals, you never know who you might encounter, and it could be the start of a beautiful professional exchange if you just take the first step and attend an event or initiate contact with a person of interest!
UPDATE (3/17/15): An OT friend of mine also highly recommends the Leadership Development Networking Reception on Friday night from 7-8PM for people who are interested in volunteer leadership opportunities with AOTA!
- Follow up with the people you do meet and talk to. If you exchange business cards with somebody or if you have a great talk with an attendee and get their contact information, keep in touch! You don’t have to be a stalker, but most people will appreciate a friendly email thanking them for their time spent talking to you or for information they shared. True Story: I recently spoke with an OT student I randomly met at conference last year about a new project I saw he participated in that was of interest to me, and it wasn’t awkward at all!
- Arrange a meeting with online friends and colleagues. With the advent of social media and global connectedness, many OT practitioners and students are “friends” with people from all over the country and all over the world. Before arriving in Nashville, try to arrange a meetup with one or two of the people you know or follow online! It can be a great way to continue to grow an online friendship, as well as creating an opportunity for a face-to-face exchange of ideas and inspiration that might not happen as easily online. And admit it, you’re just dying to meet the people behind the posts!
Note: The official 2015 AOTA “Tweet Up” is happening Friday, April 17 at noon in the Conversations that Matter Networking Lounge, and it promises to be a fun opportunity to meet, greet, and chat with all of your online OT buddies!
- Keep a couple copies of your resume handy. You really never know who you might run into during the conference, and if you are a student who is close to graduating or a therapist who is looking for a new job, you can treat the conference like a (very fun and educational) job fair! Most conference goers aren’t necessarily attending with the aim of finding a job, meeting faculty from a potential OTD or PhD program, setting up an exciting fieldwork opportunity, or being recruited by a healthcare company, but if one of these goals sounds like something you’re interested in, you’d better be prepared! Polish up your resume before you arrive in Nashville, and be prepared to discuss your skills and experience with recruiters at the Expo, AOTA leaders who are looking for talented young interns, researchers who are looking for assistants, or your future employer!
- Know that networking can take place anywhere, anytime. Even if you’re not attending a formal networking reception or having a “Conversation That Matters,” you can be networking no matter where you are in Nashville! The city is going to be full of OT students and practitioners and other professionals, and you could meet a person who you really connect with at a random table during lunch, at a honky tonk downtown, or in the hotel lobby! Keep a couple business cards on hand, a smile on your face, and an open mind, and the opportunities for making meaningful connections are endless!
I hope these networking tips are helpful, and best of luck making many meaningful connections at conference next month!
- LinkedIn: Six Secrets to Better Networking at Conferences
- Networking Tips for Students
- Vistaprint Business Cards (Current deal is 500 cards for $10)