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How to network effectively without feeling foolish

As enablers of change, attending conferences is an important way to keep up with the latest research, trends, and practices in our field. However, for some of us, the idea of networking at these events can be daunting, if not nauseating. It can be difficult to strike a balance between making valuable connections and coming across as awkward or unprofessional. In this episode, we’ll share some tips and examples on how to network effectively at a conference without feeling foolish.

First and foremost, it’s essential to have a plan. Before attending the conference, we need to search the schedule and identify the sessions, events, and speakers that interest us the most. This will help us feel more confident and informed when speaking to other attendees. It’s also a good idea to prepare a few questions or talking points related to the sessions or topics that we’re interested in. This can help us start conversations and engage with others more easily.

Another important aspect of networking at a conference is being approachable. This means smiling, making eye contact, and being open to conversations with others. When we’re standing in line for lunch or waiting for a session to begin, let’s strike up a conversation with the person next to us. Ask about their work, what they’re hoping to get out of the conference, and share our own interests and goals. By being friendly and approachable, we’ll make it easier for others to approach us and start a conversation.

It’s also important to be ourselves. It can be tempting to put on a professional facade and try to impress others, but this can come across as insincere or inauthentic. Instead, be genuine and share our own experiences and perspectives. Don’t be afraid to show our personality and sense of humour – this can make us more memorable and likeable to others.

Chad Littlefield is a renowned keynote speaker and expert in the field of networking and human connection. He and Will Wise wrote the book ‘Ask powerful questions’. Chad has several valuable insights on how to network effectively at conferences and events. One of his key recommendations is to focus on building authentic relationships rather than simply exchanging business cards. He suggests starting conversations by asking questions that go beyond the typical ‘What do you do?’. For example, we could ask about someone’s hobbies or passions, or enquire about their experience with a particular topic or industry trend.

Another of Chad’s tips is to focus on giving rather than just taking. Instead of trying to sell ourselves or our services, think about how we can offer value to others. This could involve sharing resources or connections, offering advice or support, or simply being a good listener. By demonstrating our willingness to help and support others, we’ll be more likely to build meaningful relationships.

Here are a few examples of how to put these tips into action. Firstly, if we’ve been attending a session at a conference. After the session we’re waiting in line for coffee and we strike up a conversation with another attendee. We ask them what they thought of the session and share our own thoughts on the topic. We might mention that we work with a few farmers who are interested in that topic and ask if they have any tips or resources to share. The conversation leads to a discussion of other topics, and we exchange contact details and agree to connect on LinkedIn after the conference.

Another example is after attending a panel discussion. After the panel, we approach one of the speakers and thank them for their presentation. We mention that we work with farmers who are struggling to implement some of the recommended practices and ask if they have any advice. (By the way, people love us asking them for advice!) The speaker is happy to chat and shares some practical tips and resources. We might ask if we can take a quick selfie with them and post it on our social media channel to share the knowledge with our colleagues. We might tag them on social media, and they reply by connecting with us on LinkedIn and thanking us for attending the conference.

The final example is after attending a workshop. During a break, we strike up a conversation with another attendee and ask about their experiences with the workshop focus. They mention that they work for an organisation that’s related to what we do, so we express interest in learning more. They invite us to join them for lunch, and we continue the conversation over a meal. We might share our own challenges and successes, and they offer some insights and suggestions based on their experience. Once again, we exchange business cards and agree to follow up after the conference.

Finally, and we’ve mentioned it a few times, but don’t forget to actually follow people up after the conference. After we’ve made connections with other attendees, it’s important to follow up with them to maintain the relationship. This could be as simple as sending a thank you email or LinkedIn message, or even scheduling a follow-up call or meeting. Make sure to reference something specific from our conversation to show that we value the connection and are interested in continuing the conversation. Following up can help solidify the relationship and potentially lead to future collaborations or opportunities. 

In conclusion, networking at a conference can be a valuable way to make connections and learn from others in our field. By having a plan, being approachable, being ourselves, and following up after the conference, we can make meaningful connections without feeling foolish. Remember to be open, curious, and willing to learn from others, and we’ll be well on our way to making the most of our next conference experience. 

Speaking of conferences, make sure you add the dates of the next APEN conference to your calendars. It’s being held in Launceston, in beautiful Tasmania, from Tuesday the 14th to Thursday the 16th of November, 2023. There are some great keynote presenters and some wonderful masterclasses on offer too. So make sure you find yourself in Tassie in 2023! 

Well, you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us about your experiences with networking, including any tips and further ideas about it. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversationjoin in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 

Thanks folks for joining us on this Enablers of change episode. Remember to subscribe to our newsletter if you’d like to know when new episodes are available. And if you liked what you heard, please tell your friends so they too can join the conversation!


Wise, W. and Littlefield, C. (2017). Ask powerful questions: Create conversations that matter. We!.

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Graham Harris
Graham Harris
1 year ago

Great set of practical tips for intentional networking at a conference – looking forward to the APEN Conference in Nov 2023.

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