APhA is wrapping up this weekend, and I’m reminded about great opportunities to network at these very large conferences. Sometimes people are afraid of the term “networking” because it brings up the connotations of “oh no, I have to talk to people”. It doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s only going to be as difficult as you make it out to be.

What is networking?

We all use the term “networking”, but do we all know what it means? Well, networking is forming meaningful connections with other people in your field or in fields that you are interested in getting into. The whole “forming meaningful connections” part seems to scare a lot of people, but if you take it down a notch and just think of it as “making a professional friend”, hopefully it can lower some amount of anxiety. One of my colleagues, Dr. Beju Shah, treats networking as just making friends at conferences. Think of how you make new friends: talk to them, find a common interest, keep in touch. These connections allow future expansions of your network; if you maintain your connections, these expansions are likely to occur organically.

Alright, so conferences… why network there?

Let’s think about conferences for a moment. Most individuals who attend conferences either are there for an obligation or they are there because they are very passionate about their profession. I would be inclined to say that most established professionals are there because they are passionate in their career.

Some of the top reasons for networking are for career development, mentorship, and future job prospects, and a conference environment will be full of people who can help with those reasons. When you are surrounded by many individuals that love their profession, remember that these individuals are going to want to talk to you about pharmacy. They’re going to want to talk about the different pathways of pharmacy and the current issues. They’re going to want to share their own journeys with you to show you why they love their jobs. Keeping that in mind will help reduce the anxiety of you approaching them at an event and saying hi.

But I need some step-by-step instructions to help me!

Strategies on how to network effectively will be different from one individual to the next so you must learn over time what your best networking style is. However, there are some key points that I’d like to recommend remembering:

  1. Identify opportunities: In a conference setting, you have so many different events to attend that it may be overwhelming to strategize your networking periods. Identify for yourself why you want to network and look at the events schedule to see if there are any sessions that you want to network with others in. Conferences typically have networking sessions, and there are also opportunities to speak with the presenter after CE sessions.
  2. Show sincere interest: This may sound like common sense, but we live in an age where everyone is easily distracted with social media, texts, ads, etc. Make sure that when you are in conversation with someone, attempt to give your undivided attention and ignore those texts or phone calls just for a few minutes as you form a meaningful connection.
  3. Find a common ground: Making meaningful connections with someone may be tough, but if you navigate the conversation and find a common ground, then you’ll realize it gets a lot easier. Listen carefully to what they’re saying, and when you can pinpoint something that you both have in common, latch onto it to continue the conversation. It takes off a lot of pressure when you both talk about something you share an interest in.
  4. Using their name: There’s a two-fold effect of using someone’s name in conversation. One is that it reminds you what their name is so that you don’t forget them in the future. It will associate your conversation with their name when you recall the meeting in the future. The second effect is that people love to hear their own names. Using their name in conversation, whether it be their first name or their name as Dr. ____, subconsciously shows to them that you find them important, and who doesn’t want to feel important? It grabs their attention, acknowledges their importance, and shows respect. Be careful, though, because using their name too much may have the opposite effect and appear like you are manipulating them.
  5. Follow up: Do not forget to follow up. Conferences can be overwhelming, and people meet so many people at so many events. Send them an email or a LinkedIn message to thank them for taking some time to speak with you. Throw in something unique about your conversation with them as it will help them remember you as well.

So go out there, network away, and maybe you’ll become an expert in your field in the future that you’ll one day be the person on the other end and be able to give back to the pharmacy community and profession!