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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Maximize your conference experience

Updated: Jan 15

conference networking event

Do you attend professional conferences?

If you are a credentialled food and nutrition professional, do you attend FNCE?

…otherwise known as the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo – the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

A previous post shared 10 tips for preparing for a convention. They are still valid today.

I believe one of the biggest benefits of attending a conference is connecting with your colleagues. The estimated attendance for FNCE exceeds 10,000 – that’s a lot of food and nutrition professionals to meet! How can you make the most of this opportunity?

Be intentional to maximize your conference experience.

Where you go and what you choose to do at a professional conference will determine the people you can meet. Take advantage of opportunities to connect everywhere you go:

  • The sessions you attend are an excellent opportunity to meet professionals interested in the same area of practice. Make a point of introducing yourself to others in the audience or even the speakers. Exchange business cards and make notations as needed regarding where you met and what you discussed.

  • Poster sessions and exhibits are manned by people ready and waiting to engage with visitors interested in what they have to offer. Make a plan for the connections you want to make in the poster pavilion and exhibit hall. If crowd size doesn’t allow for extended conversation, make a plan to follow up later.

  • Networking events are made for connecting. Take advantage of those that match your professional interests. Commit to meeting new people as well as reconnecting with those you already know. Be a connector by introducing people to each other. These introductions also help reinforce everyone’s name in your memory! For maximum benefit, send a follow-up note to those with whom you want to maintain a connection.

  • Meals are a great opportunity to get together intentionally or spontaneously with colleagues. In addition to sponsored or paid events, there are daily opportunities to grab a meal or a snack with a new or old friend. Connecting over a meal creates a more relaxed atmosphere that allows for deeper conversation.

  • Before, after, and in between all of the above – keep meeting people. In line to get coffee? Say hello to others waiting near you. On the bus to your hotel? Get to know your seatmate. Waiting for a session to open? Don’t check your phone, make a new acquaintance. Flying home after the conference? Look for someone in the airport with a bag from the exhibit hall and strike up a conversation, “What was your favorite part of the conference?”

Create conversations to maximize your conference experience.

The point of connecting at a professional conference is not simply to exchange pleasantries and business cards, it is to get to know others who share common backgrounds, interests, goals, and passions.

When you ask each other, “What do you do?” you can skip over “I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist” and cut straight to the interesting specifics.

However, striking up a conversation with a new acquaintance can feel intimidating. Here are five pointers to make it easier and more effective:

  1. Convey an openness to meeting others. Rather than looking down at your phone which signals a “do not disturb” message, make eye contact and smile at those around you.

  2. Prepare some simple conversation starters to have ready, such as: - Is this your first time at FNCE? What made you decide to come? - What did you think of the opening session? What other sessions are you thinking of going to? - Have you seen any sights while in _________? What restaurants have you gone to? - Hi, I’m _______. I don’t think we’ve met.

  3. Prepare a succinct and interesting answer to “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?”

  4. Learn about your conversation partner. What do you have in common? How might you offer to help one another? Connections lead to valuable collaborations and resource networks.

  5. Create a method for ongoing connection. Connect on social media, adding a message of where you met. Swap business cards with a plan to follow up later and then do it! Take a picture with your conversation partner and post it on social media. After the conference, continue connecting – comment on their social media posts, send a note, or set up a time to talk further about an idea you discussed in person. Keep the conversation going.

Even if you can't attend a conference, connect with colleagues.

If you’re not able to attend FNCE, or any other large professional conferences, where do you connect with colleagues? Do you take advantage of district or state meetings? Journal clubs? Seminars or conferences at nearby universities? Look for opportunities to connect!

Are you preparing to make connections? I would love to meet you at #FNCE in the future!!

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.” ~ Girl Scout Campfire Song

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