Networking & Small Talk in Conferences

Posted On: June 5, 2016

Though I give presentations, I am shy. That’s right! I may be able to stand on a stage and talk to 10, 50, 100, 200 people, but, I am not so comfortable meeting new people and strangers in a conference or a training program where people from different companies come together. I like to meet new people and learn about their work, but I am still a little shy in these situations. 

Networking, handshakes, small talk
Me, networking at the Intelligent
Outsourcing Conference, 2016

But, today, I had a good chance to test the waters at a conference I went to in Kochi. It felt a little awkward, but, after talking to a few people, it became easier. 

I was totally alone, but often many may attend such events with one or more colleagues making easier not to step outside your comfort zone of known colleagues. But, one of the whole points of going to a conference is to talk to others, learn from them, and possibly make new personal and professional connections. It can enrich your life! 

So, this reminded me of some sessions we give on networking and first impressions for those who go onsite to America for knowledge transfers, tech conferences, trade shows, and client visits. I’d like to share a few tips that I tried to put into practice today in Kochi as well as a few that will be more helpful once going onsite to the U.S. 

Dress Code 

Try to dress the part. Look serious about being there. In the session I went to everyone was dressed the part. But, some of us may not always take the dress code seriously because we may think a training program or a conference is not actually a client visit or like being at work. But, remember you can meet anyone in these sessions. You could meet influential people from other parts of your company, other companies or other lines of work. They could be in high positions. Would it impress them to see you dressed in a sloppy or non-professional way? Each profession is different. Try to dress the part that makes you look serious in your profession. And, when onsite, do ask about the dress code of your area. For instance, once I was coaching a financial professional who had clients on Wall Street and in Ohio. While the Wall Street clients would only be impressed with a three piece suit, the clients in Ohio would not require such expensive dress. It would not hurt, but it may not be needed to wear the tie and blazer, for instance. 

Body Language 

Teaching College Students Professional Skills
Preparing college students
for professional encounters.

It’s good to smile and look approachable. I know even at times I struggle with this. When I am alone, sometimes I get in my own little world, and possibly my face shows that! That may not be a good thing. But, if someone approaches me to talk to me, or vise versa, I try to change my facial expression (consciously) to smile, brighten my face and hopefully my eyes, too! 

And, it’s important to stand facing the person, with even your toes facing the other person. Standing 180 degrees facing the other person subconsciously lets the other person know you are interested in talking with them. 

Networking Etiquette in Conferences in the USA

Eye Contact
More details about eye contact are found here

What to say and talk about?
Once you covered the elements mentioned above, it’s really time to talk. Of course a warm hello with introduction can go a long way. For an informal introduction, say only your first and last name. For a more formal introduction, you can add your company name and title, as you prefer. If it is more formal, you can extend your hand to make a handshake, followed by a card exchange if you have a business card. To know more about the use of titles, click here. 

For the American styles of handshake follow the link

When you approach a new person, or a person you haven’t seen in awhile, a handshake is in order. See this video for more tips on handshakes.

See this video on the business card exchange in the US situation. 

In India, I’ve seen the small talk is more personal right off the bat, asking about family and children at times. These conversational topics are typically taboo when meeting someone for the first time in the U.S.

If in the U.S., we can make small talk about the following topics: 

Getting ready to go onsite in the U.S.
Meet, greet, handshakes, and small talk.
  • Their impressions about the conference or topics 
  • Their role or job
  • How the conference topics relate to their job
  • Why they came today 
  • Recap of sessions they may have missed (I missed the last session, how did it go?) 
  • Where they are from (generally, not specifically)
  • Where they are staying (if from out of town)
  • Can talk generally about the hotel they are staying in or ask questions, avoiding asking what room they are staying in, of course
  • If they’ve visited this area before or will be doing site seeing, and suggesting places to see
  • The weather, traffic or commute to the venue and back
  • Others, suggest in the comments section below

Dos and Don’ts When Making Small Talk in Conferences
The video below will shed light on what most Westerners may judge as appropriate or inappropriate during a first meeting in a professional setting. While this video was made in Australia, it is relevant to the American situation. This video was also made for English as Second Language (ESL) learners, so it focuses on discussing some common phrases or vocabulary as well as body language. 

See the video on YouTube.

What other tips do you have to share about this topic? What are your experiences? Feel free to share them in the comments section below. 

Jennifer Kumar, author of this post, is an American citizen helping you to build context for your upcoming U.S. business trip, conference networking experience or sales meetings. For more information, contact us

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How to Introduce Yourself & Your Start-Up at Networking Events 



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