For students, the Society for Historical Archaeology’s annual conference is a fantastic place to meet people – it is a “society” after all. You can explore interests and network with other archaeologists including academics, professionals and peers. However, from one year to the next these connections can be forgotten. Building lasting networks out of conference conversations requires one key activity – follow up. Turning a great conversation into something more can be tricky, however. Here are a few tips.

We all think we will remember the details of conversations had with archaeologists whose work truly interests us, but three days, a rolling sea of faces and names, and a drop of beer can taint even the most amazing memories. Take the time to write down details of your conversations at the conference. Include not only the things you would like to remember but also those things you would like the other person to remember about you. Read over your notes and make any additions that would clarify them. For example, it turns out that the person you met day one was a student of someone you met day three. That connection may help future conversations flow.

It is no surprise that many conference attendees arrive home with new work and some backlog, not to mention our personal lives. Follow-ups should occur soon but not too soon after the conference. Waiting a few weeks allows for everyone to recover while reducing the chance that your efforts are met with a quizzical response; “Who is this again?”

Maintaining the new lines of your network isn’t all timing. Your follow up should include some idea for a next step. Give some thought to a transition from the conference to some clear and reasonable goals. Otherwise, you are just reminding someone that you met. Perhaps you can use the time since you last spoke to chew over the next stage of your dialog. Set a few reasonable first step goals for the exchange. If these truly elude you, you may ask why are you contacting this person.

If you are asking your new connection for something, especially time, you should have some idea of what you have to offer in return. Often those attending conferences serve on one or several of the many committees that it takes to run the SHA. Volunteering to help can be a way to connect with a new contact, explore the workings and current issues of the society, and help keep the SHA going strong. Make sure offers you make are ones you can keep, as few things are worse than overextending yourself.

Social media is providing new tools that can help you foster connections from a distance whether you are following or participating in the creation of dialog. More and more archaeologists are joining sites like Facebook or Twitter and or LinkedIn. All can provide either streams or tidbits of current event information from your network or by you. Keep in mind that you are building professional relationships and think about the content you plan to jettison into the digital world.

Not all contacts have futures. Sometimes a great conversation is just that – savor it, think about it, and be open to another at next year’s conference. However, it never hurts to say thanks. Dropping a brief note with a detail or two to remind someone where you two met is a great means to demonstrate you were not raised in a cave by wolves. It also increases the chance they will remember you next year.

How do you maintain your connections with people you’ve met at conferences? What are some communities that are good places to network and meet people? What are some of your fears about networking? Non-students, do you have any tips for students?

This post was co-authored by Jennifer Coplin and Mary Petrich-Guy.

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  • conference networking can be tough…and the follow up even harder. In addition to emailing, I definitely do my best to follow up on social media, particularly linkedin and twitter: I find this is a great way to get to know new colleagues. Another way to follow up is to see if that person would like to grab a drink at an upcoming regional conference you may be going to.

  • Timothy Scarlett

    Over the years, media has become increasingly consuming of everyone’s time.  My advice is to keep your communications short when using media like email or facebook.  If you have a complicated question, email that complex question, but in the beginning, schedule an appointment for a phone call.  Let the person know you don’t expect an 8-page, single spaced, typed reply. Also, let the person know you’ve done your background research if that’s appropriate for the situation. For example, in your email requesting a phone meeting, tell the person that you followed up on their suggestions from your conference conversation (i.e. keyword searched the histarch archive on a topic, read a particular book or article, or visited a site).  That also serves to remind the person some of the details they discussed with you.