Crashing Receptions and Networking at the AHA Annual Meeting
By Susan Gaunt Stearns
What makes conferences like the AHA annual meeting truly special is that they offer the rare occasion for historians to encounter other historians who study something radically different.
The annual meeting welcomes historians from every field, giving us the opportunity to make connections outside of our pre-existing social circles and encouraging us to look beyond our traditional geographical, temporal, or topical divisions to assess the state of the field as a whole. Given that this is part of the mission of the annual meeting, it seems only fair that we must all work to do our own part to further these noble goals. And what better way, I ask, to further that mission than to crash a couple of receptions at the meeting?
Crashing a meeting reception is hardly an art form. It takes very little skill and merely the slightest talent for subterfuge. The first step of successfully crashing any reception is to know where and when it will be. Unfortunately, this is not the easiest information to come by. From the moment you arrive at the meeting, be on the lookout for those who might have some insight into what events are occurring and when. Journal editors are likely to have a line on one or two events; the Exhibit Hall is also a great place to learn when specific presses are holding book signings that will include cake (and also to determine which presses might be interested in your work). You may also want to take a glance at the “Receptions and Meals” Schedule Track in the annual meeting app, an invaluable tool for the intrepid reception crasher. And of course, never overlook the simple mechanism of glomming onto a group that is in the know. Although the last method is effective, the best way to find a group that will have access to a variety of invitations is to be sure it includes not only people from various fields, but at various stages of their careers. This will optimize your chances of discovering just what’s up at the annual meeting.
Once you’ve found out where the receptions are, you have to decide on a plan of action. You can either be a tailored reception crasher—attending only events that you should have been invited to, but, for some reason, were omitted from the guest list—or you can choose to be more ecumenical in your approach, attending any event, but especially those with hors d’oeuvres. There are advantages to either tactic, but be prepared to feel a little uncomfortable if someone asks, as you reach for some brie to go with your locally distilled, flavor-infused vodka, “So, what is it that you study?” and you realize you have forgotten whether you are at a reception aimed at medievalists or animal studies.
Once you have found a reception, the time has come to get to what the annual meeting is all about: networking. People you meet at the annual meeting could end up as future collaborators, editors, or employers—or even more importantly, as friends. Thus it’s also a good idea to remember that you usually only get two drink tickets for a reason: be careful not to over indulge, and categorize everyone you meet as a “potential future colleague.”
This is also why reception crashing is so important—making a point of meeting new people is a key way of getting as much as possible out of the annual meeting. Sometimes this can be tough, but there are always ways to up your networking game. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of every reception:
1) Remember it’s not personal. Remind yourself that if you approach someone and they reject you in the first five minutes, that is not in any way a reflection on you. Try not to take rebuffs too seriously.
2) Have a plan: Just as you needed a plan for finding a reception, you need one for figuring out how to navigate it as well. Have a series of questions ready to go that you could use in a variety of contexts. “How’s the meeting been so far?” or “Been to any interesting panels?” work surprisingly well as ice-breakers.
3) Have a goal: Actually, I find it really helpful to always have the same goal at the annual meeting. When I talk to someone, I try to figure out if there is any way I can help the person I am speaking too. Sounds like a strange goal, but if you can introduce someone to a fellow expert in their field, recommend a book you really like and that worked well in the classroom, or even just suggest good places to buy coffee where the line wasn’t too long, you’ve just turned a stranger into a colleague.
4) The business card is, perhaps, the most important aspect of annual meeting networking. Just getting someone’s card isn’t enough though: it’s following up that separates the amateur from expert networkers. When you get someone’s card, jot down on the back what you spoke about and a few details about that person. After arriving home from the annual meeting, take a few moments to e-mail those whose cards you’ve collected and tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. This might be a good time to remember tip number three: send along a link to an article or a call for papers you think they might find interesting.
If a conversation ever stalls, asking someone to tell you little more about themselves or their work is usually a good way to get it going again. As you get to know your new colleague, you might want to ask if they know about any other receptions. The night, after all, is young.
When she’s not attending conferences, Susan Gaunt Stearns is a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Legal Studies at Northwestern University, where her work focuses on early American political economy. You can find more information about her at www.susangauntstearns.com.
This post first appeared on AHA Today.
Tags: AHA Today 2016 Annual Meeting
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