Social in a academic conference: some tips

I will attend a conference next week. That's my first in-person conference. So I prepare for the social activity during the conference. I collect the information mostly from The A-Z of the Ph.D. Trajectory and the fine art of small talk. I organize the tips for different purposes: how to start a conversation, break-in, leave politely, etc. At last, I gathered some topics about academic/social/industry. Hope it works for you!


General steps:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Smile.
  3. Find that approachable person!
  4. Offer your name and use theirs.

Start with, “Is this seat taken? Can I join you?” Next talk about the food and then move on to science.

Next, ask if they are presenting or have presented a paper at the conference. If they have a paper, you can ask them to tell you about the paper. If not, you can ask about their research interests.


When you approach a “dancing couple,” wait politely for an interval and then turn to the person you have no desire to speak with and ask for permission to intrude so that you may speak with his or her conversation partner. Most people are too gracious to say no and will give you their permission.

Break into groups:

  1. Show interest in the speaker, but stand slightly away from the group.
  2. Ease into the group by demonstrating that you’ve been listening.
  3. Initially, it is best to find a point of agreement; barring that, just acknowledge the speaker.

Keep talking

Whenever you begin a dialogue with a question, get ready to dig deeper so that the other person knows you are interested in hearing more. Digging in deeper indicates you truly desire a response and are prepared to invest time in hearing the response.

How’s your weekend? Good. What did you do then?


When you prepare to depart a conversation, recall why you originally connected with your conversation partner and bring the conversation back to that topic. Doing so will allow you to make a meaningful connection and then take your leave easily.

Tom, it’s been wonderful talking with you about the changes impacting the health-care
industry. I need to catch up with another client before she leaves./I want to meet some other potential clients this morning. Thanks for sharing your expertise

You can invoke your partner’s help in exiting by getting a referral or asking for business.

Helly, I’ve been having trouble with the graphics package on my Mac at home. Do you know anyone here who uses this program on a PC?

Can you suggest anyone with whom I could speak about ______?

Matt is a great guy with an interesting history. I’d like to introduce you two.

I enjoyed working out with you. Can we arrange to meet later?

remember to end the conversation the same way you began it—with a smile and a handshake. Even if you have to get up and walk around the table to do this, make sure you do

Other tips

Following and participating in the discussions happening on Twitter。
Don’t only talk about science and work – casual socializing is how people build relationships that are memorable.
If you attended their talk, you should definitely mention that, and use their presentation as a way to start a conversation.
If anyone expresses interest in your work during the conference, offer to send them a copy and take down their contact details. Then once you get home, you can send your materials out to those addresses – making a quick but very effective form of networking.



What a great conference! Tell me about the sessions you attended.
I was absent last session. What did I miss?
That was an interesting program after lunch. What did you think?
What did you think of the keynote speech?
Have you been to this conference before?
What's the most interesting talk you've seen so far?
What are you working on right now?
Which institution are you based at? Which city is it in?
Do you know anyone at [your institution]?
Are you attending other conferences or events this year?
What brought you to...?
How did you come up with this idea?
What advice would you give someone just starting their academic career?
Do you know someone who can help me ______?


What's the best restaurant you've eaten here?
Tell me about the best conference you’ve ever taken.
What’s your favorite thing to do in a foreign city?
What’s your favorite thing to do alone?
Your ___ always looks so ___. What is your secret?
How was your weekend? Good. What did you do? I went to see that new play down at the Civic
Center. Really? You’re interested in ______? I never knew that. Tell me more about that.
Tell me about your xxx
You look totally at ease. I wish I could feel the same way you do
I’ve never attended one of these events before. What’s your experience with this organization?


I am looking for an internship for next summer. Do you have any ideas?
What is it like to do R&D for a corporation like AT&T?
Why didn’t you like being an engineer?

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