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Six Tips for Networking at Data Industry Conferences

By Kelle O'Neal

Earlier this month I returned from DGIQ in San Diego, and this dynamic, expansive data industry conference has me reflecting on the people I met there — and those I’ve come to know over the years at similar events.

Networking at data industry conferences isn’t that different than meeting people at other events, I suppose. But depending on where you are in your data management career, industry conference networking may be new territory for you — so I hope you’ll find my perspectives helpful.

Find Some Common Ground

When you check in at an event, you often receive a list of fellow conference attendees from the event organizer. This typically includes names and titles of industry peers and where they work. Personal contact information isn’t always included, but you’re never too far from LinkedIn — or from a business card — to get that information.

I find it particularly helpful to see people’s job titles. It’s a great icebreaker to be able to make a connection and say something like this:

“Hi, I’m a data management consultant and see you are, too.”

You can also more easily find people who are connected to others in the industry, because they share a similar background (e.g., previous employer, educational background or membership in affiliate groups).

Getting the conference attendee list also helps if you’re selling a product or service and need a good contact name at a company you’d like to work with. And if you’re in the market for a new job — and you wouldn’t be the first person to attend an industry conference with this idea in mind — the attendee list is a great place to scout out your next opportunity and future co-workers.

The only caveat I’d share — and I hope this goes without saying — is don’t be the type of person who thrusts a business card immediately in the hands of someone you just met. Holding back to wait for the other person to exchange cards could even be a competitive advantage.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

New to the conference scene? You’re in good company at most data industry events I’ve attended. Many cater to people who are new and still getting up to speed on our alphabet soup of practice areas and disciplines like OCM (organizational change management), BI (business intelligence and analytics) and DG (data governance).

If you’re in a conference session and find yourself not tracking, don’t be shy about asking questions or hitting up the presenter afterward.

“I don’t understand the data steward’s role. I’ll find the speaker on break and ask for clarification.”

People working in the data industry may number in the tens of thousands, but those who regularly attend conferences are part of a small, tight group that want to help each other. Even if you’re new to the field, I challenge you to be bold enough to shake as many hands as possible and don’t hold back on asking questions. Remember, we’re all there to learn and grow from each other.

DGIQ is great for people who are new to the industry, and it’s, by far, the biggest and broadest event focused solely on data governance. I’ve seen DGIQ attendance grow over the years, and with this year’s bigger, better venue DGIQ is even more conducive to networking. (Sidenote: We checked with Davida Berger, President and Founder of DebTech International — the company that partners with DATAVERSITY on DGIQ. Davida estimates the field is growing consistently at 10–15% per year and says DGIQ attendance is keeping pace with this growth.)

Don’t Forget Special Interest Groups

Data industry conferences often include special interest group (SIG) meetings focused on specific practice areas, like reference data management, or industries such as healthcare and financial services. These meetings or breakouts sometimes occur before or after the main conference or take place over lunch. While you might not like adding on to the time you’re away from the office, SIGs are a great place to meet like-minded people — so check the full conference schedule as you’re making your travel plans.

Make the Most of Long Sessions and Tutorials

The longer tutorial sessions give you another opportunity to meet people. Look for those perfect opportunities while you’re getting coffee or in the hall on a break. Mention a question that’s on your mind to a fellow attendee. Or listen in on what other people are talking about and offer some advice. After all, who wouldn’t mind hearing something like this?

“Our company had that very same issue. Here’s what we did …”

At DGIQ, a few people came up after my presentation and we all ended up connecting on a specific topic. People exchanged business cards and it felt natural, because of the similar interests and issues we shared.

Be Social (Media) Connected

If you’re active on Twitter, it can be one of the best platforms for staying connected to what people are talking about and experiencing at an industry conference. You’ll discover what sessions people are enjoying, and if you weren’t part of a particular breakout — what a great opportunity to reach out to someone who was there to learn more.

Follow speakers, conference attendees or the organizers on Twitter to see what they’re sharing. Regularly check in on conference hashtags, like #DGIQ16, to get the widest look at what’s happening and when. Send out a tweet or two of your own, and you’re likely to pick up new followers and connections.

Here’s what people had to say about #DGIQ16 on Twitter.

Keep the Conversation Going

There’s a huge opportunity to continue the conference conversation once you get back home. LinkedIn makes it easy to stay in touch, especially if you share second-degree connections and are able to direct-message a person. Having someone’s business card, of course, helps even more — and following up by phone or email could be a smart, more personal move. Want to really stand out? Send a card in the mail, like a thank you note to the conference organizer or a presenter you enjoyed.

Even though I’m a veteran attendee, I’m still learning and networking from industry conferences. I plan to attend a few more events this year, like the September Data Governance Financial Services Conference in Jersey City, NJ. If you see me there, be sure to say hello!