Guidelines for Meeting with Experienced Scholars at a Conference

For graduate students or those new to a field, one of the most anticipated parts of going to conferences is meeting with other scholars from the field. Knowing that all those people – whose books you have read, lectures you have listened to, and ideas you have benefitted from – will be there is exciting. But, this is also a very anxious experience because we often don’t know how to go about meeting them! Can I really just contact them and expect them to meet with me?

In this post, I want to outline how to meet with scholars at a conference. This is from my own experience (read failure) and I would love feedback from others.

Three Types of Meetings

It is important to determine what kind of meeting you expect with the person. Failure to do so can lead to some awkward moments.

1. Meet Them – This is the easiest encounter to pull off, and the easiest to ruin. Your real desire is to meet the person, with no real need to talk to them other than to say “Hi.” Be honest, the ultimate goal is to tweet your friends that you just met “So and So!” If this is the goal, and it is OK to admit it, do not contact them about meeting while at the conference just make it happen during the conference. Here are a few ways:

1. Check the conference schedule and find a session where they are involved. If interested, attend the session and before or after walk up and introduce yourself.

2. Find them at one of the main gatherings and introduce yourself.

3. Please be careful here, this starts to border on creepy! You see them at the conference center, hotel, dinner or wherever and want to approach them. So, you follow them discretely waiting for your chance to pounce. If you choose this route, a few suggestions: remember if you are doing it so are others; in this setting they just like you are busy doing something, even if it is just leaving; and get in and get out.

“Meeting them” is quite easy at a conference like SBLAAR. Just understand the goal – you just want to say you met them and there is no expectation of conversation or for them to even remember you.

2. Introduce Yourself – This level is also quite easy, but does require some planning. These people you want to talk with about your work, but only at a very basic level. For example, I am interested in the same topics or I have really benefitted from the broad scope of your work. In this encounter, your hope is not to have an in depth discussion but to open the door for further contact. Thus, you will need to do the following:

1. Contact them before the conference to set up a meeting time. This type of meeting will not take more than 30 minutes (15 minutes is probably the best).

2. Your initial contact should state you would why you want to meet (Example from an email I sent this year, “I would enjoy having the opportunity to talk about the common objections to the use of cognitive linguistics in biblical studies.”), and offer a few times that you can meet (this will show them how long you plan on meeting). Keep it short and to the point.

3. Before the meeting, prepare a few things: first, a one-or-two sentence explanation of you interests/research; a couple of questions that will allow them to opportunity to talk; if you don’t have a business card, something that you can hand them with your contact information; and finally ask about contacting them in the future for more conversation.

4. After the conference (with SBLAAR being week of Thanksgiving wait until the next week), send a follow-up email saying thanks for the time and with your contact information one more time. Also, mention that you look forward to talking again.

“Getting introduced” is fairly easy at most conferences, but remember the point – to open up avenue for further discussion. Do not take much of their time, or try to accomplish more than getting acquainted. This has been one of my common mistakes, moving “in for the kill” to quickly. Take the long view and use these times to foster ongoing relationships.

3. Deep Discussion – The third level of meeting is the hardest…it takes time, a place conducive to discussion, and the most preparation. You should only try to have a couple of these during any one conference and it should probably be with those you are already acquainted.

1. Like above, contact the person and be specific about intentions.

2. Once meeting is set, follow-up (assume through email) with more information about meeting. Give your interests and specific questions you have for them.

3. At them meeting, be ready to remind them of material in previous contact and have an agenda prepared (can be as easy as list of prepared questions). It is OK to spend a few minutes catching up/getting to know but this is a meeting about something specific. You must be focused on getting your questions answered in the amount of time you have with them. Remember, the meeting is about getting their ideas not talking through your own. After all, your ideas will still be there when you get home! Also, it is your job to make sure to end the discussion on time. No matter how good the discussion is going, when the time is up offer the opportunity to leave! If they choose to stay all bets are off, but you do not want to be in the situation of getting shut down. It leaves a bad taste and makes it hard to contact them in the future.

This level of contact is hard because conferences are already a busy time. If you desire to meet with someone in this manner, contact them well in advance of the conference, secure a place that feel is conducive to meet, and offer, if able, to pay for coffee or meal.

Well, that is my advice. What has worked for you?

As for this year, I have zero of the first encounters (took care of my list at a conference early this year), 3 of the second encounters, and 2 of the third encounters.

And if you are going to SBLAAR leave a comment or send me a tweet, be a pleasure to meet you.

2 thoughts on “Guidelines for Meeting with Experienced Scholars at a Conference

  1. I just hang out in the book stalls. Everybody comes there eventually. Find a friend that knows other people. Hang out and talk to them, and they will introduce you to people they know. It definitely reduces the creepy factor, but it is much more random.

    Like

    1. The book stalls…like a crack house for nerds. At some point we all have to go get our fix!

      Will you be my friend who knows the person who knows people?

      I do want you to introduce me to Nijay.

      Like

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