6 Tips To Successfully Network At An Education Conference

There are right ways and wrong ways to network.  Everyone differs on “the best way” to connect and meet people,  but there should only really be one KEY metric to look at to see if your “networking” is worth it.

That metric isn’t how many business cards you connect.

Or how much fun you had at a conference.

Or how much time you spent in workshops, coffee breaks and exhibit halls.

The metric that matters most is:  How many contacts turned into new clients?

You might argue that there are other nuances such as setting up new partnerships

You might argue that it’s good to just put in some “face time” with your current clientele.

And you would be PARTIALLY right.

But if you’re new to networking, particularly when it comes to attending conferences, your goal must be:

1)  Meet the people that are RIGHT for me

2)  Connect with these people, get their contact information and, in time, bring them on as new clients.

These were my goals, and here are some useful tips to improve your chances of meeting the right people in a fun, natural way.

So let’s head to:

The California Charter School Association Conference (in San Diego)

I run LIFT Enrichment, and since we partner with schools to provide healthy after-school classes and get kids to improve their nutrition, my goal was to meet administrators at charter schools in Southern California.

The best outcome would to meet the principals, as they are the head hanchos.  If they approve what you’re offering, it’s easy to setup an enrichment class.

6) Dress Up And Look Your Best

If you only have one shot to make a first impression, now is your time to shine.  I typically work in nice, but casual clothes, i.e. brown leather boots, dark denim jeans and a polo.

At the conference, you’ll find me in a suit jacket and dress shirt.  It gives off an impression of authority, style and sophistication.

If I wore my more casual work outfit, it wouldn’t have had the same effect on people, especially if down the line they could be investing significant amounts of money in our workshops and programs.

Here’s a tip to keep everything efficient for a 2-3 day trip for men:

Pack one navy suit, two shoes (brown boots, dress shoes), one pair of jeans or chinos and three dress shirts.  You can mix and match that combination so you’ll look fresh and fly for 3 days.  The suit jacket will be your base and then you can swap the shoes, suit pans / chinos, and the dress shirts.

Bonus Tip:  Throw in a pocket square for an extra punch

5)  Attend Workshops That  Will Attract Your Clientele

At the CCSA conference, the workshops had a variety of themes such as Marketing, Fundraising, Administration, Social Issues, Communications, Media Training and more.

Where would a Head of School attend?

My guess was they would go to topics that appealed to them such as Funding, Financials and High-Level Administration.  Teachers and their support team would most likely be attending the other categories of workshops.

I attended 6 workshops Mon-Wed and I mostly chose Fundraising topics.  I learned a lot and met 3 directors and 1 Assistant Principal.  Which leads me to…

4)  At The Workshops:  QPP  Question – Placement – Panel


Jack Friedman, CEO of Study Smart Tutors leading an fascinating workshop on marketing and branding.

Three sub points for you on this one:

Question:  Don’t know how to strike up a conversation with strangers?  Ask a question!

What’s the subject of this workshop?

Have you been to any good workshops?

How’s the conference been for you so far?

DON’T jump into anything resembling a pitch, that’s for later.

Placement:  Arrive early and grab a seat near the front.  Rows 3 or 4 are perfect because you’ll be surrounded by people that arrived on the earlier side, are interested in the subject matter and are probably more approachable because they have questions for the speakers.

People who sit in the back room of the room usually arrived late, might have to leave early for a call or don’t want to participate.

Use the previous questions to talk to people sitting to your sides, in front and behind you.

Bonus:  ARRIVE 15 MINUTES before the workshop starts.  After a workshop people leave immediately, so beforehand is a good time to startup a conversation.

Panel:  Two of the workshops I attended featured 4 heads of schools on their panel.  These are the types of people that:

1) Have EXPERIENCE, having successfully run a school for many years

2)  Like HELPING others because, after all, they volunteered to talk to a room full of strangers about their expertise.

3)  They are OPEN to conversation after the panel.

After the workshop, thank them for their help (be genuine) and share one particular element of their discussion that you appreciated or found useful.

THEN, talk to them about how you could partner.  See if it captures their interest and get their card.

3)  Close  – Get That Contact Info

Be bold and ask for that business card!  Add an excuse if you need to exit (such as during a social hour):  “I’m gotta go meet my colleague, can I get your email or business card?  Here’s mine.  We’ll connect after the conference”

2)  Bring a small notepad in your pocket.  

Many times I met someone who DIDN’T have a business card.  Often they were the heads of schools.

In my right pocket I had a small notebook and pen, READY to go.

If I didn’t have these items, there wouldn’t have been a way to connect.  Be prepared

1) Gamify the experience

It can be intimidating to network, socialize and to do so for an ENTIRE day.  I would often leave my hotel at 7:30am and not get back until 9:00pm.

Make the experience a game.

Social hours and workshops are very important, so make it a game with a reward for yourself.  Here are some ideas:

  • I’ll enjoy appetizers after I introduce myself to 3 people
  • At this workshop I’m going to arrive 15 minutes early and talk to 2 people
  • At this ice cream social, I’m going to talk to 3 people before taking my first bite

There are a lot of food-themed events at conferences, and it’s best to network BEFORE you eat.

Just try networking while eating a chicken skewer or bruschetta, it’s not easy.

At the conference I met 25 contacts and 13 worked at schools and 7 were high-level personnel.

I’m confident one of those will turn into a new client in the next 6-9 months (play the long game!) and will have made the conference a success.

To see if that happens, I’ll also have a followup post in September.  🙂

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Reminder that registration is still open for our Italian-themed after-school cooking class at:

Bethany Lutheran, Chandler Learning Academy, Circle View, Clairbourn School, Davis Magnet, Egremont, El Rincon, Golden View, Haynes, Laurel Hall, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Short Ave, South Bay Jr Academy, St Cyprian, St Hedwig, Stevenson, Village View, Visitation, Wesport Heights, Wood Ranch and more!

We are MAXING out at most schools.  Join our class and get your children to improve their health and nutrition!

==>  Enroll in our “Italian-themed” cooking class this Spring

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