Posted February 21, 2011 by Amy Liss 

Making Conference Networking Work for You

Conference Program Team member Ryan Willerton, Notre Dame, offers tips on effective networking at the annual conference.

Networking can happen anywhere!

Every now and then I get asked, “Why do you go to ACUI? Aren’t you interested in traveling to another conference for a change?”

To me, ACUI is more than just a traditional conference with educational sessions and keynotes. What I enjoy the most about ACUI is the ability to walk up to anyone, introduce myself, and engage them in conversation. Getting over this initial hurdle of randomly approaching a stranger is tough, but once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes much easier.

As we approach the conference, it is a great time to reflect on why you should network, as well as how you can effectively network. Fortunately, this year’s Conference Program Team has created a number of opportunities for you to meet new colleagues and expand your networks. Here are just a few:

Peer Learning Networks:The most convenient way to network, Peer Learning Networks offer you an opportunity to spend an extended amount of time with colleagues at a similar level, expand your knowledge base on a particular topic, and establish relationships with folks from around the country. 

Meals: I am one of those people who likes to explore the local restaurant scene when I have some free time. There are two conference meals, though, that I will never miss—the regional dinner and closing banquet. And it’s not because of the great food. I challenge myself to sit randomly with someone I don’t know. Not only will I get to make a new friend, but also it is a good way for me to hone my interpersonal communication skills. Look at these meal times as more than just a chance to grab a bite to eat.  

School Tours:It’s not just about visiting another union and seeing where the Starbucks is located. I use these trips to observe and ask questions of other tour participants. After all, we are hoping to learn from each other, not just the buildings we visit. Use the tour as a conversation starter of what you are hoping to accomplish on your campus. And if you can’t fit in one of the scheduled tours, no need to worry. With the number of campuses close to the hotel via public transportation, there will be plenty of opportunities to explore on your own. Stop by the Conference Concierge and ask for a map of local colleges and universities, grab a friend, and explore on your own!  

City Tours and Experiences:This year’s off-site experiences are not just traditional behind the scenes tours—they were created to engage participants in dialogue and information sharing. Whether it’s the Theater Manager Experience, Art in the Union, or the Interior Design Showcase at the Merchandise Mart, these three experiences have a networking component to spend time sharing information with colleagues and learn best practices. Even if you don’t work directly with these areas, take advantage of the time to share information and learn how you can improve your union with new features.  

Social Events:Whether it’s at the Community Builder Awards Ceremony (which has been refined to a more social event), taking in a show at The Second City, or exploring the rich cultural neighborhoods on your own on Tuesday night, there are plenty of “down times” to engage in conversation with a stranger and get to know them. Use these social times to get to make a new friend. Don’t be a wallflower!  

ACUI Expo:Keep in mind that networking should not be restricted to colleagues working on other campuses. The ACUI Expo provides a perfect time to meet associate members who have products and services designed specifically for the college market. While you may not have a need for a particular service now, there’s no telling when you will have the need in a few years. Having a personal contact with an associate member can make your job much less stressful.

I hope you make the most out of your experience in Chicago. Enjoy your time in the Windy City, and make sure you find time to unite, collaborate, and make new connections.

Amy Liss

Amy Liss is the Associate Director, Student Activities and Leadership at University of Massachusetts–Lowell.


Great post Ryan - I'd be happy to connect with you in person over a meal or social event!
Jeff Pelletier
Comment posted 02/21/2011 12:53 AM
Communities of Practice are another great opportunity to network!
Comment posted 02/27/2011 12:01 AM
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