7 Etiquette Tips for Social Receptions at Conferences

Given the numerous opportunities to attend conferences both large and small, you can find yourself participating in social receptions more often than ever before. Such events allow members of the community to get to know each other, forging informal ties, strengthening friendships and making professional connections.

Getting the most out of the event and creating an atmosphere that makes it a positive experience for others requires some effort. Here are my 7 etiquette tips for attending such social receptions:

  • It’s OK to join a conversation in progress, even if you don’t know the people. The etiquette of social receptions allows this, as long as you’re being polite. Such events aren’t meant for private conversations. By being invited to the event, you’re implicitly granted permission to mingle and meet people.
  • Allow people to join your conversation when they come over. Make the person feel welcome by briefly explaining what discussion you’re currently having. Consider posing a relevant question to make it easier for the newcomer to join the flow of the chat.
  • Introduce yourself when you run across someone you’ve briefly met before but don’t know very well. Make it easier for them to remember who you are by reminding the person your name even if you recall theirs. Offer some context, perhaps by mentioning where you’ve previously met.
  • It’s OK to move from group to group without spending much time with any one person. Social receptions are meant to let people mingle and meet each other, so don’t be shy about thanking the person for the chat when you feel ready to move on, then join a conversation with another person or group.
  • Bring a business card or, better yet, a calling card and give it to people you’ve met. The idea is to make it easier for people to remember you and have a way to get in touch. A business card might be too formal nowadays, but some card with your name and contact details might be appropriate. Consider using a service such as Moo to print a personal “calling” card.
  • Wear an easy-to-read name tag. It makes it easier for people whom you’ve just met or who might not remember your name to strike a conversation. If you’re known by your Twitter handle or blog, add that detail to the tag. Attach it to your right side, since that is where the person will probably look if shaking your hand with the right hand.
  • Follow up with people you’ve met by email or the social network of their preference no later than 48 hours after the event ends. A brief “it was nice to meet you” note if fine, as long as you remind the person who you are, how you’ve met and/or what you discussed. Even better, share some useful information or a pointer that’s relevant to your conversation.

Keep these tips in mind when socializing during conferences and networking events. Be considerate of others in your actions, give yourself permission to mingle and make it easier for others to interact with you during and after the reception.

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About the Author

Lenny Zeltser is a seasoned business and technology leader with extensive information security experience. He builds creative anti-malware solutions as VP of Products at Minerva. He also trains incident response and digital forensics professionals at SANS Institute. Lenny frequently speaks at industry events, writes articles and has co-authored books. He has earned the prestigious GIAC Security Expert designation, has an MBA from MIT Sloan and a Computer Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

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