8 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 8 etiquette tips for participating in such social receptions:

  • It’s OK to join a conversation in progress, even if you don’t know the people. This is hard, especially for introverts. Fortunately, 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 others to join your conversation. Social gatherings aren’t for private, one-on-one discussions. Be mindful of others trying to join you. Make the person feel welcome by facing at least partially toward them. Briefly explaining what discussion you’re currently having. Consider posing a relevant question to make it easier for the newcomer to join the chat.
  • Introduce yourself when you run across someone you’ve briefly met before but don’t know very well. Even if you recall their name, they might have forgotten yours. Make it easier for the person to remember who you are by reminding the person your name as part of your greeting. 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. Don’t worry about politely thanking the person for the chat when you feel ready to move on, then join a conversation with another person or group.
  • Bring a card with your contact details and offer it to the people with whom you’d like to stay in touch. The idea is to make it easier for people to remember you and have a way to contact you. A business card might be too formal nowadays, but some card with your name, email and/or social network details might be appropriate.
  • 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. Pro tip: Attach the name tag 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 shortly 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. Share some useful information or a pointer that’s relevant to your conversation. Don’t wait too long, but also be mindful of multi-day events during which the person might be too busy to spot your note.
  • Don’t overindulge in food and drink served at the reception. Such events often serve refreshments to keep hunger at bay and create a relaxing environment that encourages socialization. Unless your primary objective is a free meal, focus on verbal interactions with others. Keeping your mouth stuffed with snacks or consuming too much alcohol will likely get on the way.

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 innovative endpoint defense solutions as VP of Products at Minerva Labs. In a previous role, he was responsible for security product management at NCR Corp. Lenny also trains incident response and digital forensics professionals at SANS Institute. He frequently speaks at industry events, writes articles and has co-authored books. Lenny 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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