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Networking & Hobnobbing 101: The Road to Bogota, 7th  Global Symposium on Health Systems Research

Networking & Hobnobbing 101: The Road to Bogota, 7th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research

By Shakira Choonara
on October 24, 2022

THEE programme of programmes has kicked off –  Emerging Voices Global Health #EV2022. We are also about a week away from the biennial Global Symposium on Health Systems Research #HSR2022. Post COVID-19 I think we’re all on shaky ground (or at least I am) when it comes to interacting with humans one again (gulp) or even having to network virtually due to dastardly visa woes and our zoom lethargy.

I joined in a recent #EV2022 preparation session under the hot topic, “How to network without being pesky and hobnobbing” to prepare for #HSR2022. EVs who were present quipped that we would need a lot of Colombian coffee!

Having spent the last ten-ish years in various global health gatherings, the simplest tip I can offer is actually taking a leaf out of my beloved grandmother’s hat. She was such a cute, warm hearted and friendly person and gosh well known with a ton of friends just about everywhere in South Africa.

The minute she bumped into anyone, or if anyone popped by her furniture store, she’d have the brightest smile and say “Hi I am Fatima from Bloemhof, what is your name, where are you from?”  Sometimes, I think we forget how simple it is to merely strike up a conversation with a huge smile, that random chit chatter at the coffee station, on a conference bus or the HSG social event. Go on, introduce yourself, it’s totally okay to be weird!

Then of course there are a couple of other tips I can offer –

There are two approaches to conference attendance and networking; either you could just go with the flow or you could be more deliberate/ proactive. To be honest, either works. If you’re going the more deliberate route, then of course you need to be clear about “who” you want to engage, “why” and prepare accordingly e.g. reach out on the conference app or social media beforehand, prepare your elevator pitch, as well as your project pitch. TOP TIP: remember to ensure all of your social media profiles are up to date, this matters when you are reaching out to stakeholders. Trust me, people are going to google you.

Then, of course, we need to consider how we are going to network in person, virtually or use both methods to our advantage.  Some ideas are –

  • Volunteer for any of the (HSG) Thematic Groups at HSR2022 e.g. Emerging Voices, this is actually a great way to meet others.
  • Send through a professional direct message on LinkedIn or Twitter to connect (this has worked SO WELL for me in the past, I have scheduled tons of coffee meetings through this approach and forged long lasting relationships).
  • Stay at the same conference hotel, your elevator pitch will come in handy, and so is bumping into other conference participants at breakfast or even walking to the venue together.
  • Do ensure you’re registered and going for the socials. Socials are everything.
  • Keep your business cards handy, also, create an excel sheet of all of the contacts you come across to send that post conference email.
  • While attending sessions, search for presenters/ organizers, follow/ connect with them on social media.
  • Host a twitter space, a tweet chat or even an insta live about the conference, invite participants attending HSR2022.
  • To be honest I am averse to hobnobbing – high-level individuals are always quite busy and it’s next to impossible to have a meaningful conversation, it’s much more strategic to network with their staff.
  • The most important blunder to avoid is pushing a “one-sided relationship”. What you want/ need, long lasting relationships, takes time and always try and foster a mutually beneficial relationship. I have seen too many colleagues ask for a job or funding in the first breath or first sentence (LOL please avoid this).
  • Don’t forget to take those pictures and post them on social media, honestly it also reminds me of the key moments and people I have come across.

All of the wonderful people I have come across this year through conferences, meetings, networking events, evening walks, sunsets, coffees, ice cream, zumba sessions, airports and quick selfies.

Finally, no matter the approach, mastering the art of conversation is the most crucial as we navigate HSR2022, the global health space and life in general. It is so important to be a great, interested listener, to really connect with individuals. My favourite read on this is Celeste Headlee, “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter”, if you see this at the airport bookstore, grab it, read it, master it.

Do also let us know your networking tips via twitter @ev4gh #EV2022 and see you in Bogota, don’t hesitate to schedule a coffee session with yours truly.

*Opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not representative of any organization.

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This is so helpful Comrade. These tips are on point. It is very important to be proactive and prepare accordingly. Lastly, I need the Author of the book you shared above. Thanks a ton