Networking tips for advancing your career through seminars, conferences and think tanks

So much information, so little time – what’s the best way to get the biggest return on your career advancement path? It just might be by joining in on the myriad of short-term informational exchanges held annually around the world. You’ll be surprised to see that they offer insights on just about every nonprofit topic imaginable.

Different organizations may call their nonprofit events by various names – conferences, seminars, panels, symposiums, workshops, etc. The Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance called its 2017 gathering a think tank. But no matter the label, what’s important are the business networking opportunities they provide to help advance your career. You’ll find advantages to being either a speaker or an attendee at such an event.

“Through sharing my perspective on stage, I have had the chance to establish myself as an expert in my field. I’ve had the pleasure of many long conversations diving into the details and implications of my talks,” Coraline Ada Ehmke said in an article for DZone. “Going to conferences and speaking has given me the privilege of meeting some amazing people that I admire and respect and am happy to count among my friends (and even future co-workers). But best of all for me, the very process of writing and giving a talk challenges me to question my assumptions and dive deeper into the way I approach my craft, which in the end makes me a better developer and a better person.”

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As an attendee, you can learn about new research, new trends or technical advancements that might take your career in a different direction. Many new contacts can be made by walking the exhibitor floor or attending a job fair. Step out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to colleagues with whom you may not usually interact about subjects that may still be a part of your nonprofit professional development.

If you’re an academic interested in transitioning to a government or patient advocacy position, for example, you’ll find this an excellent setting to network with colleagues from these respective arenas.

“I give 60 or more presentations every year and I’m really grateful that at every event there are one or two individuals who do more than just listen to my presentation—and leave at the end,” Jo Miller wrote in a post for Be Leaderly. “They take the initiative to introduce themselves, and as a result, I have an amazing network of friends all over the world.”

Look for seminars that take you in new directions. The Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance Think Tank ran the gamut from increased sharing of resources and data to the creation of patient registries and a redesign of clinical trials. One of these projects may align with you aspirations.


Look for seminars that take you in new directions.

And no event is complete without a little fun. Cocktail hours, dinners, social gatherings, off-site excursions – all lend themselves to some much appreciated downtime – and informal business networking.

“After a long day of sitting and listening to speakers, your first thought might be to retreat to your hotel room and catch up on your favorite TV show,” notes a posting on “Resist the temptation to leave quickly and stick around for some of the optional, less formal networking events. These can be a great way to meet new people and talk about the earlier sessions.”

As you probably realize, there is typically a fee to attend a conference event. Cost will vary, depending on size and scope. But there are ways to make attending more cost-effective. Speakers are typically invited to all activities for free. If you are asked to speak, keep in mind that other expenses – travel, hotel, etc. – may not be covered by the conference itself.

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As an attendee, investigate whether your company/organization is willing to pay for you to attend. Professional organization members are often offered a reduced fee.

Your company or organization should receive seminar and conference passes if it is exhibiting. Volunteering might also get you in the door. But be aware that many conferences hire paid event organizers who handle the jobs that a volunteer may do.

Make sure to keep tabs on upcoming nonprofit conferences that interest you. Opportunities to speak or even just attend can fill up quickly.

What’s the best way to keep in the loop? Conferences are promoted on the hosting nonprofit’s website, in trade journals, through social media, direct mail or membership newsletters.

PR or media departments often approach staff members to represent their university, company or organization – as a speaker, exhibitor or attendee.

So take the plunge. Add some nonprofit events to your calendar and hit the ground running.




[1] Karako, Jack. (2015) Ways to be Successful at your Next Nonprofit Conference. Retrieved from:
[2] Lawrence, Cate. (2017) How to Become a Conference Speaker. Retrieved from:
[3] Miller, Jo. (2018) 6 Ways to Make Friends with a Conference. Retrieved from:
[4] National Cancer Research Institute (2018) 2019 NCRI Cancer Conference. Retrieved from:
[5] Physicians’ Education Resource. (2018) 17th Annual International Congress on the Future of Breast Cancer® West. Retrieved from:
[6] Troutman, Sofia (2017) Why You Should Speak at Conferences & How to Overcome the Barriers. Retrieved from:
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