Is your networking not working?

July 5, 2024

This post is part of the series Perspectives on Research, commissioned as part of the Early Career Research Fellowships in Cultural and Heritage Institutions programme, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and coordinated by the V&A.

A nightmare scenario: you’re at an event in a room full of people, you don’t know anyone and everyone knows each other. You know you’re supposed to be networking, but how can you drop into a conversation with all these brilliant people without seeming silly?

The reason that this is a nightmare scenario is because it’s not the reality.

Networking is a skill like any other, and practice makes you better at it. I find it useful to break networking down into three parts: introductions, conversations, and endings. Here’s my list of tips and tactics to turn that event into something useful and entertaining. And to consolidate your learning, I’ve included images from my favourite Bodleian manuscript (Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 764[MG1] ). Enjoy.


First up – try not to start an event thinking it’ll be awful. Think of at least one positive you might get out of it, for example, you might see a friend or colleague, get a free drink or fancy canapé, visit an exciting venue or even meet a nice new person.

It can feel super awkward, like this awkward lion, when you’re standing in a room full of people and you don’t know anyone. Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

If you literally don’t know anyone in the room, have a look for someone else who looks like they don’t know anyone either. Take a deep breath and go up to them with an introduction ready, and they’ll likely be relieved that they’ve found someone to talk to. My suggested introductions rely on a couple of things:

  • the other person being glad they’ve found someone to talk to
  • radical honesty
  • turning a negative (I don’t know anyone here) into a positive (I get to meet new people)
  • the fact that people love talking about themselves

Traditional small talk greetings also work here – weather, food, venue, but have a question about the other person lined up to get the conversation moving.

  • Oh hi, I literally don’t know anyone here, do you? Anyway, do tell me about your research/job?
  • Wow, awful coffee here isn’t it? And to think I missed conferences during lockdowns! I’m here because I work on [subject], what made you decide to come along today?
  • I’ve always wanted to visit this building/city and am so glad to be here. What’s your [subject] origin story?
“Well hello!” says the animal that may be a tiger,  Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Now, another scenario might be that you want to talk to someone in particular – a colleague you don’t know very well, or someone who you’ve heard presenting a paper. This gives you a great opportunity as you can go in and ask them to talk about a specific thing that you’re interested in, and to introduce your own work. And remember, most people just love talking about themselves.

  • Hello, I heard you speak at [event] and I was interested to hear you talk about [subject], my own work focuses on [same or related thing], can you tell me a bit more about [subject]?
Be more like these guys: willing to break up a happy scene. But go in armed with conversation, not a bow and arrow. Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The hardest thing about meeting specific people is if they’re already talking to other people. You can end up standing on the edge of a group feeling like you’re butting into the conversation. But persist. You may want to try some of the openers with others in the group whilst you’re waiting for your ‘target’ to become available. The key here is to waiting and living with a bit of the embarrassment of standing on the edge of a group.


I don’t need to tell you how to have conversations. This is the easy bit. However, it helps to have a ‘pitch’ lined up as an introduction to yourself. Give yourself permission to boast a bit here.

  • Hi, I’m [name] and one of the AHRC Early Career Research Fellows. I’m based at [organisation], working on [subject], and I aim to find out [thing] by the end of my fellowship

Remember to be kind and receptive to anyone trying to talk to you, or to your group. Be as generous as you would like others to be to you.

Imagining what these cats are talking about. I have no idea what is going on in this image, but I love it. Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford


You’ve done it, you’ve networked! But now how do you get away without being rude? As with introductions, the key is having some prepared phrases so you can leave when you need to. A combination of thanking the other person, reaffirming what you have found useful, and stating why you are leaving is perfect. Try some of these:

  • It’s been lovely talking to you, it was fascinating to hear about your research, but I must refill my glass
  • Great to meet you, and I’ll drop you an email about a potential research idea, but I need to nip to the loo
  • A pleasure to talk with you, and to hear about [something], but I must make sure I speak to a few more people tonight/catch [person name] before they leave

Pro tip: if you make an excuse, be sure to actually grab a drink or head to the toilets. No one likes to see someone make an excuse to leave and then see it’s a lie.

This elephant has clearly had enough of all these people, but how can he get away without offending anyone?  Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford


Networking is easier if you ‘work the room’ with someone else. It feels easier to break into a conversation group, and gives you the confidence of not feeling alone.

If someone doesn’t respond to your introductions, or it falls flat, give a swift thanks and ‘nice to meet you’ before heading off deliberately and determinedly.

If anyone is rude to you, that is their problem and not yours. It is also their loss that they didn’t get to hear more about your brilliant work and research.

Be kind to yourself: meeting new people, actively listening and thinking of things to say can be very tiring. Take a break on an empty chair or step outside and check your phone. Give yourself permission to call time on meeting new people.

Double trouble – be like these clever owls, and work as a pair Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Follow ups

The next day, if you’ve made a useful connection, drop them an email to say hello and thank them for the interesting conversation. This is also the time to ask for another meeting, online or in person, if you have any specific ideas or work that you would like to discuss more formally with them.

Catch that contact, like this crocodile catches the fish Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

About the author: Megan Gooch is the Head of the Centre for Digital Scholarship at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. She has a PhD in early medieval history and has worked in a variety of roles in museums, heritage sites and libraries. She used to hate networking, but now rather enjoys it.

Perspectives on Research aims to shine a light on different aspects of research in cultural and heritage organisations, with contributions invited from a range of practitioners with experience of working in or with the sector. Through this series, we aim to develop a set of resources that may be helpful to researchers working in or thinking about working in cultural and heritage organisations beyond the programme itself.

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