I'm sitting in my AirBnB in Quebec after a fruitful Cog Sci. Conferences just kill me - even a four day with a single talk leaves me feeling super drained; I slept in until noon and didn't leave for my poutine quota until 8ish. Funnily enough, the more a conference kills me, the more fruitful it was.
Let's quantify fruitful:
Two collaborators have postdocs lined up after networking
Four new collaborators with 2-4 paper ideas lined up
I'm writing a chapter!
Reading list grew by ~30 papers
I saw a fantastic example of how not to behave at conferences, which I'll get to
I'm really excited about my friends getting postdocs - in one case, I made an introduction that went REALLY well, and in the other, we spent a few evenings networking and creating space for interesting conversations. Networking isn't just about talking to people, plugging your work, or even making introductions. Sometimes effective networking is about figuring out who should be in the room when, or how to peel off from a group to create space for interesting chats. You have to pay attention to the dynamics of the situation and figure out ways to create opportunities to really connect.
I have a few thoughts on this, but I'd start with paying attention to and exploiting nonverbal cues (e.g., nonverbal cues to invite, exclude, or draw attention).
Note that being excellent at networking doesn't amount to much if you don't do good work. I'm happy I was able to help my friends meet the right people and have the right conversations, but none of that would have meant a damn thing if they weren't already doing great work. The foundation of a successful academic career is good work, and they got these jobs on the merits of their work.
I saw some great examples of people discussing sensitive issues with care this weekend, managing what they said and left unsaid with obvious effort and thought. I also saw people use candor to connect with people, both to gush (I thought your talk was spectacular, it was the best thing I've seen at cog sci, I've never disagreed with David Marr before but after your talk I kind of do.) and to discuss difficulties with a mutual collaborator. That said, there's a delicate walk between care and candor; I saw some miss the mark.
Candor's a powerful tool - it helps us connect over passion, truth, and a little vulnerability. When candid, we strip away a lot of the conventions that protect us from being rude or exercising poor judgment. This builds rapport and trust, but taken too far, candor creates distance and discomfort.
Two students gave posters that they didn't believe in, and chose to share their discomfort with their work in different ways. One student didn't care for the statistics used to sell the poster, and chose to exercise care in sharing her discomfort. She explained the post-hoc tests (one-tailed T tests in both directions) with candor, explained that they were doing further runs with some tweaks to see if they could find larger effects. She told people that they'd expected the effect to be larger and that she was no longer sure of the research hypothesis. In short, she made it clear that she didn't believe in the work, but she did so tactfully, and illustrated the problems and their attempted solutions.
The other student went on a long screed as soon as I stopped at her poster about how she didn't believe in the core paradigm she was working in. She didn't believe that it could be tied to the topic she was ACTUALLY interested in, and while she could explain it to you she didn't want to. After she ran out of steam, she asked me if I wanted her to run me through it. It seemed clear to me that she didn't want to, so I left.
One of these students shared her skepticism with her current work in a way that drew people in. The other pushed people away.
Don't present work you're not proud of. If you have to, find and focus on the parts you can be proud of, and be honest about those strengths as well as the parts that aren't quite right. Don't rant about how your entire paradigm is wrong before you even get around to explaining it - people remember. But if you just do good work, you'll never have to worry about this.