The AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo is known as the largest event of its kind, the only one with top-rated education across the spectrum of laboratory medicine and the premier forum for new diagnostic technologies and trends.

But do these pluses fully capture why, year after year, more than 20,000 people from more than 100 countries travel to one city in the U.S. to experience all that AACC has to offer? Cutting-edge science and education at the meeting are critical for advancing the practice of laboratory medicine. And the Clinical Lab Expo brings together all the best that exhibiting companies have to offer.

But what connects all of these unique elements and makes the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo a must-attend event? It’s the human element: networking with colleagues about emerging research and problem-solving, seeing friends who might gather only once a year for the event, and making new connections that launch careers on productive new paths.

All of this means that to get the most out of the 69th AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo, July 30–August 3 in San Diego, attendees need to prepare themselves for those human connections and make their time count. Here are four tips for being network-ready.

1. Put time into planning your schedule

The measure of time and effort you spend planning your trip to San Diego will be directly related to the quality of your experience after you arrive. Do you have a prioritized list of products and services you need to learn about at the Clinical Lab Expo? Have you discussed with co-workers the challenges in your lab so that you can seek education and advice from peers attending the meeting? Keep it simple and make some lists. But also plan for some gaps of free time so you can strike up a conversation or have lunch with a colleague when the perfect networking opportunity arises.

2. Create a networking strategy

By all means, be sure to bring business cards. But more than that, sit down and sketch out a simple list of the types of clinical lab professionals you want to connect with and what you want to learn from—or have to offer—each person. What are the biggest challenges facing you or your lab for which you need advice? Alternatively, what recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of? Make a list of each and be prepared to talk about them. If you have trouble putting into words what you have to offer, ask a trusted colleague: What sets me apart, and how have I helped you at work? Another resource is AACC’s online community, the Artery. Check it before you go to see who in your network will be in San Diego.

3. Test your comfort zone

Part of your strategy should include—especially if you’re more of an introvert—how and when you will challenge your normal comfort zone around talking to new people. This is something you can plan for. For example, you might plan to browse the poster titles and identify a few that particularly interest you. Set aside a period one day to spend time with the authors and commit to talking to at least one or two new people about your interests. Another idea: Commit to introducing yourself to one person at each symposium or short course you attend. Consider the content and come up with a few related ideas you could chat about with someone afterward.

4. Follow up within 1 week

When you return from the conference, don’t let all those business cards and notes you collected sit at the bottom of your briefcase. Set aside some time to connect with other AACC members on AACC Artery. With just a few clicks, you will be able to look someone up, add him or her as a contact, or send a quick message. You never know when your contacts might reach out to you—or vice versa—to collaborate. Even better: Take advantage of the AACC Artery mobile site to connect immediately in San Diego. It’s the same URL on your smartphone as your desktop:

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