Making Pawsitive Connections: Networking Strategies for Veterinary Professionals


For veterinary professionals, connecting with animals is easy, but when it comes to connecting with humans, some of us aren’t nearly as comfortable. But with a little practice, networking can become much easier. For the final episode of our 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference Preview Series, we’ve invited MVC speaker Dr. Michelle Harcha to the show to share her best advice for preparing for a networking event. Keep listening for her tips, which you’ll be able to use right away at the MVC this week — and well into the future.

Episode Guest


Michelle Harcha


Dr. Harcha has worked in private practice, emergency medicine, academia, and industry. She is currently a consultant and coach to veterinary professionals. | Learn More »

Featuring 325+ hours of live and on-demand CE in 25 tracks, 100+ expert speakers, and nearly 200 exhibitors, the 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference is packed full of opportunities to learn and engage. Registration is now open!


Mia Cunningham: Welcome to the Fully Vetted podcast. My name is Mia Cunningham and I am very pleased to welcome Dr. Michelle Harcha back to the show. Dr. Harcha is a consultant, coach and facilitator with over 35 years experience in the veterinary profession. Now, after working in that very private practice industry in academia, she turned her focus to consulting and coaching, and she founded LeadYourShip LLC in 2017 to share her passion and knowledge of emotional intelligence, communication, and leadership. So, Dr. Harcha, thank you for joining me today.

Michelle Harcha: Thank you for the invitation. Great to be here. And I am so looking forward to the Midwest Veterinary Conference.

MC: It is rapidly approaching, so we wanted to offer our listeners some tips on conference preparedness, networking tips and strategies. And Dr. Hurd, you have had the pleasure of working with you over several years on a variety of different projects here at the podium and so I really couldn’t think of anyone better to help me type topic. So, you know, thank you again. We really appreciate it.

MH: Thank you.

MC: So I think maybe a good place to get started is pre-conference readiness. I think many conferences, including Midwest, send information to attendees in advance of the event to help them just kind of anticipate what to expect when they arrive on site. So in your experience, what are some steps people can take or that you would recommend that they do to prepare to attend a conference?

MH: Yes, I think probably the first thing to do is to ask myself what are my goals for the conference? Because I will look at the conference and the education and the sessions from that perspective. And so is it only to get CE? Is it to network? Is it to buy equipment? Is it to find a job? Is it to learn about new products? Is it just to get connected back to my profession after this pandemic? There are so many things to do, and so it’s asking me questions first to determine what it is I want to do. 

Now, it’s interesting because, yes, you send materials either by email or once the app is open, we can look at that. I’ve already been to the Web site and I have looked to see who’s speaking and who do I want to go to. And I put that those lectures into my calendar. And I always have a backup because a speaker may get sick. It might not be the lecture I anticipated. So I always have a first choice and then a second choice. And most often I always end up going to my first choice and it seems to work out well. 

There are usually social activities to do as well, whether it’s the president’s reception or receptions inside the exhibit hall or receptions for maybe my specialty, an alumni event. There’s always something going on, and I have to be careful. I don’t want to miss anything. And again, I already have my calendar booked for those days because I thought in advance what it is I want to do. 

And I think icing on the cake, which is a great cake, by the way, is going to the exhibit hall. Yeah, I love the exhibit hall. How come? Because I always used to encourage veterinary students to go and introduce themselves to each company. First of all, great practice on your communication skills and also you can learn new products, practice your communication skills, and see what job opportunities might be out there as well. I love going to the exhibit hall. I see people I haven’t seen for a while. I always learn something new and I think just as strategically about that as I do. The conference in general, meaning I look at who the exhibitors are, where are they exhibiting? Where is their booth located? 

Because I don’t want it to be Sunday, the conference is over and I look and I think, Gosh, why didn’t I go to that lecture?Or how come I didn’t go to that booth to check in on someone or something that I either wanted to buy or a new product that I wanted to learn about? 

And I always encourage people to introduce themselves to the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association staff. You’re there to serve our profession, our association, and it’s great always to connect a name and a face and find out all that the staff really does to make this conference successful and to make our organization successful as well.

MC: That’s why we are one of my favorites. Thank you, Dr. Harcha. But no, those are all really fantastic points. And so you mentioned the app, but I want to make sure that we do emphasize to people that we have a wonderful app that sponsored by Merck this year. So you can have a mobile app game that people can collect points and win prizes potentially at the end of the Midwest Veterinary Conference. You can keep track of your CE, you can reach out to colleagues who are attending. So it’s kind of like one-stop shopping on your phone that’ll be available through the App Store. 

And you also touched on the exhibit hall, because I think that’s another fantastic feature that we do have. And I thank you for the strategies because I think for some people, especially if it’s the first time, it might be a little bit overwhelming trying to figure out where to go. And we have a larger show than average this year. So we’ve got like eight aisles this year. So we’ve got, I think, almost 200 exhibitors. So that’s going to be quite a bit going on. So people may want to just do as you suggested and kind of take stock of who is going to be there and kind of figure out where they’re going to spend their time.

And lastly, you know, something that is new for this year’s exhibit is closing a little early on Saturday. So people want to make sure that, you know, you get in there and you’re you see who you want to see, because come Saturday at 1:30, it’s going to shut down. So I think that will be new and something for people to consider as well.

So I think you have it done a really good job of just kind of getting us prepared and trying to think about what we want to do over on site. But one of the other pieces that I wanted to talk to you about is networking. And I think naturally in these environments people are going to encounter other people. So there are great opportunities to network, whether it be, you know, professionally, if you’re looking for a job, if there’s something in the community that you want to get involved in. 

But I think a fair number of our registrants are introverts. And so, you know, given that, are there any tips that you might offer if someone is, you know, looking for ways to confidently introduce themselves into a person or introduce themselves into a group that’s having a conversation?

MH: Absolutely. I think the first thing to keep in mind is at any time, you and I always suggest you carry business cards wherever you go, anywhere and in particular here, because you never know who you’ll meet and how they may help you in the future or how you may help them in the future. So I always carry business cards.

And you know, you’re right about, if you look at the Myers-Briggs data, I’m from Michigan State. In Ohio State, it’s about a 50/50 profession in terms of 50% have a preference for introversion, 50% have a preference for extroversion. So, yes, those who prefer extroversion may have an easier time connecting, talking to other people. And I think one skill is just the art of asking questions. People like to talk about themselves. So if you’re uncomfortable talking about yourself, ask someone a question. What are you enjoying about the conference so far? What’s been your favorite lecture? What are you hoping to get out of this lecture? What did you learn from this topic? What do you do in the veterinary profession? Tell me more about that. What do you like about your job? And I think about those questions in advance. A good open-ended question to think about what you’re comfortable with can really open up a conversation, because in this profession, it’s so small and everybody knows everybody, it seems, and we’re all interconnected because we are in this profession to help animals and to help people. And I think that that’s always something to think about. 

Now, I’m a speaker and I always appreciate it when people come up at the end and say, thank you. This is what I learned today that I didn’t know. And oftentimes people are maybe apprehensive to approach the speaker afterwards. I encourage it. And if they offer a business card, take it. Tell them what you enjoyed about their with their lecture, what you’re taking away.

And no matter how many people I meet, if I got their business card, I usually send an email afterwards: It was nice to meet you at this conference. I wish you the best or whatever it is that you want. And again, as a speaker, I just appreciate when people come up and tell me how much they enjoyed being there and take my card.

MC: You touched on this a little bit with the business cards. And you know, we’re in an era of smartphones, and it seems like everyone has one. And so I’m seeing a lot more of the virtual business cards. Do you have an opinion about those?

MH: Yeah, I think it’s okay to be prepared for everything. Yes, some people are comfortable exchanging virtual e cards through their phones and that’s okay and some people aren’t. So I want to be prepared for the whole group. And so I’m not against that at all. I know some people aren’t comfortable doing that. And so I always have my hard copy business cards.

MC: Taking a step back to your prepared thoughts or questions that you might have for an icebreaker or a conversation starter: For someone that might be looking for a job, is it worthwhile to prepare an elevator pitch about yourself and if so, are there components that you think would be worthwhile to include?

MH: I tell you, the elevator pitch would really vary depending upon who you are. Are you in school? Are you in a field and looking to change jobs? Are you looking to get business? So it really depends. It’s like, what do you want people to know about you in a very short period of time? Because someone that’s really all you have to tell people, Here’s who I am, here’s what I do, here’s how I can help you, or here’s who I am, here’s what I do and here’s what I’m looking to do. And then ask an open-ended question: How can you help me? Or what thoughts do you have or what suggestions do you have for me? So it’s really kind of dependent upon who it is you’re meeting and what it is you hope to accomplish by that.

MC: I had a couple more questions just regarding nerves. So I feel like some people are just and I’m one of them. I will wholeheartedly admit that there are times where my nerves just kind of get the best of me during a conversation. I do have suggestions on way that we can like talk ourselves through it. Like, you know, I think it comes down to like a coping mechanism, like something we can think about, if we find ourselves getting a little unnerved and outside of our comfort zone as it relates to talking to someone. 

MH: I have a preference for introversion, but I consider myself a very good networker and a good conversationalist. And how did I get there? I got there because I practiced. If you take any skill that you have that you’re gifted, you don’t even think about it. It just comes natural for you. Remember there was a time that you did it for the very first time and chances are there was a little anxiety. I was a little nervous. I did it really slow and now it’s just comes natural and conversation, regardless of personality type, is possible for everyone with practice. 

It’s like surgery. A veterinarian who does an ovariohysterectomy, a spay, probably the first one they did, they were nervous. It took them a long time and now it maybe takes them a very short period of time. And they do it with confidence and confidence. 

Networking is a skill. Every skill is based on the brain. And the more we practice, the better we become. So what do I do if I’m in conversation with someone and I’m really nervous and I’m thinking about how I’m not coming across as I want to, I focus on them. I take the focus off of me and put it on to them, and I might ask myself questions to help calm that fear. You know, what are they thinking, feeling and needing from me right now? How can I help them? How can I contribute to them? What might they need from me? So sometimes I calm me down by just asking me questions like that.

MC: The last piece on the networking that I really wanted to do better help understanding are ways that someone can gracefully leave or exit a conversation.

MH: Well, that’s a tough one because it’s hard to excuse yourself. And I love what Brené Brown says about clear as kind, unclear as unkind. And so it’s helpful, I think, just to tell the truth. And my guess is if you look to the day or the days that you’re there, you probably have things planned out. And I might just say, excuse me, I need to leave now, I have a lecture to go to for my continuing education. Or, forgive me, I need to leave now, I have a friend who’s waiting for me. And it’s helpful if it’s true. I don’t encourage people not to be honest about that, because some people can tell that you’re not being honest. I think it’s okay to be absolutely honest and just gracefully excuse yourself. And that’s how I would do it.

MC: Well, before I let you go, is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?

MH: I know one thing we talked about is attire at conferences, and I can say from the history of years ago, it was business attire all the time too. It’s more of a casual or business casual now, and I just encourage people to think about what it is they wear because your clothes present you too. This is our profession and this is who we are. If you’re looking for a job, there will be people looking for you. And how will people remember me after this conference? And so I just what’s appropriate. I mean, be comfortable, of course. Just be mindful that people are watching you. You’re part of a profession and you want to put out that professional appearance.

Business casual today, I think, is very acceptable. And again, just to be mindful, if I’m looking for I usually wear business casual, but when I present, always business. And of course I’ll be presenting on Friday and looking very forward to that as well. Very honored to speak at the Midwest Veterinary Conference.

MC: We’re very happy to have you.

MH: I have one more suggestion, an idea, just because I have gone through this myself and that is the majority of the people who attend are probably in need of continuing education hours, and they’re going to use these for their license renewal. I put it into my calendar so I know what I did and didn’t go to. But I would encourage having a folder of which you put the sessions that you go into as well as a certificate that they will receive from you for your license renewal. For veterinarians. We were new this year, so two years from now I’ve already got my folder set up. So when I get my certificate from you, I’ll know where it is. And I’m guessing you probably get a lot of people who say, I don’t know where that certificate is from this year and last year and the year before.

MC: (Laughs) Yes, from time to time!

MH: Fom time to time, I have probably been guilty of that in the past. So, what can I do now today so that it’s easy two years from now when I do my license renewal.

MC: I’m going to put that on a loop at the end of the episode. Let people hear that a few times.

MH: Every state is different. And so, what can I do to make my life easier in two years? I may spend an hour finding stuff for renewal, versus if I do it right when I get home, it’ll be done and I only have to think about it once.

MC: File it away, you know where it is, and just grab it when you’re ready for it.

MH: The only other thing I could say is just to familiarize yourself with the conference venue—meaning, where do you register? Where is the exhibit hall? Where are the lectures? Are there some that are in the convention center versus the hotel? And where’s that located? And just to be mindful so that you’re not late to a talk that you want to go to.

MC: And I’ll even say, I know this may seem rudimentary to some people, but also prepare for the parking. There will be other events coinciding with Midwest this year. And so it’s making sure that people get there early. They can grab a parking space and make enough time to get over the registration if need be and, you know, get their material and they get to class on time.

MH: So you have to make sure you understand the lay of the land.

MC: For those listeners who have not yet registered for the 2024 Midwest Veterinary Conference, there’s still time, so please make sure to visit to register. We have over 300 hours of in-person CE available and over 120 hours of virtual on-demand programing that will be available February 26 through August 26. 

Until next time, make sure you follow Fully Vetted on your favorite listening platform for the latest animal care news from the clinic to the farm.

Well, thank you again, Dr. Harcha.

MH: You’re so welcome.

Dr. Harcha will be speaking on Friday, February 23 in the Practice Management II track, sponsored by Sedgwick. See the show notes or visit to learn more about her and her sessions. 
If you’re heading out for the conference today or later this week, be sure to refer to our complete “know before you go” guide as you prepare!
After the MVC concludes, we’ll be taking a much-needed break. While we’re gone, you can catch up on old episodes or, better yet, sign up for the virtual conference! You can sign up or add it to your existing registration any time through August. Visit to find out how. We’ll be back in the spring for episode 100! Please complete our listener survey to tell us what you want to hear about in future episodes.

Leave a Reply