It's a dirty work for many in academia.
I have always struggled with networking being a self-proclaimed dedicated introvert. However, one this a PhD should provide in the experience to get out of your shell through conferencing, and as a result, grow in confidence as both an academic and as a confident, assured individual.
If you ask me to walk into the coffee break at a conference like the International Medieval Congress in Leeds where 2,500 medievalists attend or the Association of University Administrators conference where nearly 1,000 attend, sweat starts to form on my brow. It is intimidating if you know nobody, and striking up that first conversation takes a lot of courage on my part.
But the joy of a conference is that you are surrounded by like-minded people. This takes the stress and anxiety down a level. However, at the recent Harlaxton Symposium on The Great Household, 1100-1500, I discovered an added benefit of talking and networking with people.
On Tuesday evening the symposium delegates sat down for dinner, and an academic I quote a lot in my thesis sat down next to me and struck up a conversation about the text and author at the core of my research. It was a lively exchange of ideas, but it also challenged some of my assumptions, raised new questions, and had an impact on my paper.
Luckily, I was presenting the next day, so had time to amend my paper to address some of those points of contention and new ideas. It allowed me time to prepare in advance for welcome critical questions. Had my introverted-ness and shyness limited my willingness to engage in conversation, my paper and presentation would have been worse for it. And, thanks to that conversation and amendments to my paper, that academic subsequently described it as "spot on" (the highest praise I could hope for!).
So, open yourselves up to networking, especially before you give a paper or presentation. When we print our papers out before a conference, the seem like fixed entities - you have carefully timed it, have the Powerpoint honed to accompany it - so you may be reluctant to make any changes. But conferences are forums for sharing, challenging, questioning, and rethinking ideas. So be open and receptive to others and incorporate that into your presentations. It can only help.