Friday, March 11, 2016

Networking at Conventions

            There are few words in the English language that instill me with as much fear as the word “networking.” I’d sooner fight a bear than approach a stranger cold in the hopes of striking up a friendly conversation. At least, that’s how I used to feel. Recently I’ve begun to get used to it, and maybe even *gasp!* enjoy it.

            I’ve attended the New Orleans Comic Con (and some smaller cons) over the past few years and, each time, I try to kick my networking up a notch. It’s been surprisingly easy. Discussing my interests with a knowledgeable stranger often happens much more smoothly than making small talk with a family member. (Which, I’m sure, speaks to my own issues.)

The crux of networking is having people remember you. You generally want to be friendly, honest, and positive. Below are some specific steps that could help.

1)   Have Questions – If approaching someone after a panel, ask them about something they didn’t have time to cover, or about something you would like them to elaborate on. And don’t just say “How do I make it into the industry?” Be specific. Show genuine interest in the subject instead of just how it can help you.

2)   Have Something to Give Them – [I have much more to say on this subject than is included here. I will cover it more fully in a later blog post.] Business cards are pretty standard, but you can do better. Think flyers and mini-comics. For the next con, I’m writing a one page comic to be printed on cardstock. Bookmarks would also be good. Don’t expect the person to give more than a cursory glance to whatever you hand them, though. Cons are loud and busy. Hopefully they’ll keep what you give them and take a closer look when relaxing in their hotel room, or at home after the con.

3)   Buy Something! – Most people go to cons and do panels because they have something to sell. I always do my best to have extra money for buying comics and novels from the people I’m interested in talking to. Even if it’s not something you would normally buy, get it anyway. It gives you something to talk about with them, lightens their mood, and gets you a cool collection of signed books to bring home. You’ll have a year to read the stuff, and you can bring it up the next time you see them.

4)   Give Them an Out – People are often rushed and tired at cons. Do not monopolize their time. They need a chance to eat and hang out with their friends. If you refuse to shut up, they’ll remember you for the wrong reason. Check if they have a table in the exhibitors’ area and catch up with them later.

5)   Return – Touch base with the person more than once before the con ends. They’re going to see hundreds of faces in the span of just a few days. If they interact with your specific mug more than once, even in a minor way, they’ll be more likely to remember you. Of course, use reasonable judgement. DON’T BE ANNOYING.

6)   Follow Up – Soon after the con, send them a thank you email. Mention how you met and tell them you appreciated their panel and/or any advice they gave you. Keep it short, sweet, and classy. Don’t push any of your own projects on them just yet. You can link to stuff in your signature, though, if you like.

Don’t feel like you need to chat up every single interesting person at the con. Having a half-decent conversation with just a few is good enough. If you’re an introvert like I am, make sure to pace yourself. If you push too hard you’ll end up exhausted and miserable. 

I highly suggest picking up a copy of Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack. I came across it at a thrift store and it’s totally changed my approach to the subject

I hope you find this useful. Remember, if the people you’re trying to connect with are fellow creative types, they’re probably just as introverted as you are.