Network Like a Nerd!
Emerald City Comic Con is the start of convention season in our house so I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about how you can use conventions to improve your negotiations and expand your career. Conventions provide a ridiculously wonderful opportunity to gather information about your industry and make important connections. That’s right: networking!
If you aren’t a cartoonist or even mildly interested in comic book conventions, fear not! These tips and tricks can be used anywhere you encounter large (or even medium) sized groups of people Who Do What You Do.
Networking gets a bad rap and there are 942 articles on the interwebs about how you shouldn’t be afraid of of doing it. Which is true, but unhelpful. Networking means talking to strangers, strangers who are interested in things that are important to you, and that’s intimidating.
So I’m going to let you in on a secret: everyone who networks is a nerd. They love something very much and they want to meet and talk with other people who love that same thing. That is what networking is: people who love the same thing talking to one another.
You can do that! You’ve done that before! You can do it again!
Identify two to three people at the event that you want to meet; don’t set expectations higher than that if networking really intimidates you. If you’re feeling brave, set goals for each person you’ve identified like “find out about submission guidelines” or “ask what their experience was like with XYZ Company.”
The first two sentences of networking are the hardest because they require you to break the ice and put yourself out there. The first is fairly innocuous: “Hi, my name is Katie Lane and I really enjoy your comic/play/book/podcast.” The next sentence is harder and is what most people think will make them sound dumb: “I draw a comic/produce plays/ write books/record podcasts, too.”
This will not make you sound dumb. What it will do is give the other person the opportunity to ask you a question and it tells them “Hey, I love what you love, too!”
If they don’t come back with a delightful question that leads to fascinating conversation, or if the conversation gets a bit awkward (it is a convention after all; a bazillion things are happening at once), have one or two questions in your back pocket. “I noticed you were talking about a big job on Twitter the other day; how did it work out?” “Have you worked with So-and-So company? I’m interested in working with them but want to understand what they’re like a bit better.”
That’s it. That’s networking. Not bad, huh?
Some of your networking conversations might lead to tantalizing offers like “I’d love to hear more about your project,” or “It’d be fun to collaborate on something,” or “It was nice to meet you, I look forward to talking to you agian.”
Most people don’t follow up on networking because (1) they think maybe the other person was just being nice and didn’t really mean anything they said, (2) they can’t figure out how to start the email: “Dear Steve” or “Hey Steve”???, or (3) they get lazy.
In re #1: Stop assuming other people are too weak to stick up for themselves. If they don’t want to hear from you it is entirely within their capability to not ask you to follow up. It is rude to assume other people are lying to you; stop it.
In re #2: Be yourself. The only thing that is not OK is trying to force yourself to approach people in a manner that feels awkward. How’d you address your last email to your boss, co-worker or client? Use that.
In re #3: Before you leave for the convention make an appointment with yourself for the following Wednesday. Set aside two hours just for following up with people you met at the convention. Spend that time sending out emails. When you’re done (or if you wuss out) set an appointment two weeks out to follow up again.
What do you say when you follow up? “It was nice meeting you, here is that thing I was talking to you about, let me know what you think.” That’s all you have to say. If you want to go for the gold star let them know you’re aware that they’re busy and if you don’t hear from them in a month you’ll follow up again.
That’s it! That’s all you have to do! You can totally do this.
Conventions are all sorts of fun for myriad reasons. Don’t miss out on the opportunities they provide to meet new people and support your career. Good luck!