Big con season is about to launch with San Diego Comic-Con, Anime Expo, Otakon and New York Comic Con all in the next few months and there are more mid- and small-size cons than ever before.
I was thinking about a few cons/events I’ve attended in the last few years and how it seems that every day new bloggers/online journals/small presses/industry wannabees are popping up. Networking has always been a key point in con attendance, and with the expansion of social media it’s ramping up to be a major factor in attendance for just about everyone.
As a result, there’s more business card exchanging than ever before. It’s exhilarating to meet so many exciting and excited people trying to make a change in the anime/manga/comics/illustrative art communities. There’s also a desperate need for a primer on professional networking.
Here are some basic networking tips for folks who have a lot of energy around their projects and want to to make a good impression on peers, vendors, potential sponsors and anyone in the industry.
– The #1 thing you really need to know when you begin to speak with someone at a con is “What can I do for them?”
This is the single most common mistake at events. People hand me their card with a comment that boils down to ” Here’s what you can do for me.” In 9 out of 10 cases, your card won’t even make it into my pocket. I have no need to do anything for you. You have to impress me, end of story.
– Don’t mistake every card exchange for a lead on a job in “the industry.” In fact, don’t mistake any card exchange for a lead on a job. Consider each card exchange a possibility for a new relationship with the other person.
– Gia Manry adds the addendum that a phone number on a card is not actually an invitation to call! IF you have a strong value proposition and there really is a good reason to call, sure, but think twice before you call with a need or an idea.
– Do establish context. A *brief* intro of who you are, what you do and why you think being a contact would be beneficial, is especially helpful if it is several days into the event. I’ll be tired, overstimulated and will have talked to a gazillion people. You want to stand out – give me context.
– Don’t guess. OMG, please don’t play “Guess Who I am” in front of me!!!!!!! No, I’m not the gal at the whatever booth and no I didn’t see you at Micro-small Con. I don’t work for Company X and I didn’t do Panel Y….or I did, but you’re standing there in the middle of a busy aisle playing 20 freaking Questions with me! I realize that we all meet and greet 14 bazillion people at events – I really, positively don’t expect you to remember me. But rather than playing guessing games, say something dignified like, “I know we’ve met, but at the moment (gesture to encompass large, noisy, crowded area) I’m sorry, I can’t remember when. I’m…(launch into brief intro.)” I promise this will absolutely suffice. Don’t be awkward about it – I get it, I really do. I probably don’t remember you, either. ^_^
– Have a value proposition that sounds as good when you say it out loud as it does in your head. This one is a tough one, but here’s a few value propositions that I’ve recently heard and what I really wanted to do was pat the person on the shoulder and shake my head sadly.
“This con is too big – it doesn’t really serve fandom anymore, they’ve completely sold out. We’re a new con starting three towns over, for *real* fans.” I have personally heard this at Otakon more than half a dozen times. The same town, sometimes the same state, probably doesn’t, really, need two cons. You’re doomed. Just…stop.
“We’re starting a new anime blogging website, to really address issues important to anime fans – come write for us, we’ll give you exposure to a large audience.” Do you know how hard it is to start a new anime blog these days? Not hard at all. And free. And there are a zillion aggregating services to sign up for. It would take, like, 30 seconds to develop a small audience for a new blog. The last site that “offered” me this great deal, I went to an analytics site, just as a thought exercise, and compared my readership and theirs. I’m averaging just under 100K unique visitors a month. Not really over the top exciting numbers, but this is a Yuri-focused blog, we can’t all be Perez Hilton. ^_^ However…if you’re going to offer me an unpaid writing job, you’re going to have to do better than 3000 visitors a month.
If your value proposition is to “like XYZ, only better,” you’ve already failed to create value. Get a real idea before you pitch anything to anyone.
Ed Sizemore suggests this one – People selling in the Dealer’s Room are there to sell. Yes, definitely introduce yourself, tell them you liked the panel, but don’t monopolize their time or attention and most of all, don’t monopolize their space. Addendum from me – if you’re *really* going to be mindful and considerate of them, buy something! Seriously, you have just stood in front of my table for 45 minutes and I’ve chatted with your about your favorite series and something you really wish would happen but won’t and your hopes and dreams, you’ve pawed every book on my table, then thanked me and walked away. Then you email me in three weeks asking me for…… Yeah, I’m SO going to want to give you more of my time.
– Have a lot more business cards than you think you need. Have several different cards, so you’re not handing out your Life Insurance sales card to someone who is interested in your blog and not handing out blog cards, when someone wants to talk about web design. But, seriously, having a cool card is the very last thing that you need to worry about.
Deb Aoki also recommends spending the few bucks to get your card printed on good paper stock. Also consider having your business card translated into Japanese. Japanese industry folks really appreciate this. (I keep separate Japanese language and English language cards, myself, but yes, I second this!)
Deb also gives these critical pieces of advice:
“When networking in person, please don’t assume that I’ll recognize you by name or by face if I only communicate with you via Twitter, especially if you use an anime character that doesn’t resemble you at all as your avatar and you use a pseudonym or nickname as your Twitter handle. Consider using your real name online — it makes you look more credible and professional.
Also, when networking in person, please look me in the eye when you talk to me. I understand that this isn’t easy for some people who do most of their interactions online, but this little thing can make the person you’re talking to feel a lot more comfortable.”
These are both so critical for professional communications. I’m not as obsessed about people using their real name online, but I came up from the old days of UseNET and expect online handles. However – I do expect you to say, “Hi, I’m Matt…mattiboy on Twitter.” This goes back to provide context. And yes, work on those basic in-person social skills! Practice with co-workers and friends until you can fake the “nice to meet you” conversation well. This is a must-have life skill, so really, get comfortable with it.
The floor is open to my fellow bloggers and industry folks – what tips do you have for networking at events? I’ll share really good ones in the body of the post!