How To Network at Cons

June 30th, 2011

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!

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12 Responses

  1. I’ve always approached networking at cons with a sort of “making friends” mentality. I don’t think about what I can get out of the deal, I just say hello, shoot the breeze a bit, and go on my merry way. While this might seem a bit counterproductive, I’ve actually found a lot of the people I meet to be receptive and willing to talk about things that aren’t business all the time.

    But I also work my networking into other forms of social media, like Twitter and email, and use them as my primary form of networking, with con meetings as a sort of “name to face” thing. Because, like you said, we’re all wickedly busy those weekends.

  2. Ed Sizemore says:

    When I’m meeting company reps in the dealer’s room. I try to be mindful they are there to sell product and cover their convention cost. So I try to follow these simple rules. 1) Pick a time when they aren’t swamped with a million people. 2) Stand to the side of their booth/display so I’m not blocking potential customers. 3) Wear clean, well-kept clothing.

    The dealer’s room is the best place to catch people, but it’s the worst place to have a conversation. So I keep it short and if there is a lot to talk about try to arrange a time to meet with them later.

  3. gia says:

    If you do get someone’s card…and it has a phone number…do NOT! consider that an invitation to call that person to chat. Yes, technically they gave you their phone number, but unless it’s written in lipstick and handed to you at the bar, it’s not the green light to hitting on someone.

    If you honestly think you have a *good* reason to call that person, I strongly suggest giving it a second (or third, or fourth…) thought.

    I got a series of calls from a guy I gave my Anime Vice card to in order to promote the site (e.g. so he might think to visit) who wanted me to tell him how to start his own anime studio.

    A) As a journalist, starting an anime studio is not exactly my expertise. I assume he thought I could hook him up with someone. (NEVER ASSUME THAT!)

    B) Even if I DID know how to start an anime studio, that’s the sort of thing consultants can get paid money to help with. Why would I give that away for free? (NEVER ASK FOR FREE WORK! You don’t necessarily have to pay in cash, but you’d better be offering SOMEthing besides the dubious pleasure of your company.)

    I’ve actually got a set of business cards specifically for giving out to folks which does *not* have my phone number on it. (It has a little “notepad” on the back where I can jot down such information if I want to.) My ANN business card has my phone number, and I’m much more cautious about giving it out. :/

  4. @Ed Sizemore @Gia – Great thoughts, I’ll add them in!

  5. Uncle Yo says:

    Most important to remember at a convention is half the people with tables or panels or presentations are there to expand and promote themselves, meaning they haven’t “made it” yet. The other half with tables are spokespersons who have nothing to do with the booth and are there to show their company exists.
    You network at a convention to meet people of similar interest and make friends. The people who make it in the industry do it by themselves and do rarely make a living of it. If they do and you see them at every convention it’s because they ARE NOT making a living.

  6. @Uncle Yo – Excellent point. Especially true for the Artist’s Alley, I think. Less so in the DR where going from show to show *is* what many of these people do for a living.

  7. Deb Aoki says:

    I second the part about having a LOT of business cards. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve had people apologize for “running out of cards” and could they write their info on the back of my card or on a piece of scrap paper instead? (which I will almost always lose)

    also, get them professionally printed on good quality paperstock – overnight prints offers great service at a good price.

    I also found it helpful to get my name / business card translated and typeset in Japanese and have that on the back of my card. When I chat with contacts from Japan, they seem to appreciate this extra touch.

    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.

  8. @DebAoki – Thanks for these tips! I’ll add them to the article.

  9. I carry two (non day job) cards. One has my address and phone number, I call it the ‘real card’, the other I call the ‘con card’ which has name, email address and web site URL.

    The con card I mainly hand out at panels etc. Handy as I’m open to contact and questions by any attendee of events I’m involved in.

  10. Julie Sydor says:

    Sorry to ask for a bit of clarification regarding the NO.1 thing of “what I can do for them?”:

    Do all comments saying your a writer or artist boil down to telling them “hire me!” Or is it in how you phrase it? Is it better if you mention you can do touchup tasks or lettering?

    It’s something I’ve wondered about for a while now. Thank you for this list, its really helpful!

    My advice is to be okay with simply making a good impression. Don’t try to force a business contact. People don’t appreciate when you try to make yourself sound like a big shot, or make something work when the two of you have unrelated things you do, such as your style really doesn’t fit their company. There may come a time that’s different and you’ll be better off if your just remembered as a nice person.

  11. @Julie Sydor – It doesn’t matter how you phrase it, if you are approaching someone looking for a gig, or to get someone to do something for you, that first impressions is not going to be all that favorable.

    Your approach is the right one – look at it as a chance to meet a new person, maybe a new peer, perhaps a friend. That’s the best way to approach networking.

  12. animemiz.com says:

    There’s a lot of places to get cheap business card.. Vistaprint being one of them.. for about 8 bucks I think for 500 cards, but after using them, they spam excessively.

    There’s a lot of useful comments here…. and I would be echoing a lot of what Deb, Uncle Yo, Ed and Gia would mention..

    Something I always say to myself when I go to cons, and probably fail in doing.. don’t fangirl/fanboy… so I would always say do a mental pep talk to self.

    So develop a concise elevator pitch is what I heard from a BlogWorld panel.

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