NETWORKING FOR NERDS – IN PERSON
Cast your mind back to around 2003. Beyonce had gone solo and Crazy in Love was being played everywhere. Outkast’s Hey Ya was released and to this day refuses to die. The Bride awoke in Kill Bill Part One. Finding Nemo is a massive hit, Daredevil less so. The Human Genome Project is declared complete with 99% mapped to 99.99% accuracy. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time brought a classic back and was fucking epic.
I was in my early 20s and had been sent to London to an ‘edutainment’ event. I was working for a small educational publishing house at the time, sadly long since absorbed by a bigger publisher that has also since been absorbed, Network Educational Press is long gone, but I was on the hunt for games that they might publish.
A very vague brief, but I was the guy that liked games, so away I went to an event I struggled to find; Smartphones and Google Maps not yet existing.
And I had the WORST time. Making small talk with people making games that were way out of my interest and comfort zone. I ate on my own and felt awkward as fuck. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing or how to do it, nobody had told me. And I hadn’t asked.
I didn’t know how to network and small talk bored me to tears. I didn’t have the info I needed to supply these people with and so felt like an idiot, unable to answer their questions and not really knowing what I was doing. It was a wasted opportunity for me, and the company I was representing.
Cut to EGX 2019 and I had some really useful meetings, made some new contacts, and really enjoyed it. People I might create content with and for, with mutually beneficial outcomes for us and our audiences.
16 years have passed and somewhere along the way I learnt how to network, despite being an introvert. Here’s how I do it, adopt these as your own and you can successfully network in a professional capacity too. You can apply some of these skills to social events too, but I’ll cover those another time.
WHAT IS NETWORKING?
Besides a word that makes loads of people go “eurrrghhhhhh… nope”, it’s actually about developing relationships. Not necessarily sexy ones, though that can be an added benefit to getting good at this stuff. We’re talking in-person networking here, online is a different and important skill too. Making connections, when you have no idea of the value of that connect until you make it.
It’s getting to know someone new, but it’s not necessarily making friends. Most of the people you network with will just pass through your life like a **can’t think of a suitable geeky metaphor so feel free to insert your own here** a boo? From Mario? Which is a great thing! Because a lot of the networking you do ultimately won’t matter; it’s those people you make a connection with, that you can do something with, help each other out, or have a shared purpose or quest that will matter.
Networking is a skill. Which means you have to grind for XP to get good at it. Which means there will be some awkward attempts.
TOP TIP – Half the people there are feeling awkward too and will feel for you so don’t stress. The other half don’t even care and won’t notice.
Accepting that it’s gonna feel awkward and unnatural at first will help massively.
With that in mind, let’s do some of the steps.
HOW TO DO A (PROFESSIONAL) NETWORKING
You don’t set off on a mission without doing your preparation. Find out about the event, what sort of people will be there. Also, read the news, know what’s going on in the world, and in areas relevant to the event.
Going to a FinTech event? Read up on what’s going on in FinTech. a gaming convention? Read the gaming news. Find out who’s exhibiting.
Twitter is amazing for building relationship prior to an event. If people are talking about it you can reply to their tweets and arrange to say hi at the event. Make sure your twitter avi looks like you so people can recognize you.
Get your head ready – tell yourself you’re going to meet new people and find out about them. That’s a good thing.
CHOOSING A MISSION
Goals! Something to drive you to network, something to aim for, and something to reward yourself for achieving.
I will introduce myself to 5 new people. I will say hello to the event organizer. I will find X person (if you know they’re there) and say hello.
Don’t make it about gathering business cards, that’s easy to cheat on and we want to be gaining experience rather than collecting cardboard trophies.
EASY PLACES TO START CONVERSATIONS
- The tea/coffee/biscuit station – “Oh nice! Mini pastries! Hi, I’m Robin, I don’t think we’ve met.”
- Event socials – literally the point of them.
- People demoing products/games at events – they’re there to show off their thing, this is an opportunity to connect too.
- After a panel/workshop “I thought that was great, what did you think of it?”
Smile. Shoulders back, tummy in. Stand tall. We’re going in.
This is the hardest part of networking and having some opening lines in your back pocket, ones that you’ve prepared will make it so much easier.
Meeting people who are on their own is the easiest thing to do. Assume they’re feeling nervous and then the onus is on you to help by saying hello.
“Hi I’m Robin, I don’t think we’ve met.” Easy, short, and encourages them to respond.
Alternatively use some context – the event you’re at will give you lots of ways to start a conversation.
“Hi I’m Robin – have you played the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo yet?” A question asks for a response and the conversation will start.
Not every introduction will land. “Hi I’m Robin – have you played the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo yet?”
“No, I’m no interested in it, bye.”
Not everybody wants to talk, you have no idea what’s going on in their brain so don’t take it personally. On the final day of a 4-day convention, people are tired/hungover/missing their family/out of spellslots. On the first day, they might be jetlagged/ill/not wanting to be there at all/dealing with their exhibition stand not arriving. Remember people at events are people with their own stuff going on.
KEEPING A CONVERSATION GOING
AT least 50% of the conversation is on you. When in doubt, ask a question. If you’ve already asked about them and their work, this is where your preparation will keep you going. You know what’s going on in the world relevant to the event, and depending on the event you may have loads of stuff to talk about.
“What do you do?” “How far have you travelled?” – basic but help figure out who this person is.
“What games have stuck out for you so far?” “Have you seen X?” “Can you believe that X did Y during their panel last night?” – a little more contextual and involved. More chance of sparking some common ground.
If you’re really struggling then it’s ok to end the conversation and move on.
ENDING A CONVERSATION
This can be for multiple reasons – you’ve only got so much time at an event and you need to make the most of it; you’ve been chatting a while and want to move on, you’ve accidentally started chatting with a massive twat.
Robin, it was great to meet you, I’m going to go and check out the exhibits/games/panel and if I don’t run into you later, hope to see you at another convention soon. – Hand over a business card if you want to.
If you want to connect try:
“Robin, it was great to meet you, I’m going to go and check out the exhibits/games/panel, can we have a follow-up conversation soon?” (use their name instead of mine or things get really weird).
Get their card, give them yours. They may be up for scheduling it right then.
“Robin, it was great to meet you, I need to say hello to a few more people around here, enjoy the rest of the event.”
It’s not rude, and it draws a line under the conversation and enables you to move on elegantly.
The more you do it, the easier it gets, the better relationships you’ll make, the more you’ll get from it. It might always feel a bit awkward just because of the way you’re wired, but I promise you – try these things and it’ll get more rewarding, useful, and even possibly fun! I know, I’m aksing a lot of you here.
I’m now chatting with some people about hosting events around PR for indie game devs, and that would be pretty awesome, just from going in and getting to know someone and what they do better.
When’s your next chance to network?
Don’t forget to join the Coaching for Geeks Community to do an online networking with geeks and nerds and bears – oh my!