Full disclosure: I’m not the best person at meeting strangers. At least, I wasn’t always the best person at it. Now, I find myself incapable of avoiding it. In 2015, I attended four social media/blogging/networking events, six comic book/anime/cosplay conventions, four mini-conventions, and three comic book related meet-ups (one a workshop event, the others a drink-and-draw event.) I travelled around the country interviewing people involved in the comic book industry. I spent 2015 talking to people I’d never met, working with people I’d only met in September 2014. Networking face-to-face became a strange part of my life, and after some reading on the subject, I’d like to consider myself somewhat qualified to pass on some advice to those who are currently in the position I was in before I took up the mantle of Producer on a multimedia production (and all-round social media nerd.)
Today, as part of my mini-series on networking and branding, we’re going to address some key issues for face-to-face networking: behaviour, accessories, and clothing.
Context is key here; if people are drinking at an event, it’s suitable to drink with them. If it’s the middle of the day, you probably shouldn’t get drunk. Know your audience, and keep an eye on social etiquette. At several of the events I attended in 2015, many allowed for the consumption of alcohol if I chose to partake. (Pro-tip if you’re meeting up with a bunch of strangers explicitly to ask them for a favour – you should take part in their activity before asking them. At the Dublin Comic Jam, myself and the director of our production took part in the drink-and-draw. We left our camera in its case for our first attendance.)
If an event is serious, mind the type of humour you use, and your use of swear words. For some, swearing and sexual innuendo are second nature. Depending on how and where you spend your time, there may be lax social decorum that allows – and even encourages – that sort of behaviour. At a conference, or an event attended by children, or an event in which you yourself are intending to present yourself as a professional, your use of language should be monitored and altered accordingly. (This goes both ways. Don’t bore or confuse someone with jargon just to prove yourself to them.)
Perhaps most importantly, make eye contact. I know how difficult this can be – I still struggle with it – but it helps to break the ice if you can look someone in the eye (it shows you’re paying attention) and try to keep your face in a resting smile if the atmosphere at the event is positive. Both are much more comforting behaviours to exhibit at events, and make networking much simpler.
This part is simple: merchandise and business cards, especially the latter. Always have some, even if you’re “just” a blogger. It helps to have easy to hand-over contact details, and – as I mentioned in my branding and imaging post – a way for people to remember you. The etiquette of business cards is pretty simple; when you’ve been talking to someone for a while, ask if you can give them a business card, and if they have one as well. The equal sharing of contact details goes a long way in cementing the value of the conversation. (If you’re a vendor at an event, or a speaker whose cards are freely accessible to everyone attending, you aren’t required to ask for cards back from everyone. In particular for vendors, having your cards easily accessible on your table is a must for people who might not be able to buy on the day, but might want to check back later.)
When it comes to merchandise, options include a lanyard, stickers, or button badges. I’ve noticed the latter used to great effect in the past, with the company logo on the badge pinned to the owner’s shirt. It was small, but it was a detail that went a long way towards saying “I believe in my brand.”
As always, context is key. If you have a brand to promote, with merchandise, it helps to have it on your person wherever you go.
When attending an event with networking opportunities, your clothing choices matter. For professional events, I opt for a shirt. For conventions, usually a pop culture t-shirt. The shirt means those I’m talking to won’t look at me and see a man-child. The t-shirt means there’s a chance that the people I’m talking to have something to talk about other than (a) themselves or (b) me. That seems counter-intuitive, but it helps to develop a relationship more easily if there’s no immediate expectation to jump into business talk.
How you dress says a lot about who you are, and the event you’re attending. A suit is appropriate for a conference, but if you’re attending a convention or a coffee morning or a casual drinks night, unless you always wear a suit, it’s probably not the correct attire. Keep a selection of clothes in your wardrobe for different types of events. And remember, you never know when a costume might be needed at the last minute.
Tomorrow, we’ll be addressing social media. In the meantime, keep an eye on how you talk to people, what you’re wearing, and how many business cards you’re handing out, and to who. You never know who you might offend or impress, and what opportunities might come out it.