While going to a writing conference to hear industry professionals “talk shop” in a group setting and having your work critiqued are the biggest draws to attending, the most overlooked (and possibly most valuable) is the opportunity to meet and talk to both speakers and your peers.
When I say “networking” do you get excited about meeting people or do your palms start to sweat a little? What is proper etiquette when approaching people you’ve not yet met to start or join in on a conversation? Fret no more – I’ve got five secrets to share to get you started and keep you on track!
Research the guest speakers you wish to speak to.
Read up on relevant information on the speaker(s) you’re interested in speaking with (blogs and Twitter are great resources as they generally will have very recent news). When you approach that individual(s) to speak with them, use a piece of the information gleaned as an icebreaker. Do you both like the same author or Mexican restaurant? Did the person just have a recent success? All great conversation starters – just remember to make the conversation about them and not you.
Sit next to someone you don’t know. Yet.
I once sat next to an agent at dinner that does not rep what I write. We struck up a casual conversation (easy when you don’t have the pressure of wondering if they would rep you!) about topics other than writing and before the evening was through I had asked me to pitch my book to them and had an invitation to send them my manuscript once it’s completed. You never know who you will meet and how they might impact your writer/artist life! In addition, sitting next to someone you don’t know takes you out of your comfort zone and allows you to grow your network.
Collect business cards and use them.
How many of you have you collected business cards just to lose them in the bottom of your bag? Do you pull the cards out weeks later and have no idea who the people listed on them are? **Raises hand** To help remind you who you have talked to, jot quick notes down on the back of a business card when you receive it (OK – wait until your conversation is over and then do it!). Put them in one location and when you get home pull the cards out and send a quick email to say “nice to meet you!” Remind them who you are and what you discussed and then sign off. Keep it short and sweet.
Again – this is about THE PERSON YOU ARE SPEAKING TO! Don’t ask about your work or items specifically about your unique interests. Keep the topics broad and relevant. Chances are if there is a group gathering to speak/listen to the person, at least one of them has the same question you do.
Be aware of visual cues.
For many, this can be the hardest component of networking – how do you know when you have crossed the line from interesting conversationalist to pest? Best bit of advice I can give you is to use the visible cues. If there is a large line or group waiting to talk to a speaker, keep it to one question and don’t “add on” to it. If you’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone and they are maintaining eye contact and leaning toward you, then keep on talking they are truly interested in the topic at hand! If they are breaking eye contact with you, leaning away or checking the time, it’s time to let them go. Thank them for their time and move on.