Good morning everyone. Are you enjoying your Friday? Want to talk some business? Like real talk, I don’t mean that sort of schmaltz that people pass around at cocktail parties about the weather or whatever generic news event has most recently happen.
I mean the sort of conversation you have with a few friends when you’re too embarrassed or ashamed to ask because you don’t want to appear stupid or like you’re not in the know. Yeah, let’s have that kind of conversation.
No, I’m not going to judge you if you don’t know about this stuff. And if you do already know this, how about a refresher? Everybody help each other out, because there’s ZERO reason we can’t all benefit, right? I mean, unless you’re a dick or something, at which point you’re going to blow off what I say and likely not be someone I’d have a conversation with anyway.
Today, let’s look at the different ways you can encounter professionals in the wild. GenCon is fast approaching, and that means if you’re a fan of gaming and nerdery, or if you’re in the industry, you get a chance to converge on a convention center for a few days and interact. I’m going to split this into two sections, first for Professionals and then for Not-Yet-Professionals. And yeah, that’s how I divide everyone up in my head.
Talking TO Other Professionals – Be respectful. I cannot stress this enough. They work just as hard (maybe harder, you don’t really know, no matter what you can glean from social media) as you do, and even if you don’t like their products, you’d want them to be nice about your work, right? Respect the efforts of others, even if they’re divergent or in some kind of competition with yours. There’s plenty of room at the table of awesome.
Talking AT Other Professionals – When we talk “at” someone, it’s a very one-way event. The speaker is giving the recipient an earful of words, either knowledge or opinion, vitriol or compassion, but either way, it’s not a two-way street. This infodump may even be well-intentioned, but ultimately this is a lecture. 99% of the Professionals I know in this (and other industries) are adults, and I don’t know if you know this, you don’t have to lecture adults. Like ever. You can be stern if a few work for you and they screw around, but you do not talk to an adult like they’re a child who just spilled nail polish on the carpet to spite you.
Talking WITH Other Professionals – Here’s the equal footing. You can share your ideas, your words, your thoughts. Then you receive other peoples’ words, ideas, and thoughts. I don’t mean you just wait impatiently for another moment where you can talk, I mean actually LISTEN to what they’re talking about, empathize, sympathize and understand where appropriate and (gasp!) maybe you’ll make a new friend or contact out of this meeting.
Some points to remember:
1. Professionals are busy. They might not have the same schedule you do (if you’re going to assume anything, assume they don’t), and just because you have ten minutes to stop and chat, they likely don’t. But you CAN make plans to meet later, when you both have time. Just don’t be a bully about it. Work it out. Remember, you’re a Professional, and you can totally act like it.
2. Business cards and a pen will save you from being lost in the shuffle. Especially true at conventions, people swap business cards with alacrity and ease that can make your head spin. Make sure that if you do set up a time to meet (and you don’t straight up put it in your phone – see #3) you scribble the note on the back of your business card when you hand it to them.
Note: Even if someone swears up and down they’re going to meet you somewhere, especially during a busy convention, understand that plans change. They might get pulled away at the last minute, they might forget entirely, they might, for whatever reason, not be able to make it. This does not make them assholes, douchebags or fuckwits. Conventions are as much a social excursion as a networking one, and you should not begrudge someone for being on their grind. (Or hustle, if you’re more familiar with that one)
3. Have a phone? Use it. If your conversation goes well, and you want to make more-than-flimsy plans with someone, put their contact info in your phone. I’m not saying text this person at 3am when you want to talk about something or ask them if they know any people who can loan you some firearms before the zombie apocalypse, but there’s an extra bit of “hey, take me seriously” if you can drop them a thank you note hours after you meet them. And if you’re going to make those plans, USE A CALENDAR AND/OR SET A REMINDER. This way, you have a reminder of what to do later so you can avoid confusion.
NOTE: What does a thank you note look like? Here’s what I used at Metatopia years ago:
[FIRST NAME OF PERSON I MET], I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet me today at [LOCATION WHERE WE MET], and wanted you to know that I hope the rest of your convention is a fruitful and enjoyable one. [REFERENCE TO SOME PART OF THE CONVERSATION WE HAD], Thank you so much for the pleasure of a conversation, I look forward to the opportunity to have another with you in the future.
All my best,
[YOUR NAME HERE]
TEXT MESSAGE VERSION: [NAME OF PERSON YOU MET]. It’s [YOUR FIRST NAME], and Just wanted to tell you that you’re awesome and it was great speaking to you today. Hope we get a chance to talk again soon. [YOUR FULL NAME, UNLESS THEY HAVE IT IN THEIR PHONE]
Naturally edit those as you need to, but I can attest to the fact that thank you notes in some form or another play a HUGE part in making good first impressions.
4. Not everyone is going to like you. Not that they’re going to be jerks to you, but not everyone needs to be your dear friend in order for you to have a good experience somewhere. Some encounters will go better than others, and by all means celebrate the good ones, and DO NOT (under ANY circumstances) publicly and vocally gossip or vent about the bad ones. Do not jump on social media to trash someone else, especially during a convention unless absolutely thermo-nuclearly necessary to call out the absolute worst behavior, practices or events. Like if Company X was murdering children or Company Y was picking fights with every woman or something. You know, the really extreme stuff. The 1% of the 1% of the 1% of things that can happen during an interaction.
Hi. If you’re not already a Professional in this industry (I’m framing these examples as pertains to GenCon, so I’m talking about gaming, but this stuff applies for other industries too), then I’m assuming you’re at the convention because you’re a fan of the Professionals you’re meeting, or that you’d like to BE a Professional one day or both.
Things aren’t that much different for you than above, but there are some changes you can make.
Talking TO A Professional – Absolutely, positively, without fail, be respectful, polite and courteous. No, it makes ZERO difference who the Professional is, what gender, race or persuasion they are, if you want to make a good impression, treat everyone like they’re the parent of the person you’d like to spend the rest of your life with. Give a damn about your manners.
NOTE: While yes, so many meetings are essentially interviews for future opportunities, please don’t freak yourself out by thinking you’re not allowed to say “Um …” or “Uhh …” if you’re nervous. Be your best soon-to-be Professional self. Nerves are okay, if you own them,
NOTE #2: That initial first meeting, the one that will likely occur in a hallway or at a booth in a loud and crowded Convention Hall? THAT ISN’T THE PLACE TO PITCH THEM YOUR SUPER AWESOME IDEA FOR A NEW PRODUCT. (see below)
Talking AT a Professional – Avoid this at all costs. Particularly true when in a crowded Convention Hall, when there’s a group of people clustered and bottle-necked possibly waiting for signatures or purchases, that’s not the moment you need to tell the person in the booth about your character or campaign. Yes, even if it’s their game. Even if you like, totally love it. Do not monopolize their time. Do not be a black hole of self-absorption. Know when you’ve said all you’re going to, and know when to move on.
NOTE: Pro-Tip – If they walk away or say, “I’ve got to go handle something else …” or something like that, it’s your cue to leave.
Talking WITH a Professional – Okay, I know you’re about to tell me that you’re not a Professional yourself, so how can you possibly be on their level? And I see what you’re saying, but hear me out. If you want to get on that level, start acting like you’ve been there before. Mind those manners, put together a good appearance (yes, put on the nice outfit if you’re purposefully intending to make that good impression), and be respectful and organized in your actions. You can do this. It’s not hard to “break in”, and there’s a lot you can do (like thank you notes) to rock peoples’ socks off.
Things to remember:
1. You are not a special snowflake. Yes, you might totally want to be the person who says, “Industry Person X is going to have a drink with me!” and let me tell you, it is pretty cool to have a drink with Person X, but that’s because I’ve known X for years. A lot of Professionals just aren’t going to have a drink with you. There’s a few reasons for this:
a) They don’t know you. You might actually be planning to wear their skin as a bathrobe. Or you might drug them. Neither of these things are cool.
b) They are busy. See them in a booth? See how hard they’re working? Now multiply that by everyday and by at least six hours. Then remember that they have other things to do when they’re not in the booth and they likely have people they want to meet. Where are they going to carve out ten minutes to share a cocktail with you?
Also, you’re not the only person they’re meeting today. After five-plus hours of glad-handing, people all sort of blend together.
NOTE: Not all of us glad-hand. If you’re going to meet me, I’m not shaking your hand. I can count on a hand and a half, the number of hands I will shake at GenCon, and likely follow these actions with sanitizer, likely even during the conversation post-shake. Because seriously, I love my friends dearly, but germs and anxiety and paranoia.
2. Do you have a business card or something with your contact info written down? Good. IF things in your interaction go well, then proffer this information. DO NOT FORCE IT. Also, do not expect a response. (Unless you break out the thank you note from above, then maybe you’re helping your odds)
3. Ask questions. Seriously. Ask not so much about their individual stories, especially if they’ve been told before, but ask pro-active questions. Questions like:
 How would you recommend I start doing [WHATEVER IT IS YOU WANT TO DO] and who are one or two people I could speak with, ideally at this Convention, who could help me?
 Has working on [WHATEVER THEIR MOST RECENT PROJECT IS CALLED] taught you anything new that might prove helpful or interesting going forward to your next efforts?
 What mistake(s) should I effort to avoid making, what’s the number one red flag big, giant pitfall I need to not step in?
And when all the questions are done, make you thank the person for their time, wish them appropriate luck if their products are up for any awards and hope they have a good convention. Then wait a little while, and write a thank you note.
Look, if you’re in the industry and want to get further in, proactivity is your friend. Healthy conversations, good application of boundaries and questions, open compassion and discussion … all these things are going to serve you well, and make your already awesome experience even better.
If you’re on the outside looking in, all those things are going to help you leverage yourself, if not catapult yourself past the barrier you really think is there (but isn’t).
You got this. You’re awesome.
Assuming I’ve got some energy, there will be video later this afternoon.
And there will be a blogpost on Monday before I leave for Indianapolis.
Have a great weekend.