Duh, we all know it’s important to stay up to date on the changing technologies in the video production and post-production industries. So we read and tweet and practice and put time aside for educational workshops (like the upcoming Southeast Creative Summit) because we’re smart and forward-thinking. But have you thought about the benefit of networking at an educational conference? Sure, you’re there to learn from presenters — but if you attend conferences passively, you’re missing out on a lot.
1. Introduce yourself to the person next to you.
Yeah, that old trick about talking to strangers. You’re going to be sitting around people you’ve probably never met. Sit down a few minutes early and strike up a conversation. Maybe you’ll find common ground and trade cards or Twitter handles. Maybe they’ll be a nutso weirdo (which also has its benefits.) Either way, you might learn something. Don’t dismiss anyone as irrelevant. They could have information you didn’t know you needed.
2. Tweet with the conference hashtag.
If your conference and workshops is happening in the 21st century, someone has assigned a hashtag to it. And if they haven’t, attendees have come up with one organically. Monitor the hashtag for activities, and share some thoughts and helpful tidbits. It helps keep you engaged, but it also connects you directly with the most savvy among the group. You never know who you’ll meet with a hashtag — I met one of my favorite Englishmen that way and we’ve been friends ever since.
Bonus tip: if you bring business cards, put your Twitter handle on it.
3. If you do follow the event on Twitter, make your avatar actually LOOK like you.
If you’re an egg or a baby or a cat, you aren’t recognizable. Upload a clear picture of yourself that actually looks like you, so people will know they’ve found the right person if they want to talk in the real world.
4. Actually go to the social mixers.
You’ve been sitting in cold classrooms all day. You’ve taken more notes than you have since high school. Curling up in your hotel room with some room service sounds really good. Socializing with strangers in the hotel bar sounds really not good. Take a hot shower and go to the social event! Some of the best places to talk to like-minded video professionals is over a quiet drink or coffee. At the first conference I ever attended, I stayed in my room during the social mixer and watched baseball. I’m not gonna lie, it was awesome and I remember it fondly. But if I had gone and met these people — people I interact with all the time now — I would have known them that much longer.
5. And don’t think you have to just talk about the industry.
Finding other things in common with people in your field makes for great conversation too! Talk about pets, kids, rocketry, whatever. You don’t have to argue about FCPX or the Cloud when you’re at a video production conference. You can be a normal human being and talk about the weather, if that’s what floats your boat.
6. Talk to the presenters, too!
Don’t be afraid to approach presenters after their workshop, in the hall, or at social events. If you get the sense they’re busy or trying to get somewhere, don’t get in a huff if they scurry by. But don’t let the fact their name is on the room intimidate you from saying hello. Probably 99% of all the people I’ve ever met in the video production industry have been friendly and willing to talk as long as they had the time. There’s no reason to NOT say hi to someone whose work you admire enough to sit through a 90 minute session.
7. Look friendly.
If you lay in the hall in the fetal position listening to your iPod between sessions, ain’t nobody gonna talk to you. Look normal, smell good, try not to scowl so much.
8. Bring a charger for your phone.
A lot of networking involves social media or at least exchanging numbers to meet up. A lot of workshops involve using your phone or tablet to take notes or monitor social feeds. If your phone stops working, you miss out. Make sure your battery isn’t going to die by lunchtime.
9. Listen and help people.
Ultimately, one of the most rewarding parts of networking is helping someone else fulfill a need they have. It could be just being a connection in the industry, actual paid work, or maybe it’s actual technical and creative help as a peer. Ask a lot of questions about other people, and listen to what they have to say. You could find a lot of value in understanding their world, and you might be able to help each other out.
10. Follow up.
After you’re home with some new followers online or some new business cards on your table, actually follow up with the people you met and try to make a permanent connection of sorts. There’s no point in meeting someone if you’re just going to toss their card aside and forget all about it. Don’t leave networking to chance and wait for them to call YOU.
Workshops are all about your continued education as a video production professional, but don’t forget the most important aspect of the industry: knowing the right people. Who are the right people? Maybe the dude sitting next to you! Find out.
(And where better to try your hand at professional networking than the Southeast Creative Summit, where I’ll be speaking about social media, online reputation management, and generally not being a d@&k online! And YES, you CAN save $100 on registration for now with my code trackmatte2013, thanks for asking!)