Thursday, August 2, 2012

Meaningful Small-Talk and the Art of Networking at SCBWI

Alert: I will be handing out free gourmet chocolate to Thinking to Inking readers at the conference. If you find me, please let me know so I may thank you in Chuao's finest. To find out how I got my hands on said chocolate, keep reading. 

Tomorrow SCBWI kicks off SCBWI's annual Los Angeles conference, and one of my esteemed colleagues will be bringing you fantastic coverage of it. But, on the eve of the conference, I am remembering my first SCBWI (this will be my fourth), and how terrified I was to attend. I even blogged about preparing myself for it as it was in NYC, I knew no one, and their round table would be the first official critique of my completed work. Yikes. And, to be fair, it was rough. I was used to marketing/ working trade shows for my brother's company, but found everything more tough when I didn't have his products to hide behind. 

This time, after a few conferences of applying my trade show techniques to conferences,  I thought I'd break down my core strategies for networking/conferencing/ trade show-ing/ etc. after over a decade of numerous events a year (I do freelance PR, and have rarely attended a conference where I wasn't offered several jobs).

1. Care about the person in front of you. It seems like a no-brainer, right? But, if I'm not aware, I can slip into a mode where I'm more worried about what idiot things I'm doing that I barely even see the person in front of me. Or, worse, if I'm out to "network" as a goal, I can see complex beautiful human beings as a means to an end. Neither of those has ever turned out well for me. On the other hand, actually caring about the person has ended in hearing hilarious/ fascinating stories, and deep long friendships with really cool persons I never would have met otherwise. And, as a bonus, by knowing what people need/have to offer, I can often help "matchmake" friends with other friends solving problems and deepening relationships.

2. Have things you're sincerely passionate about to talk about. I hate small talk. HATE. HATE. To keep from a series of questions that don't matter to anyone, I prepare. At a conference, when I'm taking notes, I'll often star a few key ideas I really like, and have pertinent questions prepared that will prompt a longer discussion. I also have a few topics I can talk about endlessly without getting bored. Many do well talking about sports, but to me, my favorite is chocolate. I'm obsessed! I always have a generous supply  of chocolate of various flavors on hand so instead of small talk, I can be critiquing the benefits of single-origin beans over a mixed variety. 

3. Get/give contact info. In our earlier post, the lovely Stacy showed how to prep your business card. Now, don't forget to hand it out, and to acquire the card of your new friend. I like to jot down key points of our conversation on the card as soon as I get it and tuck it into the back of my name badge. Once home, I collect them all, and write quick notes to each person referencing specifics to our conversation. You may want to also adding the person to Facebook if you hit it off, and/or following them on Twitter to keep up the new friendship depending on your/their feelings on social media. 

How I got my hands on said chocolate: I'm a regular at San Diego's finest chocolatier (Chuao), and am friends with all of the cashiers, manager, etc. So when the VP of marketing came in, we had a delightful chat about his new product line, I offered to work a trade show for them for their divine chocolate (had already done it once before), and mentioned that I use their Chocopods to make it through conferences. He asked when my next conference was, I told him, and then he offered to give me some to make it through. When I went to pick up the box, there were 160! Soooo....chocolate anyone???? I'm taking it as an omen for an exceptional conference, and I hope you come see me for a bite of chocolate and some delightful conversation. 

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