One of things people don’t know about me: When I’m in a professional meeting in Second Life as my avatar, I’ll do anything but make eye contact with the other avatar. I’ll swing around in my chair, play with my hair, stare into space with my thoughts, flick things across my desk, sometimes even browse Facebook (shh, don’t tell)! I am a natural multi-tasker and a product of my generation: This is just how I do my best critical thinking.
4 months ago, I moved to Pittsburgh to expand my business for 3D animation (machinima). Right off the bat, my plan was to network network network. However, the process of connecting with a person in real life was physically taxing for me. I didn’t understand why– I’m only on Second Life when I work. All the other times I’m absorbed in real life with friends or family!
My first Real Life networking meeting was a disaster. It was a woman’s business group meeting for lunch, and I had no idea what to expect. I actually went to the wrong table of women: It was old college friends reconnecting. I sat down and was confused as to why everyone was starring at me awkwardly. Finally, I arrived at the correct table and stumbled across my mere 30 second elevator speech probably once per second! I took a deep breath and stayed quiet, and I listened to the interactions of all these women. They were all very successful– sat with their hands folded on their laps. When I saw this, I quickly removed my slouched elbows from the table and sat up straight. I wasn’t in my home office anymore with my jammies and a bowel of chips and dip in my lap. As time passed, I felt more comfortable and thought to myself, “now or never.” I casually took out my laptop and waved it in the air, “Would anyone like to see my work?” Eagerly, 15 women gathered around me. This was probably one of the most intense feelings I ever had: All of them were impressed and asked about a million questions and tried to apply it to their own work. The woman who led the organization took me under her wing and probably sent me to at least 4 clients over the past couple months.
After this lunch, I was not yet cured of awkward avatar syndrome. It takes a WHILE. Months later, I still get nervous and have cotton mouth and suddenly feel lightheaded because my heart is pumping so fast. I’ve been to dozens of networking events since that one, from 15 women luncheons to 200 people in one ballroom. Going to these was the greatest decision I ever made, especially since I’m after one thing: Making machinima global!
My biggest feat so far was a meeting with Highmark, the company that owns all the sports teams here. Yeah– that kind of company :) They enjoyed my work, understood it, connected with it, and now potentially want to use it. You can’t imagine what kind of confidence that’s given me. The gentleman from Highmark also gave me wholesome advice. We even reminisced about Philadelphia (he lived there temporarily, and I am from there). Sometimes the people at the top are the most humble.
Every meeting and every encounter has taught me more and more. I am now much better at communicating, at finding out people’s needs, and realize how many needs I CAN match. Sometimes just being personable gives me the advantage. I realized a few techniques:
**When I’m at networking events, even if I know people there, I’ll walk around the entire room to connect with NEW people. Or if I see my acquaintance there with a new person, I’ll politely ask them to introduce me. When you get involved in a convo with someone, stand with your shoulders facing out, inviting outsiders to come in. Oh, and if you aren’t the one to walk around and say hi to everyone- it will get awkward. I’ve been there ;)
**I stay till the end. This way, I grab someone interesting and have them walk out with me. Sometimes they’ll even give me a ride home– you won’t believe how much you can connect with someone in a car or a nice walk
**I will email each and every person afterward no matter who they are. I keep it brief, visit their website, and see how I can help them.
**A lot of the clients that end up booking animation work with me come through in the most off-hand ways. It sometimes works like this: I was recommended to go to a new networking event from a woman/man I met a DIFFERENT networking event. Going to this new event, I meet a person who knows a person and through those 6 degrees of separation, I end up meeting my client.
**You can’t really think about it in terms of money. Sure, I need to live and we all need to make a buck– but that will naturally come. I will never refuse a coffee with someone. Just learning of people’s foibles or successes with business is worth it. Sometimes because I am so young, they like to do most of the talking, but I let them. Later, I try to help them in my own ways and they will do the same thing back. Or if all else fails, just talk about the Steelers and they’ll be on your side in an instant.
Your city might be different, but Pittsburgh is unbelievably open and helpful. They’re like a small town with big buildings. :) I’m happy to be here and I hope my fellow Pittsburgh-ers will comment. If you are from a different city, I invite you to tell us about what your city is like!