Effective Networking (Taking Notes)

by Darius Kazemi on October 21, 2005

in networking

Note: This is part of a series of articles called Effective Networking in the Games Industry. I’m writing these articles in no particular order, so I’m sorry if this seems scattered. I promise I will collect it all and put it on my permanent webspace for future reference.

Taking Notes

Let’s say you’re already okay at meeting people and holding a conversation, but you have a hard time remembering names and faces. Note taking is an incredibly important way to boost the effectiveness of your memory for people, which in turn helps you make connections between your connections (which in turn makes you into an expert networker).

My System

First off, I’ve known a few people who practice the most basic form of note-taking. After meeting someone, they go off to a corner and, on the back of the person’s business card, they jot down a few notes to help them remember things about that person. For most people, this is where it ends. But that’s really just the beginning. What you write on the back of the card should only be enough to jog your memory six hours later. Because that’s when the real note-taking happens.

Whether I just crashed in my hotel room after a 15-hour day at GDC, or I’m coming home from 3 hours at the Boston Postmortem, or even returning from an interview at a game company, I always do the same thing. I sit down and either in my paper notepad or on my Palm, I write. And I write. And I write.

The first thing I do is I stack all the business cards that I collected that day. Going through them one by one, I copy down all the information on the business card. This has the benefit of making permanent the information that I could easily lose on my desk or in my wallet or whatnot. Once I’ve copied down all the information from the card, I jog my memory with the notes on the back and write a few sentences about

  • what they look like (so I can remember them next time)
  • under what circumstances we met
  • what we talked about (including their non-games interests)
  • what their personality is like

and then I move on to the next card.

A typical entry might look something like this one, which is a composite from notes I’ve taken on several real people:

John Doe
Programmer, Company A
AIM: johndoegameguy
Tall, shaved head, wearing a leather jacket. Rimless glasses. We met over dinner at that Japanese place near the conference hall. He’s friends with Jane, who introduced us. He programs Serious Games stuff, but would like to get into the more traditional entertainment sector. He really liked the Game Developers Rant session this year, and he also read and liked Chris Crawford on Game Design. He’s from Tulsa, OK and thinks it’s too damn hot in CA. Also, he likes to curse casually, so next time I talk to him I should do that. Very laid-back. He likes Guinness.

After compiling notes like this for everyone I’ve met you’d think I’d be done.

You’d be wrong.

Every few months, I go back to those permanent records, and I read them all. At this point in my networking career, it means I’m looking at notes from three years of Game Developers Conferences, IGDA chapter meetings, interviews, lectures, etc. Still, it only takes about 30 minutes for me to read over everything, and it’s a real joy sometimes to relive these conversations and memories in my head. In fact, I make a point of doing so when I’m feeling down.

The Benefits

By constantly refreshing and reinforcing this list of people I’ve met, I gain several benefits. First and most obvious, it’s easier for me to remember names and connect them with faces and accomplishments. Just the other month at the Boston IGDA chapter meeting, I saw a guy who looked familiar. I instantly remembered his name, the company he works for, and the project he does in his spare time. I’d met him at GDC 7 months earlier! But the only reason I remembered him was I had read my list the previous week. Otherwise it would have completely escaped me. I was even able to introduce him to my friend who does similar work.

Which leads nicely into my next point: the list helps you make connections within your network. This is extremely powerful. I am in no position to offer jobs to any of my friends. But when I meet someone at a conference who likes rhythm games, I make a note of that. Two days later I’ll see him in the same room as my other friend who is a high level manager at a company that makes rhythm games. I cut across the room and introduce them. Bang. Even if my manager friend doesn’t end up hiring this guy, the hopeful hire is grateful to me for helping him out, and the manager is impressed that I’m such a good networker.

You can look at your network of people like a computer network. In a computer network, you want maximum connectivity between computers. Ideally, every computer is directly connected to every other computer. That way, if one link gets disconnected, it’s only two hops to bridge that gap. You should strive to make your personal network equally connected. A connected network is a strong network.

Taking notes is a great way to get extra oomph out of your weak ties.

Added Bonus

I used to keep my list of contacts in a paper notepad, but last year I migrated everything into my Palm device. This has the added bonus of portability of my contact list. I can access it any time, any place. I was at an interview at a game company, and I saw someone working there who I recognized as “the guy I had Mexican food with who went to school in Texas.” Right there I discretely checked my Palm, found “Mexican food, from Texas” guy, the name rang a bell, and I called out his name. He was happy to see me, and mortally embarassed that he didn’t remember my name. I didn’t hold it against him.


Jo Brosius October 22, 2005 at 10:50 pm

Wow. So being the Nobilis of Networking actually takes a good deal of work. Out of curiousity, do you do that note-taking thing for absolutely everyone you meet, or just in the games industry?

Darius Kazemi October 25, 2005 at 1:34 am

Jo: I only do it for games industry folks. It’s a little much just for friends.

James Brewer April 7, 2011 at 9:21 am

Darius: At the end of the post you remarked on how the guy you remembered didn’t remember you. Does this happen often? Does it make for an awkward situation or are you used to it by now?

Darius Kazemi April 7, 2011 at 9:26 am

This does happen pretty often. It’s not awkward for me, but it is awkward for the other person. But that means it’s easy to avoid an awkward situation: as the person who remembers, you should just quickly move on like nothing happened. That’ll minimize the awkwardness for the other person.

James Brewer April 7, 2011 at 9:37 am

Darius: You also mentioned that (when this was written in October 2005) it took ~30 minutes to read through your contact list. Care to take a stab at how long it takes your now, almost 6 years later?

Darius Kazemi April 7, 2011 at 9:40 am

Uh, I don’t even try at this point.

Michael Lojko July 21, 2011 at 7:38 am

Despite being close to six years old (the article :P), it’s good to see im not the only one who is notoriously thorough when it comes to networking! (even in this social networking ‘age’) Good article :)

Errick Falcon May 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm

wow, this is a fantastic idea. I’m good with faces, but not at all with names or remembering things I’ve talked about previously with people so this is amazing advice for somebody like me who’s wanting to break into the industry.

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