Effective Networking (How to Work a Room, Part 1)

by Darius Kazemi on May 1, 2006

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.

How to Work a Room Full of Strangers

So let’s say you’re trying your hardest to know everyone, and you took my advice and are attending your very first local IGDA chapter meeting. You probably don’t know anyone else. And it can be kind of overwhelming to be surrounded by a bunch of people you don’t know. This article will outline a few networking tricks that should help you at least know a few names by the end of the night.

Step #1: Shut the #$&@ Up

Seriously, be quiet. Take some time to listen. Spend the first few minutes just walking around the room discreetly eavesdropping on people. Take a quick profile of the folks in the room. You’re looking for at least one of a few kinds of people.

  • The Social Creature. This gal is chatty, personable, probably (but not necessarily) drinking a beer, and has the ear of about three people at once. She seems to know everybody in the room, and–hey!! This is your first time here. She can’t know who your are. But I guarantee you that she wants to know you, because she makes it her business to know people.
  • The First Timer. You’ll know who this guy is almost immediatley, because he’s even more uncomfortable than you are. That’s because he’s a fellow n00b.
  • The Loner. This person is different from The First Timer, because she’s not visibly uncomfortable: she just isn’t talking to anyone.

Now that you’ve taken a walk and identified these folks, it’s time for…

Step #2: Introduce Yourself

Yeah, you actually have to do this part. I know it’s hard for a lot of you gamer types. Practice in front of the mirror. I actually still do practice this stuff in the bathroom after I’ve showered. Speaking of which: make sure you’ve showered. But most importantly, understand that if you’ve profiled these people correctly, they are highly likely to respond favorably to your introduction. You’ve already mitigated the risk of rejection. ( For you MMO players out there, think of these people as having a big fat LFG flag in the ON position.)

You can walk right up to The Social Creature and introduce yourself, even if you’re just a lowly student. You might even impress her. She might just note that you exist and then move on to someone else, but you’re on the radar now. The secret is to keep coming back to these events. She’ll be there every time, and she’ll notice you there every time. You will go up in her esteem based solely on attendance, if nothing else.

The First Timer is fish in a barrel. Walk up and say, “Hey, it’s my first time here.” They’ll breathe a sigh of relief and say, “It’s my first time, too.” And there you go. Best friends for life. Or something.

The hardest of the three is The Loner, because you’re making the assumption that this person wants to talk to someone. Usually, though, if a person comes out to a networking event, they generally want to talk to someone. It’s a pretty safe bet your introduction will be well-received.

Step #3: Shut Up Again

Introduce yourself, but then let the person talk. They will tell you very important things about themselves. If you have a lot to talk about, great, you don’t need my help anymore. However, if you don’t have anything substantial to say in response, don’t be embarrassed. Just say “It was nice meeting you,” and move on. But remember what they told you, because if they’re an animator, and you meet a First Timer who’s also an animator, you can introduce them. All of the sudden you’ve strengthened your weak ties. And you are on your way to networking glory.

Step #4: Be Realistic

You’re not going to make a bunch of best friends just waltzing into a room full of strangers. Consider your first night at the chapter meeting to be a success if you walked out of there with some business cards. Next time you’ll be able to recognize faces, and if you took notes, you’ll probably even remember a few names.

Next time: How to Work a Room Where You Know Some People!


Craig Perko May 1, 2006 at 4:29 am

I think I would clarify a bit: in this situation, you’re primary goal is to make a decent impression, not to do advanced networking. Sure, you might be able to solve someone’s problems, or have the perfectly pithy thing to say, and that’s great.

More likely, you’re just introducing yourself. That’s probably enough.

The important thing about this is that it lets you wrestle out of your weight class. When you go to GDC, there’s an obvious set of tiers: newbs, early-career folk, established folk, and power hitters. And nobody above your weight class will be interested in talking to you without someone else above your weight class introducing you.

But in a smaller, more informal event, these people are more accessable. Don’t fawn, don’t expect to get anywhere. Just introduce yourself… but introduce yourself to someone who wouldn’t give you the time of day at GDC.

Epic Wizard April 2, 2010 at 9:51 am

Should one also be handing out business cards at these events or is that a “save for later” thing?

Same question but you’re attending an IGDA meeting in a city you’re only visiting (is this even allowed?) and probably won’t be back to for a while.

Max Nichols June 10, 2010 at 11:43 am

Whether you’re a new networker or not, you should give out business cards when a discussion has a reached a point where it feels appropriate. Maybe you had a lively discussion with someone, or you have an article they might be interested in, or you hit some sort of rapport and think it’s worthwhile to exchange cards. In that case… do it! Whether you’re not to the networking game or not.

But whatever you do, don’t throw business cards around to everyone in the room without some feeling that it might be justified. You only talked to a guy for 30 seconds and neither of you hit it off, or he kept looking past your shoulder, obviously wanting to move on? Don’t try to offer him a card, you’ll just come across as desperate.

And if you’re attending an IGDA meeting in a city that you’re only visiting, pull out all the stops. It’s a new community! Tons of awesome people you’ve never met surround you, and all of the regulars – the people who make it their business to know everyone at the chapter – will want to find out who this person that they don’t recognize is. If you don’t leave a meeting at a new chapter with a pile of notes, business cards, and names to memorize, then you’re likely doing yourself a disservice. Then again, it can be hard to break the ice and get into the groove in such a situation.

IGDA Meeting attendence: Last I checked – and I haven’t read the bylaws or kept up with the IGDA politicking for a bit – each chapter had the freedom to make up its own rules on attendance. The Montreal Chapter is open to anyone, from anywhere, but if you’re not an IGDA member there’s a $5 entrance fee. Boston Post-Mortem is obviously very open, with no fee and no membership requirements.

So it might be technically possible for a Chapter to bar people who are just visiting, but that would really be a terrible idea, and I would be shocked and dismayed if any chapter actually had such a rule.

Max Nichols June 10, 2010 at 11:32 am

One thing I want to reiterate, because new networkers can’t hear this enough: Networking is a long-term investment. I went to my first IGDA meeting 4 years ago, and when I was there I met a few people, had a couple so-so conversations… and that was about it. I didn’t leave the event with a new set of best friends. Hell, I wouldn’t even say that I left with any new friends. But I DID leave with a few acquaintances, a couple of which would likely even recognize my name. When I came back a few months later, I was able to approach these people again. Some of them I merely said “hi” to and then left them to their own devices, others I had longer conversations with.

Now? Now, I’m on very good terms with a couple people from that first IGDA meeting. I’ve helped some of them out, they’ve helped me out, we run into each other at events and conferences all the time. And the key was persistence. It took me years to get to this point with many of these people, but I DID get to this point.

So bottom line: Don’t go to your first event expecting miracles, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t leave with a new batch of lifelong friends. That’s normal. Take baby steps, get used to it.

ALSO: after you’ve been networking for a few years, and are comfortable in a new space, it gets a lot easier. I was able to traipse a few hours south to Boston for a Post-Mortem meeting where I didn’t know anybody (Darius was gallivanting off in Florida). I left having made a good impression on several people, if I do say so myself. It gets easier. Now I’ve been to three Post-Mortem meetings, and I know numerous people there, and can walk into the room and know half the people there.

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