By Speider Schneider
A friend of mine started an organization named “Creative Connect,” a twice a month get-together for anyone in the creative field. He said it was to, “get people away from their computers and to get them talking at least twice a month.” Mostly designers, programmers, illustrators and photographers with a spattering of marketing and management types show up and it’s something I look forward to attending in the light of day. Twice a month I gnaw through my own leg to escape the shackles of my computer and speak with real people…live…in person. It’s important to deal with the real world from time to time.
Get away from technology and join other <GASP!> humans.
Socialization Skills Are Slowly Eroding From Our Interactions
Like home-schooled kids who will wither in the real world from lack of the socialization skills of dealing with different personalities, many of us have lost our ability to deal face to face with people. Manners, knowing what NOT to say and general pleasantries like bathing tend to slip away quietly with our profession. It’s not just freelancers. Not long ago I was at a clients and my contact awkwardly excused that I not be shown the designer/programmer department because, as she put it, “it’s a little stinky in there.” Yikes!
Even at these events I see some of the same odd behavior in my peers. Maybe it’s better for some people to just stay behind their keyboard. Socialization is important for any animal on this planet yet only we and the birds tweet. Have you ever asked yourself why they use rats for group socialization experiments? Because they are so close in genetics and behavior as human account executives.
Socialization is a big part of freelancing and a staff position. On most staff jobs, you will be forced to watch a “sexual harassment video.” No, it’s not instructional on how to BE harassing. It’s a film made in 1972 and is like 1970s porn without the sex or funky guitar rift music. It is VERY important coworkers understand that even saying, “hello!” to a coworker of the opposite sex can be considered harassment if that person feels threatened by your tone. The lesson on a staff position is to stay locked in your cubicle, never meet anyone’s gaze, speak to anyone or answer any e-mail with more than, “I understand.”
If you are freelance, from e-mails to the telephone to client meetings to meeting that client, you need your A-game and proper socialization skills. Personally, people think I’m a great networker. I have a large group of quality connections on LinkedIn, keep close with valued connections I’ve made over the years (including my art school teachers) and I am very good at meeting new people at industry events and networking opportunities.
By now you’re asking yourself, “isn’t it better to have a site with great SEO?” Advertising yourself means being everywhere you can be. Print, online and out there in person. People, or “your network” as people refer to it, is your business and life foundation. During the past few years of a recessed economy and massive job losses, all information on the subject of finding work pinpointed turning to one’s network. That’s called “whom you know” and it can be more important that “what you know.”
Not connected enough? Start with online sites like LinkedIn and find local groups and other local professionals. With a short and professional introduction, most people will connect with you. Ask these connections to meet for coffee or just to show your portfolio. There’s no death penalty for asking and the most they can do is…get ready for this horror…say “no!” Some people feel bad about hearing no, so they never ask a question that might have that answer. I say it’s a 50% chance either way and if they say no, well, guess it’s another birthday present I won’t be getting.
By the same token, if I make eye contact with someone at a get-together, I offer my hand, exchange pleasantries, a business card and enough chat time that I don’t seem like a “vulture” (someone who runs around a room collecting business cards for the purpose of spamming later or some odd psychological need to have the world’s record number of business cards). I have actually made some very solid connections over the years by meeting people.
Follow eye contact with light banter –“Weren’t you with DeNiro at Cannes last season?”
If you can leave a networking event with three solid leads, statistics say one might actually lead to work and that is how it is done. Unless you run an online store of your services, we need to meet our future clients and trust the face time will leave them with the impression of confidence and trust.
Be Remembered for Yourself and Not Some Freaky Gimmick
I’ve seen some strange acts at networking events. The guy who was the “Marketing Wizard,” dressed in full robes and staff. “Dumbledork” looked more like the evil Emperor Palpatine but I remember him. I wouldn’t suggest the same for the “Web Spiderman” or “Design Vader.”
Grandpa wore this to EVERY meeting. He made it work!
Sometimes it’s not a costume, so always pretend everything is going to be okay…okay…okay…
Some other cute ideas I might leave behind is…
Accidentally have your shirt open to show a Superman Logo shirt underneath and say, “oops! I guess the secret’s out.”
Ask in a trembling voice, “you wouldn’t happen to have any anti-depressants with you?”
Keep looking around nervously and ask if the person has seen any KGB agents around.
Wear tin foil on your shoes and tell people that they keep you safe from government mind experiments.
Tell people how great it is to finally be left out of your box for a couple of hours.
Ask if your pants fly is open and comment that it should be because you’re urinating.
Repeat “you have business?” over and over in broken English with an unidentifiable accent until the person walks away.
Do nothing but quote lines from “Caddyshack.”
Make a raspberry noise every time you take a step.
Listen intently to someone tell you what he or she do and then shake like you have a chill while hugging yourself and say “I’m going to need to take a long shower after hearing that!”
Tell people you work for a certain government agency and your official title is “cleaner.”
Say you’re an undertaker and then look the person up and down and comment how they would fit in a “number 6.”
Send thank you notes and end with a statement that you may be pregnant (whether you’re a man or woman) and believe they are the father (whether it’s a man or woman).
Let’s just focus on the worldwide accepted forms of pleasant communication…
A bow or handshake. Firm and friendly. Keep in mind the hand is attached to an arm and not a pump handle. I’ve had my arm almost ripped from the socket by a very large man and I’m larger than average. Clasp firmly and a small shake or two. Lighter for women and turned slightly so the back of their hand is slightly up as if you would kiss it…but DON’T!
Look the person right in the eye while you are speaking to them. Looking around at others or at their chest, harumpf, is disrespectful. You do get two seconds to glance at their nametag but that’s it. Back to the eyes. If you are speaking with two people, meet each one’s gaze evenly as you switch back and forth.
Watch your language; don’t discuss politics, religion or sex. Never, ever speak about another company or person unless you are speaking well of them.
If you haven’t heard about the “60 second elevator speech” (the amount of time you have to tell someone traveling in an elevator with you all about your business), then you need to create one. After 60 seconds, apparently the retention and attention drop. Think about what makes you special in the industry. Don’t say, “I’m a graphic/web designer.” Tell them you “create visual solutions for business marketing and promotion with a personal touch.” Don’t wink or raise your eyebrows afterward because it’ll give a perfectly good tagline a dirty connotation.
Be clean in speech, dress, personally and check your breath often. I can remember meeting someone with so much cat hair all over himself; I ended up getting it all over me just by standing downwind. The cat litter in his portfolio was pretty much the deal breaker on me not making fun of this guy for the rest of existence.
After three or four minutes of light banter, tell the person or persons that it was nice to meet them, wish them luck and the hope that you will see them in the future and excuse yourself. Corner someone for more than five minutes at a networking event and you are going to be remembered as someone to forget.
Make sure you have a business card or appropriate sample card. I’m always surprised at how many people say, “I didn’t bring any of my cards.” If that’s the case, then don’t expect me to remember you.
Check yourself in a mirror often, especially if there is food being served. Nothing like a loose chive on your front tooth to earn a nickname that is counterproductive to you getting business.
A great way to meet people is to stand by the door to the parking lot towards the end of the event. Everyone has to go by you. Same rules apply as before but speed it up a little.
Small slip-ups with happen from time to time when humans interact. If your initial handshake isn’t quite right…you know…when one person grasps too soon and gets only fingers? Ask for a redo on it and the humor will make the other person feel light and grateful instead of creeped out by a limp fish handshake.
If you are speaking and a small bit of spittle lands on the other person’s face, it is permissible to reach out with a napkin and wipe it off. That is more appreciated than trying to ignore it because you both know what happened and whom did what. If it lands in their mouth, do not attempt to wipe it out or suck it out – just cut your losses and run, hoping you haven’t given them your name.
Poet, Dr. Maya Angelou wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Be your charming self, smile a lot and make people feel good about meeting you. Follow up with a thank you e-mail or note and give it a week before sending promotional material. There’s promotion and then there’s stalking.
Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices. Follow him on Twitter @speider.