Speider Schneider August 30th, 2010

Promoting Yourself To… GASP!… Live People!

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. [fblike] 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.

AAAAAH! People!

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. [fblike]

Speider Schneider

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.


  1. Thanks Speider for another exciting read! I actually your articles can be good conversation starters at peer get-togethers :)

  2. Great read – and some really useful pointers in there, especially as far as promoting yourself at events etc.. I’ll be heading to Buildconf and will surely be re-reading this on the plane ride over.

  3. Really? Home schooled kids have no social skills? Do you really think homeschooling is about kids sitting at home, locked up inside staring at books all day? Please go do some research. While a few parents may practice that method, it’s very rare.

    Not only are home schooled kids among the most highly rated students academically, more and more studies are showing that when they go off to college they are some of the most well-adjusted, mature students that the universities have.

    Home schooled students go on field trips, play on community sports teams, participate in a wide variety of social activities with all kinds of people.

    I realize your article wasn’t meant to be commentary about homeschooling but it struck a nerve. Would you make this analogy? “If you don’t keep your technical skills up to date, you’ll languish like a black kid in an inner city school.” If that’s not an acceptable stereotype to use, why is it acceptable to paint homeschoolers with the same broad brush? It shouldn’t be.

    Please go learn a thing or two about homeschooling before making another remark like that.

    Thank you.

    1. I wish I could believe what you are saying, and of course you have a valid point, but in every case of home schooling that I’ve seen, while some are very rounded educations (better than most public schools), the socialization skills have ALWAYS been substandard. Not so much in etiquette and manners but in the ability to understand the peculiarities of human interaction and the different personalities that make up society.

      One must think quickly and use the knowledge, emotional scars and life lessons we learn on the playground.

      1. As Difster pointed out, home-schooling is not the point of this post, but I’m with you on this one Speider. I also find that similar is true of people who were the “only-child”. I find you can spot them a mile-off because of the lack of willingness to compromise or work as part of a team, and just the general selfness nature. And I’m sorry that like your analogy regarding home-schooling, that this is very board and stereotypical – but unfortunately I haven’t seen anyone who is an only-child (or home-schooled) who has shown me otherwise.

      2. I had a supervisor who was not a “popular student” and she created an “A list” and “D list” she ruled with an iron fist. She once scowled as we walked down the hall to a meeting, me greeting passersby as we took the three mile stroll within corporate headquarters, and informed me I had been there six months and knew everybody and she had been there twenty years and knew no one.

        I was moved to the “D-for death list.” She had many childhood issues.

  4. We did the same thing 3 years ago in our town – created a social network for creative professionals to just relax and have a drink every month.

    It has grown into a wonderful group now with nearly 300 members meeting in a chilled atmosphere. It has brought other creatives to the area and provided a lot of working together and job opportunities. Very proud!

    Have a look at: http://www.meejahub.co.uk

  5. Yes, you should never bad mouth another company or business, as you never know in a years time the person who works there who overheard your comments might be interviewing you for a position at said company.

    I for one try and be positive in all my online posts, and it works the same in person. Better to be known for being nice than the a-hole who bad mouths the competition.

    1. The problem is that while we sit alone at our computers, we simmer in our own thoughts and those negative thoughts need to vent out, which usually happens while others are there to listen.

      I just complain to the cat…or write an article.

  6. “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.”
    That is probably the most important thing in the whole article.

  7. Excellent article, Speider. As it turns out, I have a meetup.com networking thing to go to this Friday, so it’s great to have a fresh perspective on social interaction. I’m resisting the urge to comment about ‘Difster’.

    1. Thanks, Rami!

      While practicing networking etiquette, watch how others act. Listen to how people introduce themselves. You will notice that most people have individual skills when interacting. It’s fascinating and somewhat frightening!

  8. Hello Speider! The images you’ve used made me smile. It gives me lots of encouragement to read this article.


    1. You should see what was edited for length! Maybe the image of the guy with burned and smoking clothes (a movie stuntman) was a bit over the top as a warning to cigarette and cigar smokers. I just submit them and the editor provides the good taste-o-meter.

  9. Wow. Your opening statement was quite ignorant. Clearly, you lack a thorough understanding of the homeschool demographic.

    Evidently you have come across some homeschoolers that were lacking in the social department. This is not uncommon – just as those who lack human interaction skills with other schooling backgrounds are not uncommon.

    However, insinuating that this type of behavior is the norm for those who are and were homeschooled is completely inaccurate. Very likely, you have come into contact with more people that were homeschooled than you realize, but you never even knew it. You do not recognize them because they blend in.

    Many homeschoolers take classes in groups and regularly participate in group and youth activities. Not only with other homeschoolers, but kids in general. The social outcasts that you have encountered stick out like a sore thumb and easily become poster children to the uninformed. (Not unlike how racial stereotypes are formed)

    I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I was homeschooled so this naturally struck a nerve. I just wanted to correct your misnomer. I run two successful businesses and deal with client relations on a daily basis. I can assure you that I would not be here if I were, as you say, a “home-schooled [kid] who will wither in the real world from lack of [socialization skills]…”

    1. “This is not uncommon – just as those who lack human interaction skills with other schooling backgrounds are not uncommon.”

      True but the fact you admitted it has validity makes me wonder why you feel it is “ignorant?” Overstated, perhaps, but ignorant?

  10. Thanks for all the tips Speider – I’m venturing out into the world of freelance and KNOW that I need to polish my personal interaction skills. So I’ll be taking everything you said on board!

    The tips about 60-seconds speeches and not holding on to someone for more than 3-4 mintues at a conference were really useful – because now that I think of it, any time someone has been pushing the hard-sell at me at a conference I’ve just wanted to run the other way through sheer boredom.

    Thanks =D

    1. There should be an introduction, light, friendly banter and a follow-up email the next day stating it was nice to meet that person. Later, after several days or a week, send some samples and a light sales pitch.

      A month later, call to “check in.” If you’ve done some research on this person/position/company, you can say, “I was looking at your site and I think I have some suggestions that would make navigation more efficient.”

      Chances are they will see you and then you can make a pitch.

      Think of it as one of those horrid (but fun romps) teenage coming-of age movies;



      Want to stick around and hear more?

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  12. Lol! This was a fun, relevant, and thoughtful post on those who just work out better away from the cubicle. We can’t all work for The Man, and I love your insight and sensitivity to socialization (or lack thereof).

  13. After looking at this again, I swear that two headed cyclops is saying ‘pull my finger’ between its heads….

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