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Tips on Talking with Strangers

You might not feel like going out there because you’re not an extrovert and prefer not to be the life of the party. That’s OK. It’s a common myth about networking that you need to get out there, shake hands, and hand out business cards left and right while jumping from one person to the next.

When I first started going to design events I usually froze, latched onto the first person that I met, and kept talking to them as if they were my lifeline. But over time, by attending many events, networking has become more natural. Today, I still enjoy spending my time alone, but going out is no longer a fear-inducing activity—it’s fun to meet new folks and find ways to give back.

At its core, networking is about finding mutually beneficial ways to help each other. If you’re new to it, here are some things you can do. If you’ve gone to events before, feel free to skip.

  1. Don’t be afraid to be the first one to strike up a conversation. You can start by asking what brought them to the event? What are they hoping to learn? Have they attended similar events?

  2. Be interested. It’s easier to connect with someone by letting them talk about their favorite topic—themselves. Find out what’s important to them and see where you can help.

  3. Go alone. This forces you to get out of your comfort zone (as opposed to relying on the safety net of talking to your friends).

  4. You’re not obligated to keep the conversation going. If you feel like you’re not connecting, don’t feel bad excusing yourself: “It was nice meeting you; I promised myself that I’d chat with more folks here.”

  5. If it does go well, ask to connect. Usually it’s as simple as adding them on LinkedIn or getting their business card (do those exist still?).

  6. Follow up the next day. Don’t wait too long—suggest a time and place to meet and continue the conversation.

If you’re curious to learn more, I’ve included a few books at the end of this chapter that I personally found useful on my networking journey.

Deciding on a Conference

If there aren’t many events in your part of town, see if you can attend a conference that brings design professionals together, ideally for a couple of days so that you can make a couple of high-quality connections. There’s no shortage of conference lists these days and, with talks now going remotely, attending is easier than before—no need to figure out the logistics of scheduling flights, hotels, and transportation to the venue.

Organizers and Topics

Before going, it helps to familiarize yourself with the conference itself. What’s the theme? Who are the organizers? Have they done this conference before, and how were those (you can usually find reviews online). Next, look at who’s going to be speaking and what their credentials are. Based on this info, start comparing conferences and earmarking the ones that look good.

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