The Greatest Thing I Learned About Networking

by / ⠀Personal Branding Startup Advice / March 29, 2012

A week ago I returned to New York from my impulse trip to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference and Game Connection. I figured it would be pretty irresponsible to miss such a huge event, so I maxed out the credit cards and flew away! It was an absolutely awesome trip. The guys at GimmieWorld let me use some of their office space to work, went to their networking event, and then of course hit up  Game Connection and Game Developers Conference. I made some great business connections, met some really cool people and had lots of fun! It was an amazing week. Hopefully this post will help you meet and talk with people when you go to your next networking event!

The greatest thing I learned from this event is that you can NOT be afraid to talk to strangers and introduce yourself. You never know who you will run into. There are many networking and cocktail events that sort of set you up to meet people, but there are thousands of people in the area for the same event, and you don’t need to be formally introduced in a specific environment to make business connections. I met a guy in the street while I was checking my phone for emails. I met a young woman who works at Facebook while I was sitting in the GDC lobby. I met another game developer simply because we were walking in the same area on the expo floor. I met an investor simply because I accidentally left my business cards on a table and he called me.  If you don’t go to some of these cocktail networking events, that doesn’t mean you can’t make important connections. Don’t rely on networking events at an Expo to meet people, talk to EVERYONE!

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So, what can you possibly say to someone you don’t know? It’s actually pretty simple to start a conversation out of thin air. If someone is typing a lot on their computer you can say “I see you’re typing a lot, I’m guessing you’re like a super famous game blogger or something.” Or if someone is playing a game on their iPhone “That looks like a cool game, did you design it?” or “You look very professional I’m going to take it that you’re a huge VC” and no matter what the answer is, it’s okay. You can guess completely wrong and still carry the conversation forward. Chances are if you guess wrong, they’ll say “Actually I’m a pornstar” and you can reply “Oh that’s cool, what are you doing at an event like this?” or they’ll respond with “Yeah, how’d you know?” and you can say “You look X and Y so I guessed Z” (btw guys wearing suits are more likely to be dealing with money at game conferences, whether they’re investors or work for financial companies. They were pretty easy to spot, maybe not so much at other events where everyone’s wearing a suit.)

If you’re uncomfortable talking to strangers at an event or nervous about going to a networking event, try talking with people at work first. Or on your way to the event, make chit chat as you get coffee. The best is when you go to a coffee shop and say “The hot chocolate looks good, but that caramel thing looks amazing. Which would you recommend?” if the person responds “Definitely the Caramel” say “Okay great, I’ll have a hot chocolate!” Loosen up, nerves will make you look unprofessional and unprepared. Or work your way up from one person, to the next, to a group of two, then a group of three, etc. You must put your best foot forward, it’s all about the first impressions!

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Oh! And the second biggest take away from the trip, don’t miss a large networking opportunity in your industry! I don’t care if you have to beg or increase your credit line, you need to put yourself out there!

Cheers for now,

Stephen M. Levinson

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