Going to design events has become increasingly important for me since becoming a freelance designer. They’ve saved my sanity. Sometimes a girl just wants to talk in Pantone color swatches or dance to funky music with a lion’s head on her head. They’re also a great opportunity to learn about new initiatives buzzing in the local design community & chatting with people who have similar interests as you. When I first started going to these events, I’d second guess everything from what I was wearing to who I was going to chat with to how I’d explain what I do. It was embarrassing & awkward at times but all a great learning experience. I’ve rounded up a few tips for any student or young professional who’s new to attending networking events.
Do your research
You’ll be able to see who else is going to the event if it’s been organized through a platform like Facebook, Eventbrite or Meetup. Check out their LinkedIn or portfolio website beforehand to get an idea of what they do & what they’re passionate about. Even perusing their Twitter is helpful to see any recent projects or collaborations they’ve been apart of. It may seem creepy at first but the way I see it is, people are putting their work & their thoughts & their interests out there for a reason. Use that to your advantage. Then when you meet them in person they’ll know you care about what they’re doing.
Ask questions & genuinely listen
This is where the research transforms from being creepy to being a lifesaver. Events can be nerve wracking, especially when you’re an introvert. Instead of freezing up or wishing you wouldn’t have gone, have some questions in your back pocket to get a conversation started. If you’re not one for the spotlight, even better. Hand it over to the person you’re talking to & use it as an opportunity to learn more about them or your field that you didn’t know before.
Talk about things outside of work
There’s a stigma about networking events being dry & boring. It only feels that way when everyone’s talking about work. Mix it up & tell a funny client story or talk about a current book/movie that’s relevant. Or food. Lately, I’ve noticed some real obsession with tacos. Talk condiments. Talk whatever! It’s refreshing to be at a “work event” having a real conversation.
Dress for confidence
When I first started going to events, my professors gave a little one-two about what’s “acceptable” to wear. I took their advice of wearing trendy blazers & other “professional” attire. I felt frumpy. Now I wear whatever feels good. It’s usually a pair of skinnies, heels & a classic red lip. I feel hot & that makes me feel confident & that makes me enjoyable to be around. “Look good, feel good, do good,” is what Joel always says. & if wearing a trendy blazer makes you feel good then by all means, rock that shit!
Your first couple events are going to feel weird & awkward no matter how hard you try (& by the way, don’t try so hard, just be human). It’s natural. Keep going. Keep getting more comfortable in the initial discomfort. Keep asking questions & sharing what you do. There is no real “end goal” to these kind of events. It’s an opportunity for you to be surrounded by like-minded people & to learn new things. Looking at it any other way takes a lot of the fun out of it.
If you have any questions about networking, email me! I’ll either give you useful tips or tell you super embarrassing stories about my networking fails. They’re guaranteed to make you feel much better about yourself, promise. 🙂
Have a networking horror story of your own? Share in the comments below!