(I wanted to post more on franchises, but I’ve got something worth interrupting my Soul Train of thought for.)
A few years ago I started doing Geek Career Networking events at conventions. It was a mixture of discussing networking and connecting people in the audience. It wasn’t a true networking event if you want to be technical; it was a panel on networking with real networking bolted on.
I’ve always wanted to try a “real” connection-focused Networking even in the convention scenes. The kind where you mix around and meet people based on your professional interests. I figured one would be useful at a convention, and perhaps in a time where ConSuites aren’t always a guarantee, necessary.
Fortunately, the crew at AODSF let me try out a full Geek Networking event. The results were “pretty good” but let’s get into the details and the lessons learned – because I’d like to not just share, but hear other ideas.
My Basic Plan
So here’s the core elements of my networking event plans:
Badge Stickers: Everyone got ribbon stickers based on their status or statuses – “Professional Geek” to show your knowledge, “Job Seeker” for someone looking for work, and “Looking For Talent” for someone seeking services, collaboration, or employees. The goal was to make people easy to identify to encourage discussion.
Breakout Groups: I started with everyone in a circle, going left to right to discuss what they were looking for professionally, be it advice, talent, or connection. When people had appropriate interests, I had them form a breakout group, discussing things on their own. People would then be filtered to those groups as needed.
Facilitator: When people were in their groups, I would answer questions assist those who didn’t have a breakout group, as well as introduce newcomers to the groups.
Prizes: I gave away my books as prizes to appropriate people who encouraged discussions. Just a fun thing to give eveyone a sense of connection, promote good professional habits, and thank them.
Notecards And Pens: I had notecards and pens so people could quickly exchange information.
What I Didn’t Do: I originally intended having people fill out a quick intro card and to draw those occasionally to award a prize or see how they were doing. I ditched that quick as people networked fast.
Sounds like a plan? Well, a plan I got by reading assorted articles on doing networking events. I’ve never actually thrown one, but it seemed good enough?
How did it go? Well . . .
The Networking Event: Plans Meet Reality
Here’s what happened once we got going.
Many people liked the badge stickers. However there were two issues:
- The convention issues armbands for single-day attendees. These didn’t encourage sticker use as there was no place to put them.
- The networking event was late in the first day of a two-day convention. I’m not sure the stickers encouraged networking outside of the event.
The breakout groups worked fantastic. After talking to about 1/4 the attendees we had our first group, and by the time I’d talked to 1/3 to 1/2 of them we’d had about three going. It became very easy for people to find their groups, and in the end only about four or five people weren’t in groups.
The groups changed and grew organically. Inevitably people who were inclined to organize and talk helped them keep going. They changed and morphed and split as people deemed necessary. Once things started happening, the groups ran themselves.
This got easier over time; my major tasks were helping people fnid groups and talk and advise on networking to those who wanted tips. I should have realized some people wanted to learn, some to connect – and some to do both.
These were just fun, but I think worked well. I have very fond memories of a person who got one of my books, asked how she could buy, it and I explained it as a prize as she’d contributed so much to the group. She was really delighted with that, and her smile was one of the things that made the night.
I think we should remember prizes just aren’t a thing at these events. They represent help, gratitude, assistance, and connection.
Notecards And Pens:
Not as necessary as you’d think when everyone had a cell phone, but useful. However, people went to use the phones a lot faster than I expected . . .
This went better than I expected. I have figured I’d have to facilitate more, but instead people got into it. I’m sure the audience was self-selecting, but in hindsight that is something that would obviously happen. We got people who wanted to network and they did.
Will I do it again? Hell yes – in fact I’ve already been asked about doing it at another convention and I’m going to put it into my regular rotation.
But there’s even more lessons learned. Based on experiences and feedback, I’ve got some great ideas and suggestions. The attendees were eager to give me more ideas – and I’d like to hear yours.
Networking The Next Generation. Or Something
Here’s what people suggested:
Tables And Signs:
We had chairs to sit in and quickly broke into groups, but it was a bit hard to arrange and know what was going on. One person suggested that next time I have tables and signs people could write on to show what was being discussed.
Badges Part #1: Standard Stickies
Since the badge issue got a bit challenging, a simple solution someone suggested was to have standard sticky badges and pens so people could write their name and their interest on them. Simple and effective.
I’m also thinking I could color-code them by interest or something. In fact . . .
Badges Part #2: Know The Code
If you’ve known me, for a few years I’ve had this obsession with figuring how cons could add little stickies and dodads to badges so people could call out their interests for social purposes. Some of the attendees and I had been thinking along similar lines, and a simple solution came up to use at the next networking event.
The idea here is that I’d keep a bunch of colored dot stickers around. People would put these on their badge or the sticky badge depending on interests and I’d have a big sign at the entrance showing the “code”. Blue for writing, Green for Cosplay, whatever.
Come to think of it, this could prototype my idea for official con badge additions to show interests . . .
As noted I was discussing networking with people, and I should have formalized it more, possibly with handouts and such. That way people who waned to learn to network could come to one area (just like a breakout group) and get some instruction before heading out to connect – if they wanted.
One breakout group started swapping LinkedIn profiles. A suggestion that evolved from this (and the networking breakout) is to include a tipsheet, perhaps a large sign, on how to exchange information or suggestions to connect.
Drinks – But Not Food:
I had thought a good networking event might need food, but one person pointed out eating stops dialogue, so stick with drinks.
Do It Early:
The event should be done early at a convention. The benefits of the badges and the sense of connection are best when they enhance the rest of the con experience. You just need more of a “rest of a con” to enjoy them. For people there for one day, it’s even more important.
That’s a bit of a difficult choice because it depends on what “early” is, what events interfere, and of course when the dealers room opens and sucks all the oxygen out of the events as well as people’s money out of their pockets.
I think this may work:
- For a standard three day weekend, Early Saturday but not too early (pre-lunch) or earliest Friday where it doesnt interfere with the usual events. When in doubt, Early Saturday.
- For a two-day weekend convention: Right after the opening ceremonies and either one hour before OR after the dealer’s room opens.
- For a one-day event: First thing.
So next time I do this, expect a few more additions. I also think this is going to be a regular thing I run at conventions, improving it over time.
And of course, sharing it.
See you there!