I had dinner recently with an old friend that I worked with years ago, and we chatted about our various experiences in attending AIGA events.
She mentioned that she didn’t always go to as many as she would like, sometimes simply because she didn’t have anyone to go with her. It struck me as odd that someone who is so successful in her design career and comfortable in every other social situation, would feel a little awkward arriving at a design industry event without someone to meet her.
It occurs to me that we’re people who are comfortable being visually creative every day, but we need to practice being verbally creative as well. It starts by taking the initiative to introduce yourself to someone new. Why do people hate that simple step so much? It can’t be fear of rejection; it’s not like approaching someone in a bar and you know nothing about them and whether they want to meet someone new or not.
At an AIGA event, you’re in a room full of people who are there because they love design just like you do, and who always want to chat and expand their networks — boom, guaranteed conversational success. These people did the exact same thing that you did at work today: trying to figure out if the client’s customer would react better to Pantone 315 or 316, and trying convince another client that building a mobile app that gives drivers on-road eye exams may not be the best solution for their marketing plan.
Use your creative process skills to give you the kickoff that you need. Prep before the pitch: spend a few minutes reading about the event speaker’s background, and you’re armed with instant conversation starters. Once you get going, finding common ground from there is easy.
Steal these ideas:
- Did you see the (speaker’s) recent work for that company?
- Isn’t this (venue) interesting? Have you been to anything here before?
- I’m working on a project that is similar to the (speaker’s) topic tonight, so I want to hear their approach.
- I was reading the event description when I registered and it reminded me that (insert anything).
Even if you are standing alone only because you’re waiting for a friend to arrive, use those moments to make a connection. The person that you introduce yourself to could turn out to be the web developer your company is looking for, a production manager who could recommend a great vendor for your complex folding job, or an information graphics expert who can help you bring your client’s mess of dull data to life (all people that I have met).
And don’t make me remind you about bringing business cards; when it comes to that little (artfully designed) piece of paper, the act of handing it to someone instantly gives the card a lot of value. It carries the weight of your future connection with that new person.
Your AIGA Atlanta board members do our best to grab people who are standing alone at events, and engage them in conversation. We love meeting more of our fellow designers and finding out what interests you in the community. It’s those conversations that help us decide what future events we should produce and spark ideas for campaigns that our chapter should be working on. I encourage you to walk right up and introduce yourself to the board members (look for the word ‘Board’ on our badges); we’d like to connect you with other folks as well.
In all the years I have attended AIGA events, regardless of the venue or the event topic, I have never found anyone whom I approached to be anything but welcoming and glad that I had started the conversation. Think about everything you have to gain from making another connection in our community, and how the skill of being at ease in meeting new people can translate in all kinds of ways in your professional life. Hiring managers often say that a candidate who is relaxed and confident in an interview situation makes a strong impression.
While AIGA has given me a great amount of professional development and career opportunities, it’s really the relationships it helps me create that have proved to be the most valuable benefit of my membership.
Those relationships each began with the tiny efforts I made along the way to talk to new people at industry events. Don’t waste those opportunities!
— Lynn Browder