The first year I went to Gen Con, I was there to sell books at my boss’s booth and take notes at meetings. It was the biggest con I’d ever attended, and I was absolutely terrified. I had my little blue business card case, spooky business cards, and no one who knew was letting me hide behind them. If you’re flying solo this year at Gen Con, you might not have a warm body to dive behind, but all is not lost. If you’re socially tentative, as I often am offline, today’s post is for you.
Into The Breach
Step one: go talk with people! Walk the vast but awesome dealer’s area, pick up a few things if you’ve got the budget, and talk to people. Tell an artist their work is awesome. Thank someone who rings up your book purchases. This is my warm up exercise at cons, because it feels very low-risk. I give someone a nice compliment, chat for a moment or two, and vacate to make room for other customers. You might even get latched onto by someone for conversation if booth traffic is slow! Compliments and purchases are good karma, and you get to learn about and connect with folks. Win-win.
Play Some Games
Seems sort of silly to say it out loud, but it’s true! When I’m tired or feeling anxious, I usually have to be talked into gaming at cons by friends. If you’re solo, you might not have that helpful push. If you know you’re beyond tired and risk falling asleep or mentally checking out from a game, it’s legit to go take a nap or do another recharging activity. If you’ve got the energy to game but feel a little nervous, or aren’t sure what to play, make a trip to Games on Demand. They’re run by an all-volunteer crew of GMs and hosts, working the door and tables to match-make people to games they have GMs on hand for. If that timeslot’s games don’t sound up your alley, swing by later and check out what’s being offered. I’ve made a lot of friends at Games on Demand, and even worked the door a few years (once at Gen Con, twice at PAX Prime.) The GMs volunteer because they genuinely love the games they run, and the hosts make sure the room and games have what they need to have an awesome time. This is one of your best places to get in some gaming on a pick-up basis.
Business Cards: Not Just For Pros
I freaking love business cards. Want to keep in touch with fabulous people I gamed with? Give ‘em my card. Someone wants to price quote from
me for some work after con? We swap cards. Even if you’re at the con purely to game and have fun, a basic contact card gives people a one-stop way to look you up after game. If you’re a huge fan of Twitter, swap Twitter names (if you’re both regular users) as an additional way to remember each other and keep in touch. I often graffiti my con badges with Sharpie, and write in my Twitter name. If someone’s unsure they recognize me from my Twitter avatar, a quick look at my badge has often confirmed it for folks. You can also fold a post-it note with a Twitter name into a badge holder, or make a little sticker in advance.
Should you be a pro, don’t leave your cards at home! Whether it’s social or for work, you’re doing yourself a disservice for not bringing your cards. I file all the business cards I receive in a tiny filing cabinet I got on ThinkGeek, something I first saw used by Jennifer Brozek. Jennifer was the first person to convince me to keep my cards with a blank back. If one side’s blank, folks can write down details. Needing to email you, why they were talking to, the little things that can get lost mentally in the sensory overload of a convention. I’ve departed from the blank-back wisdom, which isn’t inherently bad. The front of my card is a graphic (a typewriter) with a bright coloured background, which often lodges into people’s memories like my Twitter avatar does.
When should you give someone your card? When they give you theirs is cool. When a game finishes and you want to keep in touch with someone. If someone says something freaking brilliant that I want to hear more about, I’ll interject (if it won’t grind conversation to a halt) to ask if we can swap cards so I can talk to them more about the topic. If someone asks you for your card, another legit time to fork it over. Watch when other people swap cards. They’re usually seeing a natural conversational beat to swap or ask for a card, and the more you practice, the better you get at finding those beats yourself.
Absorb Some Wisdom
I often avoid panels unless I’m on them, which is really ridiculous. Go to panels about things that sound cool! Or interest you! Or would be awesome for you to devour the knowledge of for a friend who can’t make it to that panel. When I have time I try to hit at least one panel on something I have nothing to do with, because knowledge is awesome and you never know when that information can come in handy. That goes double if you’re a writer. Though shalt not let thy brain go stale. You might find great audience members to talk to after, or get a chance to talk to a panelist who had great things to say. As long as someone isn’t running to catch up to their next event, and isn’t emanating I will eat your soul vibes, you can usually get a polite response if you choose that moment to engage them post-panel in conversation. I’ve both walked panelists to their next panel and been that panelist walking with an interested audience member. Both experiences were pretty neat.
Whether you’re making friends, work connections, or both: you cannot do that without talking to people. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Don’t interrogate them. But don’t monopolize the conversation, either. Good conversation is a give and take, sharing stories and a moment together. Make it pleasant for them, and they’ll often do the same in return.
Have any tips for those of us who are on the quiet side to be comfortable networking? Got your methods to dive into the convention fray and come back with new friends and contacts? Leave your social wisdom in the comments!