Will Lewis is hard to miss in a crowd due to his iconic fiery beard, painstakingly cultivated over a span of 4 years, red trucker hat and personality to match. A film student gone rogue, Will has made his mark in the Portland indie game scene as a community organizer and cofounder of PIG Squad (Portland Indie Game Squad). Now he is one of 8 companies in incubation at Oregon Story Board for his new venture, Rose City Game Consulting. For someone whose job "is the people,” we knew there was a goldmine of networking treasures waiting to be unlocked by the promise of sharing our coconut coffee creamer. Throughout the week, we will be posting three different articles based on the kernels of wisdom we were able to gain from the great Will Lewis.
PART 1: AVOID WASTING TIME AT FRUITLESS NETWORKING EVENTS
It is generally a huge headache having to sift through the endless number of available networking events offered in Portland. (To make that search a little easier, check out our Portland Events.) But here is some of Will's cowbell to cure that networking fever of yours:
1. Ask a Friend
This one is key. Ask a friend who has already been to an organization’s events and ask what happened. Not how they felt about it or if they thought it was good but what happened. This will give you insight about what to expect from the event. Ex: there was food, there was a speaker, etc. This will give you an objective version of events this will prevent you from being deterred by a subjective opinion that could easily differ from yours. Everyone finds value differently.
2. Read and Compare the Description
This one is more of a 2-part step to help with future planning, and involves a little trial-and-error action. Will says, read the description strategically. After attending an event, look back to see if the description matched the actual sequence of events. If there were huge discrepancies between the event and description, this can be a red flag that future events by this organizer could be too unpredictable to be worth your time.
3. Talk to the Organizer
If a description is unclear or if you are unsure whether or not this would be a good event for you, talking to the organizer can give you much more insight. If they are open and willing to answer your questions about the event, that can be a good indication of the success of the event, for you. If they are unresponsive or seem bothered by your attempt to engage this can be a red flag and mean you need to spend your time elsewhere.*
Stay tuned for follow up posts from Will's interview about "How to do Small Talk" and "Staying Engaged with the Community".
* Will does say that second chances are never a bad thing. Sometimes people have legitimate reasons for not getting back to you so maybe go and check it out anyway. But if it happens twice shame on you.
PART 2: HOW TO ENGAGE IN SMALL TALK (EVEN WHEN IT FEELS WEIRD)
Networking can be intimidating, with a high potential of awkward introductions, the necessity for subtle exit strategies and the occasional crickets. Luckily Will was able to provide a couple of remedies:
1. Introducing Yourself
Weaseling your way into the middle of a conversation that’s already in progress can feel unnatural, but is often necessary and unavoidable at events. One way to make it feel less forced is to take a second, listen, and see if you have anything to contribute. Then drop the knowledge bomb of awesomeness! Follow it with your name and purpose for being there. That being said, sometimes people are locked into each other and there is no way you are going to make them notice. So politely interrupt by saying, "I would love to talk to you later," and drop them a card. Make sure to follow up so you actually do get to talking, but if not at least they have your card know you’re interested.
2. What to Talk About
Talking about yourself is great and mostly easy, because you know a lot about you. So make sure you can lead into a conversation about what you are doing there. That creates an easy segue for people to relate to you. If they don't follow up with commentary, be sure to ask them themselves and why they’re at the event. Always be wary of talking about yourself too much; staring vacantly at someone who’s lost in themselves can majorly kill the PBR buzz we all work so hard to achieve.
3. Exit Strategy
Let's say you are stuck talking to someone who won’t stop talking about themselves, have lost interest, or things get awkward because they told you that you look like their great aunt Mildred. Having a pre-planned exit strategy is great. Excusing yourself to grab a drink or take a bathroom break are fail-safes, as is suddenly noticing someone you need to say hi too. For a more direct approach, thank them for their time, take their card, and let them know that you look forward to seeing you at more events in the future. This will bring the conversation to a natural close. If there are two of you, it’s easier. Will said an "eye itch" or "nose swipe" to your partner in crime across the room can be a great way to signal you need them to swoop in to save you from a conversation. Always ending with a card swap or a promise of a follow-up email is never a bad idea, especially if you are genuinely interested.
Feeling like you are in control of your time during a networking event can mean the difference between a painful experience and a pleasant social occasion. Now get out there!
PART 3: STAYING CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNITY
As much as we would like things to happen quickly, Will eagerly reminds us that networking is more of a marathon than a sprint. So put on those compression pants and a Camelback and prepare yourself for the long haul.
Make it to (& try to enjoy yourself at) at least one community related networking event per month. This is an easily achievable goal, even for those of you who have a packed calendar. The more you show your face, the more people will recognize you. One goal for each event? Remember one person's name. For those of you who are name challenged like we are, check out this helpful article for tips and tools.
Forums are a huge way to stay connected to the community, whether you make it to the events or not. This is something that you should plan into your week. For example, take 10 minutes on Tuesdays and Fridays to comment and like what other people are doing in the group. This is a great way to keep you informed, stay connected, and create good foundations for that small talk we all dread.
Give back to the community that is so kindly accepting and giving to you. Whatever that looks like, it always feels great knowing you are an actual contributing member. This will help you gain lots of karma points as well as help others who need the support. Put your skills and creativity to the test to discover a unique way to participate.
And that about does it! We combed a lot information as we could out Will’s magnificent beard and mind, but if you’d like to know more, be sure to track him down at one of his many PIGSquad events here in Portland. They’re also a great place to test the waters with your new networking skills, to learn about game development, and mingle with Portland’s best indie gamers.
Now get your Post-It notes out, because next week we will be talking with Monica at Cardsmith about the ins and outs of visual project management.