My "5" (or six, so what!) standouts all have moments of real connection, not Networking.
For those who were able to attend my session at the last week's 2010 Denver-edition of the HOW Conference on "Connect-working" (I'm renaming the net working lunch next year!), you know that one of my major objectives to pass on to the group was to section off five cards collected in the process of meeting people by the end of the conference and save them from the crushing death of the "business card graveyard… that dirty rubber-banded stand of passive "do not calls" that you accepted politely during the week. Well, I hope you know that it's not all smoke and I am subject to my own rules and objectives. That's just how I get down. So here are my "5" (+ 1) examples where mere cards became stories, and thusly real connections that I have now added to my creative circle and life on the whole:
No.1; A one-liner in an elevator goes a long way!
A bit weary-eyed from my first full night in Denver, hanging tough with my fave DEN resident—my mama—and hoping I had just delivered an effective message to those good souls willing to listen in my session, I step on the downward elevator and nestle into the back of the box as a courtesy because of my 6' 4" frame. I desparately need a java and a regroup before hitting the opening keynote. The car is bouncing like a beachball because we are stopping at every floor, but I'm too wobbly-legged to be annoyed. At one stop I say aloud but to no one in particular, "geez, I guess we picked the 'local', huh?", a reference that any quasi, former or lifelong New Yorker would get immediately. It took the gent that got on at that stop only a second to register what I had said and he chuckled, giving a half-turn, responding, "that was good, I never thought of it that way. That's funny." We pile out and give a polite wave and good'day to each other, while no one else in the elevator had said one word.
After java and a recharge, I make my way over, settle into my seat near the front and ready myself for the kick-off of another fantastic creative week at the HOW Conference. After the opening formalities and announcements, the keynote speaker is introduced and up pops this ball of nervous, joyous energy that was instantly recognizable to me… the gent from the elevator! And his name, Andy Stefanovich. After a rousing speech, I walk over to see him surrounded by an adoring handful of people. Not wanting to inturrupt their moments with him too much, I tap him on the shoulder and simply say, "I guess the 'local' got us here eventually?" Sharing a laugh he says that he made a note of our encounter and the impression I had made in the just brief moment. The beginning of a hopefully lasting connection that only took a one-liner and a pleasant air about us both. Andy, if you're reading this—let's be in touch soon.
No.2; Simply put, keep trying to connect.
During my session, I had the opportunity to sit and chat with those in attendance and my first conversation was a pleasant intro to a group of energetic new faces to HOW. As a fan of good graphic tees, one guy's attire caught my eye, so I commented on it. This started us down a road of general chatty goodness—nothing too big, but interesting nonetheless. The session time ended abruptly with me needing to scurry… I guess I don't really scurry… with me needing to bounce to my book signing so we didn't get to punctuate out discussion with the exchange of cards. He simply said, with no hint of worry, "it's cool, I'll find you." And that he did. Jon, thanks for sticking with it. We'll connect for sure. I need one of those tees! ;-)
No.3; She was hungry, and that had gravity!
She was the first face to step to me as I came off stage after participating on the freelance panel discussion of the Creative Freelancer portion of HOW Design Week. A gentle smile and very eager eyes, she was easy to remember. Skip to the opening of the main conference, Andy Stefanovich told the story of a young, local designer whose employer was hanging her attendance to this event over hear head like the 25 ton anvil that it is to many of us creatives, not wanting here to take full advantage and get back to the local design salt mines. We met in passing later and she says, in a somber tone, "that girl Andy was talking about was me." She asks if I want to grab a bite to eat and chat, and I say yes, but the walk out of the mile-wide convention center finds me bumping into all types of people wanting a moment here and a moment there. She hung in like a trooper and I apologized profusely… and then, it was her turn.
After his speech, Mr. Stefanovich had said that he would he would help this young lady find the means to attend the full conference and perhaps that would give her strength to forge a new path, devoid of hovering anvils, but it seemed that her follow-up email have fallen into the void that usually happens for a conference speaker away from home and business. But in a fortunate twist, we see Andy standing quietly, checking his email. I say to her gently but sternly, "go talk to him right now!" After some resistance quite typical of young, humble, and perhaps scared designers, she goes. He's cordial, remembering her and having just seen the email from her. She comes back, he darts to his left down the long ramp and we make for some eats. In hindsight, it was a bit of serendipty that we got our food to go because this young, local designer got a call that brought her to tears in my arms… she had just been told, by none other than Andy Stefanovich himself that she would be able to attend the full HOW Conference, all week at no additional cost to her. Sadly, her employer did lay her off at the end of the week after feigning that they would be okay with her attending. Hey Lauren, it's all good and I have no worries that you made the right choice! Hustle hard, make your way, and it was a pleasure and an honor sharing those moments with you.
No.4; Her flight was "booked"
As the author of '100 Habits for Successful Freelance Designers', I featured several up-and-coming creatives and their work. About a week before the HOW events, I got an email that said one of those contributors would be in attendance, all the way from the Philippines.
After I dash for my book signing at the HOW Conference pop-up bookstore, I'm winded and needing a breather to allow me to set up and greet people with a smile. All set? Good. Up walks a small woman with a wide smile and eyes that smiled the same. She extends her hand nervously and says, "Hi, I'm Lizza." Wow. How could I figure that the first book I signed at this event would not only be to a person who was in the book, but who had also flown the world to be first in line?! Lizza, thank you. Simply, immensely, THANK YOU!
No.5; "Where'd you get that shirt?!"
"I made it."
"OMG, I've been waiting this whole time to get one of these!"
That convo happened on the escalator as I hurried to the HOW Marketplace to show my now classic, limited-edition "A'ight DEN" tees. I had never had someone so enthusiastic about my work, so much so that her infectious fervor trickled over to her friend who copped one also! I was on cloud-9 after this encounter so, Erica… thanks so much and check your email. Sent you something. ;-)
No.6; His sincerity was enough. His approach was a wonderful extra.
The beauty of HOW for me is the rare opportunity to sync up with the rare few people who are so similar to me in their approach to life that it resonates with me like standing too close to a gigantic church bell.
He walked up to me, slowly, and extended his hand and said, "Steve, I really just wanted to introduce myself and say that I really liked hearing you speak yesterday on the panel." We commenced to have a couple of great talks over the course of the week about everything from personal and creative philosphy, to food and sneakers. This, perhaps above all others that I've met, is one that I look forward to building a lasting friendship with because of the way it started; sincerely, candidly, honestly, openly, and more than anything willingly with no need or end in mind. Luke, my new friend… thank you. This is going to be good.