How can I have confidence in a professional setting?
February 18, 2011 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I will be attending an industry conference for the purposes of networking and I need to find the right mindset in order to create the best impression. This includes networking when I have little to no initial contacts, trying to impress industry professionals, and keeping it together through the week. Success is going to be tantamount to me appearing confident, how do I get in the right mindset?

In a week I will be attending the Game Developer's Conference for the purposes of networking. I'm planning on moving to the Seattle area later this year, so I will be mostly trying to touch base with developers from that area. As well as make as many meaningful contacts as I can, and maybe get a job at some point in the future.

Last year I went for the first time and was very unprepared, both in skills and in what I brought. I have fixed those issues (to a point). I have a portfolio full of game projects I worked on over the last year, a much stronger resume, and a degree. I'm working with someone on contract projects, as well as other projects where I'm contributing art and code or making something on my own time by myself.

So, I should be relatively fine right? Thing is, I don't think I'm good enough. I realize the "fake it till you make it" axiom applies to this, but I fundamentally realize it's a facade so maintaining such a thing is difficult. Add to the fact that I'm doing this in a strange city, applying to jobs I'm probably not qualified for, against a pool of more talented applicants, to jaded and uninterested professionals. Doing this requires me to basically put blinders on and shut out reality, as I will experience a lot of rejection over the course of the week.

In order to do this I will need an almost delusional level of confidence, and a care-free attitude despite the high-stakes. I need to be relaxed in a high-stress environment.

Some of the things that contribute to this (My skillset, portfolio, outward appearance) I will have fixed this time around. Despite an internship and almost getting hired, I still feel like I'm not an industry professional and haven't broken in, so there's this outsider thing I have to get over.

Mainly I'm just trying to avoid the disaster that was last year by having genuine confidence in a stressful situation. How do I exude confidence in this situation? And what are some ways in which to build/maintain this confidence during and before the conference?
posted by hellojed to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
One of the lines I once heard about Pixar was: We hire interested people, not interesting people. Anybody can be... uh... "interesting", but being passionately interested is harder. And harder to fake.

I've found the thing that's served me best in my career is to go out and be truly interested in what other people do. By asking intelligent questions about what they do and what their interests might lead to I've gotten a lot of good information, but also a number of "hey, I hadn't seen that perspective. We should hire you!"s (but this also doesn't work when I've gone at it with a "let me show you how smart I am by asking these questions" drive).

Turnover in the games business is high. There are a lot of players. Don't worry about making a fool of yourself, there are always other contacts. And the only dumb questions are the ones you're asking to show you know something about the subject.

Go out there, find the people whose work you admire, and be interested in their work. Ask about the things in their work you don't understand. You've educated yourself about the field, so your questions will be challenging, and will hopefully help them to see their process through your eyes. Be interested (and I assume you are, because you're wanting to play in the games space) and let them figure out how you'll help them.
posted by straw at 3:20 PM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

The best way to network with people and impress them is to show genuine interest in THEM. People are less interested in what you are doing and more interested in talking about themselves (this is true even in job interviews and contract negotiations). Ask lots of questions and really listen to them, and I guarantee that they will then show interest and remember you.

When you are focused on yourself, your lack of confidence will show. But instead if you think of it as making genuine connection with someone you are interested in, you will stand out. It has worked for me in the most difficult situations interacting with the "big shots" who were higher in experience and position than myself. Everyone, even the CEO, wants to be validated and listened to. Meet that need and you will connect with that person in a deeper way that they will remember.
posted by tessalations999 at 3:23 PM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

The number one thing is to feel good and be ready to have fun. Forget about the importance and focus on how awesome it's going to be to meet people who love what you love. You're going to have a blast, especially considering that you are well prepared.

If you're not averse to a little mild psychology, there is a little "get myself ready" thing you can do. Just make a mental check list of the basic stuff you need to do prior to showing up; brush teeth, comb hair etc. Tell yourself that when those are done you'll be 100% ready to do whatever it takes to mix it up and make some great contacts. It sounds silly, but it works for me.

Bring some hard candy or trail mix in case you need to chew away any nervousness.

If you haven't done this already, find out who's going to be there and read up on their press releases. It's nice to have a little background info that could be useful in conversation and/or as mentioned above, be able to show your interest.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by snsranch at 3:55 PM on February 18, 2011

Oh, best GDC story I've got: Back in the day (mid '90s), because I worked for a company with a little clout I'd helped someone on a developer mailing list get a few questions answered by a big company. I was walking through the exhibit hall when someone saw my name on my badge and said "Wait, are you *the* [straw]?"

It was that someone, who picked me out of the crowd.

Alas, I didn't have the presence of mind to respond "I never touched your daughter!", but it was yet another reminder that those online connections are well worth fostering: If there's anyone you know from the online world that you haven't met in person yet, find them and say "hi". Yeah, you probably won't have a huge amount to say with them, but those are good connections to foster, and it's a good way to have a semi-familiar place to start talking with someone.
posted by straw at 4:05 PM on February 18, 2011

I've been in the industry for a long time, and I've been to many GDCs. This is my advice for being a hallway conversationalist with random passerby devs. I can't help you with speaking to people in booths who are looking to hire -- it sounds like you're already on track there.

straw and tessalations999's advice is good: be a good conversationalist by way of talking less. Ask questions, look interested. But I also recommend that you be prepared by having some things to talk about in addition to your portfolio. Kids trying to sell their portfolios are a dime a dozen, but interesting people who can hold interesting conversations? Not so much.

If you're attending sessions -- and I hope you are! -- take notes and be prepared to talk about the material. The #1 conversation I have with anybody at GDC is about what we've seen and learned so far. It's the greatest icebreaker you can have.

And of course, we're game developers, so we like to talk about games. Be familiar with new titles in your genre. Have opinions. It's totally safe to say that you don't like something. (But be careful about talking too much shit -- you never know who you're talking to!)

If you're of age, go to parties and drink (but not too much!). Another common GDC hallway conversation is "what's going on tonight?" I meet tons of people at parties, and we're still talking about sessions and games there too.

Good luck. I'm not going to GDC proper this year, but send me a MeFi mail if you go to Austin GDC later this year.
posted by liet at 11:37 AM on February 19, 2011

On rereading the question, I realize that I didn't directly answer "how to be confident." To that, I'd say -- at least in the hallway dev conversations or parties that I was talking about -- just be aware that your opinions on conference sessions and games are no less worthy because you haven't shipped a game. We're all just people talking about a common interest.
posted by liet at 11:51 AM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

These are folks who love what they are doing. It's common ground for you. Like family. There's your confidence angle. Treat it like a convention, not a conference.

Something too, one of the hardest thing about having employees in a design firm is managing their skill sets and interests so that they are happy and productive doing what they are doing. Passionate people are more likely to be interested in doing a variety of things, but focused around the center of the passion. Passionate people will have a broader array of skills and be much more willing to learn new skills - making the manager's job easier.

Attitude is worth more than skills, and it can't be taught. Having a good energy level helps convey the impression of good attitude. Eat right, get your sleep, that kind of thing. Have fun doing what you are doing - if you are nervous about talking to someone, pretend that you are someone else - not literally. Imagine you are an actor, playing a role. The role of an energetic go getter - but not obnoxiously so. Now, just be yourself.
posted by Xoebe at 9:59 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These were all very good answeres. and right now I don't have an update but to say I lost my voice halfway through the conference talking to so many people.

posted by hellojed at 11:06 AM on March 6, 2011

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