Laura Summers co-founded BookMachine in 2010, initially as an informal way for publishers to meet each other at events, and then as a popular site for anyone building a publishing career. The team have now organised over 100 events. In 2017 she launched BookMachine Works, a creative events and marketing agency, specialising in the publishing industry. You can browse through upcoming events on BookMachine.org or join BookMachine from £5/month
Before I dive into my list of top tips, my first recommendation would be not to put too much pressure on yourself. We are all wired differently. I think if we try to take on a totally different persona in a professional context to in our private lives we won’t enjoy the process; nor will we be successful. Authenticity is key.
So here are my top ten tips for making the most of publishing events in order to develop and maintain professional contacts. It’s meant as a guide – but my biggest advice of all is to embrace who you are, take all the advice you can – and then do it your own way!
1. Do not scan the room for important people when you are talking to the intern
This is listed first because it is the most important. If you planned to speak to the CEO of the publisher of your dreams, and you find yourself talking to the intern, it doesn’t matter. Look at them in the eye, listen to everything they have to say and show a genuine interest. Treat them with exactly the same respect as you would do a senior person. I don’t think I need to explain why, but this is crucial.
2. Don’t worry about what to say, focus on how you can help the person you are talking to
Ask lots of questions and try to understand the person you are talking to. Why are they there? Who would they like to meet? You might not be in a position to help them, but if you think of creative ideas, give suggestions and offer to do something (even something simple like sending them a website link), then they are more likely to remember you than if you talk non-stop about your own goals.
3. Plan and practise what you want to say to people
Whether you are looking for a job or pitching an idea, you need to have practised your lines at least ten times to make sure you sound confident in what you are saying (I haven’t forgotten about point two, but you might be talking to someone who insists on asking you all the questions).
4. Fake it until you make it
Around ten years ago I organised a publishing event at the RSA in London. I knew most of the people in the room, but I was working with a senior colleague at the time who didn’t know many people at all as she had recently started at the company. I noticed that if she wasn’t speaking to anyone, she would walk up and down the room with her head held high, smiling at people. It left such an impression on me. She walked like a boss (even though she must have felt strange being around so many unfamiliar people). Over the years I saw her get promotion after promotion. Fake it (yes, I know I said to be authentic!) until you make it.
5. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to ‘work the room’
You can tell when someone is simply speaking to everyone in the room and playing the ‘numbers game’. If you focus on having four to five meaningful conversations over the course of the event, then you are more likely to stick in people’s mind (in a good way) than if you simply thrust your business card in everyone’s hand, hoping that someone will be useful to you one day.
6. Ask the event organiser and social media to help you
If you have decided to follow all my advice so far (please don’t – be selective!), then you might be wondering what happens if you travel half way across the country to an event and speak to five lovely interns. Will that really help you build you career or launch your product? The answer is probably not. To make this work though, you can ask the event organiser to help you. There are often people at our events who ask for my help, and I do my best to make sure they make useful connections. You can also browse social media, see who is using the hashtag to announce they are attending, and then introduce yourself online first of all – and then in person.
7. First impressions count
Wear something nice, and preferably clean. Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, and take some mints. No one will actually notice, but you will feel more confident – and that is what really counts. Whilst we are on first impressions, if you are seated and someone walks over to talk to you, always stand up (if you are able to) to join them. It will help you to connect, and make you look confident and enthusiastic.
8. Don’t forget your business cards
We have all been there. More importantly though, make sure you take the other person’s details, and follow up the following morning whilst you are still fresh in their mind (as the minty smelling, interested, confident person they met the day before).
9. Take notes if you need to
Depending on your age/ability to remember things, you might want to take notes about a conversation. You can either jot a couple of things down whilst you are talking to someone, or wait until the conversation is over to scribble on the back of their business card. If you take notes on your phone, be sure to let them know what you are doing, so they don’t think you are texting your mate!
10. Always speak to someone in a line – toilet, cloakroom, bar
When you are waiting for something it’s an ideal time to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. So put your phone down, and start asking questions to get the conversation started.