Business Perspectives: Networking at a Conference
On Nov 2 & 3, DesignThinkers brings together creatives from across Canada and beyond under one roof, offering a chance to grow your connections within the industry. Below, past and current attendees share insights on how to make the most of this opportunity.   
Faron Dawe RGD, Designer & Principal, FARON.DESIGN: Whether you are attending your very first DesignThinkers or are a seasoned delegate, the ability to represent yourself and make meaningful connections is valuable. It is easy to go through the motions of being a conference attendee but to maximize your return, there are some things I recommend — have your 1-min elevator pitch ready, get out of your comfort zone and purposely introduce yourself to other attendees, make sure to be aware of all the conference offerings and attend everything you can and, lastly, be genuinely interested in learning and listening. You can continue to grow your connections post-conference by joining the RGD and/or volunteering on a Committee.
Carolane Godbout RGD, Independent Graphic Designer (Super Studio): As long as I can remember, I was always the ‘’talker’’. I was told in business class that to make a great first impression, you had to present yourself confidently, then go over your professional background, (humbly) list your latest accomplishments and lead with a relevant question to stay in control of the encounter. In the last couple of years, I’ve realized that I was taught completely wrong. I have come to understand that the best way to network and make genuine connections is to listen. We are often so focused on presenting ourselves that we forget the power of listening. People are more likely to remember us and have a favourable opinion of us based on how we make them feel. So remember, it’s not about how much you talk — but how well you listen.
Erin Grandmaison RGD, Graphic Designer at Bruce Power: It is a lot easier to make connections at an event like DesignThinkers, which brings together people with similar interests than in a purely one-on-one setting. Strike up a conversation with other attendees at roundtables, workshops or the delegate party. Talk about the great speakers, insights and new techniques you've learned. It is great to hear what other people’s conference experiences are and what they recommend. Connecting with other attendees will expand your design network and broaden your creative mindset.
Andrea Rodriguez RGD, Independent Graphic Designer (AndreaCataRo)DesignThinkers provides an excellent opportunity to exchange inspiring ideas. Be ready to talk about what drives you — whether it's the intricacies of typography, your admiration for some of the speakers or the latest design trends. Finding common ground can spark enriching dialogues and forge lasting connections. Don't settle for just exchanging business cards; instead, share stories and discuss what excites you about the conference. Above all, be authentic and willing to engage. 
Elana Rudick RGD, Founder, Creative Director, Design is YummyCreating connections is at the core of effective networking. But where do you start? Work on appearing approachable by using open body language and smiling so that others will come up to you. Try to put your nerves aside and approach others. Go up to someone standing alone and ask them how they're enjoying the conference. Like most things, the more you practice, the better you'll become at it. When in doubt, come find me to say hi. I love meeting other creatives!
Victor Szeto RGD, Creative Director at Green Living Enterprises: A conference like DesignThinkers brings together so many people and it can feel overwhelming to take in so many faces. When you find yourself in a quieter setting or a smaller group — such as a roundtable or workshop — one step to break the ice is to invite conversation. Share your favourite sessions or ask for recommendations on your undecided schedule. Ask to connect on each other’s social platforms, message them through the conference portal or exchange business cards. If you reach out on LinkedIn, remember to include a personal message about your interaction to build a more meaningful rapport (and show you’re not a bot!).
Paul Wilcken RGD, Creative Director, Humanfolk: As a work-from-home business owner, networking can feel difficult, which means it takes concerted effort. Conferences are a major opportunity to get me out of my comfort zone and out amongst fellow creatives. I tend to feel self-conscious or shy around people I look up to, which is why I stop thinking and take action; lean into feeling uncomfortable. Conferences create spaces to feel foolish and be yourself, a human as well as a creative. The easiest way for me to connect with someone is to acknowledge them. This can be a cool shirt they are wearing, or maybe something they said during their talk on stage. Everyone loves feeling acknowledged, when it is truly human and genuine. Be yourself. 
Ashley Tomlinson Provisional RGD, Independent Graphic Designer: Try to remind yourself that it’s an opportunity to meet many people IRL at the conference that you might otherwise never cross paths with. Use something that resonated with you from the conference as a conversation opener. For many attending, these two days are breaks from their work routine and part of the reason for attending is to build connections with the larger design community. Don’t stress about how long your interactions are, after the conference you can send a follow-up email. If you want to continue the conversation, suggest a coffee chat or virtual meeting.
Paul Twa Provisional RGD, Graphic Designer, Frontier: When I look back at the connections I've made at DesignThinkers, making conversation in the line-up at the pop-up bookstore or tapping someone on the shoulder who asked a really good question after a Q&A, these initial conversations happened in between programming. What is notable about these two instances is both of these designers have become close friends of mine in the industry, each from one interaction at the conference. Going up to someone new is always daunting, but when you are in a space with so many other people who love design and creativity, you are all but guaranteed your interests will overlap in some way, making for great conversations.