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How to Network Offline in an Online World

While we’ve never been more connected through electronic devices, there’s still something to be said for meeting in the real world. Real people, with real faces, real bodies and real hands which can hold real drinks can often communicate on a wholly different level. While remaining firmly in the realm of technology, how can you broaden your network to encompass a little more reality?

User Groups

If you live in a city or town of reasonable size, there’s a good chance that there’s a user group near you that meets up in meatspace (i.e. the real world) and talks about the software they use. Adobe run a number of these user groups, and (coincidentally enough) I’m the local Chapter Rep for the Brisbane InDesign User Group here in Australia, but there are many others too.

Me, presenting at the Brisbane InDesign User Group.

Me, presenting at the Brisbane InDesign User Group.

For us, that means that every couple of months, we get together at Design College Australia to talk about something to do with InDesign: scripting, digital publishing, tips and tricks, or something else related. Normally there’s a presentation, questions and answers, and some food to eat. Other groups are likely to be similar, but the specifics don’t matter—it’s a great way to meet like-minded people, to find out how other people work, and to air the dirty laundry of the industry without having to put it online.

User groups are normally free to attend, often have prize giveaways, and are definitely recommended. If you can’t find one in your area—why not start one yourself?

Meetups

A little less formal, “meetups” might simply be a public meeting in a corner of a coffee shop or a bar, where a group of people with a common interest can get together for a chat. The website meetup.com is one way to get started if you don’t have the public clout to organize your own through Twitter, work or education networks already. Note that it’s not free, but it won’t cost much if you want to try it out.

Conferences and Workshops

Moving well away from free and informal, industry conferences are a terrific way to stay in touch with what’s happening in your field. Listening to the speakers is only part of the story, though—the dinners, breakfasts, and chats between presentations are often more valuable. Take every chance you can to meet new and interesting people, bring plenty of business cards, and make new friends. If you’re all staying at the same hotel, you’ll have plenty of chances to eat and drink together, so grab every opportunity you can.

This promises to be, at the very least, a picturesque conference.

This promises to be, at the very least, a picturesque conference.

(Incidentally, I’ll be attending the Yosemite Conference in April this year, which looks like a great opportunity to mix with a bunch of Mac-focused people in a beautiful place. Better than a conference hall, and with plenty of breaks to take photos.)

Trade Shows

While a trade show can be a good way to see what companies want to show you, it’s quite easy to get the same news at home. Still, on the show floor you’ll likely get to meet company staff, ask them tricky questions, and get your hands on the newest gear before anyone else.

More exciting is the chance to attend meetings, presentations and dinners related to the trade show—and that’s where the truly interesting and more interactive things happen. Grab every chance you can, and stay in the same hotel that other people do—stumbling home from the bar after midnight is much safer if you don’t have to cross any roads.

A big, endless show floor is just the start (Photo by “ActiveSteve” on flickr)

A big, endless show floor is just the start (Photo by “ActiveSteve” on flickr)

Also incidentally, I’ll be at NAB in Las Vegas in April this year. Find me on the show floor or at one of the FCP X-focused meetings after hours.

Competitions

If you’re into coding, film or video games, entering live competitions can be another great way to see what the industry’s doing, and to meet others who do what you do. Ludum Dare is a worldwide game-making competition, partly online and partly in the real world, and finding time to enter will help you to meet all the cleverest game makers around. In my hometown, there’s a similar 48 Hour Game Making Challenge, and while I don’t make games myself, I do make documentary films about the challenge itself —take a look at the 2012 and 2014 videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSKGrVh2TpE

https://vimeo.com/112336755

This is what filming a gaming contest looks like.

This is what filming a gaming contest looks like.

If you’re more into moving pictures, the 48 Hour Film Project will push you to get together with other people and actually make a film. It’s both a learning and a social experience, and at worst, it’ll only take a couple of days.

Live design contests are great fun too, but I haven’t seen one in a little while. Perhaps time to hold one at a user group I’m involved in…

Conclusion

The online world is fantastic, but writing everything down takes time, and it’s not a skill everyone has. Even multi-person video chat, though it’s a step up, isn’t nearly the same as meeting in the real world. By physically meeting someone, we’ll get a much broader, deeper impression of who they are, and we’ll value that connection much more than one forged purely online. Networks are much easier to build when you’re face to face, and you’re the only one who can make that happen. Go for it!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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