By Katherine Schilling
Whether you’re just out of theory and looking to learn more about the profession, or you’re in your 200s and in need of a mentor, conventions are your one-stop shop for encouragement, information, and networking. But as inspiring as they can be, they can also be a terrifying place for someone new on the block.
As a student, it’s easy to psyche yourself out of networking at a convention. We tend to think, “Why would she ever want to talk with me? What do I possibly have to offer? I’m just a student. They look busy. I don’t want to bother them.”
If you find it difficult to point-blank stick out your hand and introduce yourself, I have some good news for you. Networking isn’t always so cut and dry. There are dozens of different ways that a connection can form when you’re at a convention, and here are just a few opportunities I had at the 2014 Annual NCRA Convention in San Francisco.
Hold my place
At the Thursday night “Only New Once” Reception, I practically made a beeline for the open bar, looking to get a little liquid courage. Turns out I wasn’t the only one; there was a whole crowd of us. What better way to pass the time in line than strike up a conversation with the person behind you? Whether you’re in line for the bar, a seminar, or even the bathroom, chances are you’ve already got something in common with that person. After all, why else would you be in the same line? Use it as a starting point to get to know your fellow conference attendees. Like they say, from small beginnings come great things.
Thanks to the black hole that is Facebook, students can get to know fellow students and working reporters without even leaving their rooms, let alone their states. A few weeks before the convention, take note on Facebook of who will be attending; groups will often run a poll to get a show of hands.* You can shoot your favorite stenebrities a message to let them know you’d like to meet them there, or simply keep your eyes peeled for them as you roam the Expo Hall and seminars. Attendees are always flattered to have someone recognize them from online and come up to say hello. And having already “met” them before will make it that much easier to talk with them face to face.
*If you’re not already part of some key court reporting/student support groups on Facebook, consider joining them. Guardians of the Record, Encouraging Court Reporters, and your personal CAT support groups are just a few places to start.
Is this seat taken?
During the seated events, like the Premier Session, Awards Luncheon, and President’s Party, it’s tempting to sit with people you know. Unfamiliar faces can be intimidating, but honestly, how else do you expect to meet people unless you put yourself out there? Sit at a table with nobody you know. That’s the way to take full advantage of your convention experience. You’ll be amazed at the people you’ll meet. I targeted a table of new faces and ended up meeting an official in the midst of transitioning to CART, a new court reporter from the very same agency I’m aspiring to work for, a state association president, and so many others. It’s the only place where you’ll get a wide sampling of the variety of experiences and stories that people have to tell, and it’s a great testament to the diversity of this profession.
I love your dress!
When the NCRA convention only comes by once a year, people will take it as an opportunity to dress up in their finest, and the President’s Party on Saturday night was no exception. Everyone was dressed up in the most dazzling array of truly red carpet-worthy gowns and suits, so it made it that much easier to sidle up and drop a compliment on attire. Who doesn’t appreciate a little flattery? Giving a sincere compliment lets the other person know that you’re friendly and open. Plus, a single compliment can lead to an invitation to sit at a table, share a toast, and spark a friendship.
I know a guy who knows a guy
It never ceases to amaze me just how supportive people are in this industry. Working reporters in particular are always eager to pass on a name. If they hear you’ve got a specific dream job in mind or obstacle to overcome, they seem to know just the right person you should talk to about it. This gives every connection you make at a convention the chance to exponentially expand our network. You, too, can pay it forward by regarding every person in your life — be it a teacher, fellow student, or Facebook acquaintance — as a valuable resource. Don’t hesitate to mention someone you know, or a useful online source, during a conversation. What may seem like common knowledge to you could be just the inspiration someone else needs. In an industry as small as ours, it’s vital that we be open with our connections and information so that we can be each other’s strongest advocates.
Standard meet-and-greets are always great ways to network, but keep in mind that opportunities can come about anywhere and anytime at a convention. It’s just about being confident and friendly. Remember, people may be just as shy about talking as you are; save yourselves the trouble by being the one to take initiative. And above all else, never underestimate that power of a firm handshake, steady eye contact, and genuine smile. Happy networking.
Katherine Schilling is a current court reporting student. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.