Three weeks ago I came up with this crazy idea with my boss to hustle my way to South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) at no cost. Easy right? Sort of. Anyway, with our goal in mind, it was time to figure out how to get it done.
What follows is a personal story of how I ended up on a train to Portland this morning as the first leg of a mission to Texas. I’m confident that you can take some learnings from my experience for ways to pitch your big shiny ideas, get them noticed, and green-lit.
Today I start a 5 day journey from Vancouver to Austin, Texas. Sure my main goal was to find a way to get to SXSW, but as I look out the window, i’m realizing it’s about the journey, not the destination.
SXSW is the go-to event for nerds and tech geeks looking to make waves in the industry. Major media brands like Twitter owe their fame in part to launching at SXSW. Every year, it’s a ners’ arms race to figure out which hot new startup will take over.
My employer, HootSuite, sent a team of 10 down last-year. And I knew this year would be similar. The handful who do get to go are the envy of the rest of the company because SXSW is a geek’s paradise.
Being the realest I am, I figured my name would not be on the list for 2013. The lucky chosen few tend to be more higher up established peeps.
That is where this crazy idea started. Could I hack my way to SXSW?
My boss, DaveO, is your modern day Jack Kerouac – the train idea was his. I remember him saying a month ago: “reach out to Amtrak and let’s see if we can train you down to sxsw.”
With that, I got my creep on and tried to find find someone at Amtrak who might be interested in hearing what I had to say.
The basic plan was this: if you provide travel arrangements, I will tell the story of my journey by blogging, producing videos, and just about every other form of media out there.
Once I found someone, it was time to extend the olive branch with the ultimate email.
When you’re in this situation, you need to take the perspective of the person you’re targeting with your pitch. What emotions are they going to feel getting a random email?
and how can you use this information to choose the right words in order to get a reaction?
Once you figure this out, you can start crafting the copy for your email.
The email you send isn’t about you. It is about accommodating the random person reading the email. Make it as short, concise, and as easy to read as possible. Bulleted lists, bold words, and short, well written sentences are your friend.
I get a lot of questions about learning social media, digital, and breaking into the industry. With more universities offering diplomas, certifications, and courses for social and digital media, the question is whether it’s worth your money.
My advice is always to use extreme caution.
The nature of the digital space is such that its in a constant state of change. Social is new; Facebook is nine years old and Twitter six. What’s the next disruptive social platform?
The point is social and digital evolves quicker than any industry – formal education doesn’t mesh with this space.
Professors develop curriculum long before courses take place. It goes against the real-time nature which makes digital and social so unique and exciting. Any course becomes outdated before it is taught.
While formal education isn’t a perfect fit for the industry, there are specific use cases. I’ll rattle off a few examples.
Skill Acquisition: If you’re looking to add specific skills, ie photoshop, illustrator… etc, formal courses make a decent fit. The important thing here is utility. Ensure you are learning tangible skills that transfer and are directly applicable to your goals.
Networking: Professional network development. As much as I hate networking, it is necessary. You have to ‘play the game’ no matter how fake and phony it makes you feel. This is something i’ve personally struggled with before because I find it exhausting.
The beauty of formal education is how it provides a rolodex of connections for the future. This is probably the only reason i would consider an grad school down the line.
Keep in mind building these relationships takes effort and is only worth it if you attend a globally recognized grad-school program.
Learn yourself. I personally take pride in self learning… you should too, but how does one do this?
Expose yourself to the social space, experiment on different social networks and research who is influential and innovative on these subjects. These are who you should learn from.
An easy example is by making a Twitter list with digital “thought leaders.” Read not just what they write, but what they read as well.
Everyone knows the spiel about how everything is free on the internets, i’ll save it and instead, point you to some resources i’m using to continually learn. Same knowledge, but without the fancy piece of paper.
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Public speaking infront of a group of critical strangers is universally mans’ greatest fear. Personally, I used to share echo this sentiment. I’ll admit it’s something I’ve avoided when possible. I’m not completely frightened per say — in the past I just didn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of a group of people whom I don’t know. My public speaking nerves take over.
Part of my apprehension is value based. If I didn’t have much to contribute, (translation: who cares what some dumbass like me has to say?) why potentially embarrass myself in front of a group of strangers? The risk-reward didn’t seem to check out… Much like how terrified I was starting this blog.
I firmly believe in not talking for the sake of talking – only speak when you truly have something to ‘say.’
The issue is vulnerability — we struggle to step outside the comfort and safety of our daily routines to which we can control.
I’ve come to realise I’m in a somewhat unique situation (narcissistic rant coming). I’ve accomplished my goal of startimg a career the social media landscape — making the transformation from full-time amateur athlete / student to working at a upstart tech company.
This is the first of a few posts on the relationship between social media and real life.
A question causing discussion is whether mobile social networking is sacrificing real-life relationships. The ‘mobilize everything’ trend is everywhere.
On days I ride the bus to work, I would say 70% of people are buried in their phones and/or have headphones in. I would guess that other 30% don’t have phones to begin with (this is a generalization).
Of course, I am as guilty as everyone else riding the chariot. I check news sites, emails and twitter; all with a podcast firing. I personally feel like this type of behavior can be acceptable in public settings if you are riding solo.
If this dips into more direct social settings, the slope gets slick. The extent to which we are foregoing face-to-face interaction for mobile companionship is a huge concern.
MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle makes a good argument (in her TEDxTalk) that we are sacrificing real life conversations by using social media. The way we interact online creates unrealistic and distorted perceptions social relationships.
Last week, I started interning at HootSuite. For those unfamiliar, HootSuite (Vancouver tech start up) is a social media management dashboard. It lets you use and manage all your social networks from one page.
How did I get the internship?
Seizing opportunity combined with some fortunate timing (luck) and help from some amazing people. Three weeks ago at the IMgroup Meetup, I got the chance to hear HootSuite’s VP of Community, DaveO speak about five unique days in their company’s history. Each day represented a defining event for their company. The stories resonated; I admired their transparent and unique outlook on everything from day to day business to crisis management. I was drawn to their gritty hustling culture.
I put myself out there. At the Meetup, everyone gets a 30 second elevator pitch style intro to the group. I broadcasted my aspirations for an internship. My announcement was met with smiles from the crowd that turned to laughter when Dave responded with: “you can’t spell internet without intern.”
I sent Dave a message the following day asking if he wanted to go for coffee. He obliged and we met later that week. I had no idea what to expect, but I received some great advice from a few friends and family. I wanted to cover my bases, so I printed off my dismal resume and cover letter just in case.
I made my way to the given address expecting a coffee shop. Instead, I got the HootSuite offices. Damn! I was fiending coffee as always, what a cruel trick. I walked in, stumbled through a stack of 15 bikes and a friendly dog. Dave was sitting where you would expect a receptionist to be.
We talked for a while. The word internship kept coming up, but I wasn’t positive he was offering it to me until the end when he made it clear. I was ecstatic.
Moral of the story
Social networks are driving hiring decisions everywhere. Be cognisant, but most importantly, be yourself! Deception is not sustainable. Why waste time convincing anyone you are something you are not? This applies not just to employment but to everything. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.
I am now taking names at HootSuite three days a week. I just have to figure out how school, sports and blogging fit in.
If anyone has some time management suggestions, I would love to hear them.
Throughout social media week, I attended north of 20 events at places all over Toronto. I love exploring new cities; walking and street-caring made it pretty easy to get my bearings. Transiting from event to event allowed me to fully experience the city of Toronto in all its grandeur. After five days, I feel that I know the city pretty well. I learned a ton, what I want to touch on today is networking.
Through experimentation with “networking” over the last month or so, I am starting to figure it out. Practice makes progression (perfection is a fallacy). I’ve found through a lot of trial (and error) that I no longer have that same level of apprehension to approach people, whether it be an acquaintance or stranger. Social media week was the perfect medium to meet people. I met some awesome people in the process and even made a few friends.
See what works for me below.
Find a way in
The way to approach someone you seek to network with is to establish some common ground. This should be easy if they share a similar vocation or hobby. If time allows, I will quickly research via twitter. Profile and tweets are a good way to gauge personality but their pictures are even better. This literally takes one minute.
In my case, I have no problem approaching strangers at Social Media Week because we all share a common interest. I’ve found that people are very receptive to help, all you have to do is gather the courage to initiate.
What is your motive?
Something to ponder before you approach. What are you looking to get out of the conversation? For me, I am hoping to learn from my peers about how they got started in the social industry. What is there story? I honestly believe that everyone is unique and has an amazing story to share.
This is where Seth Rogen comes in. Once you have found some common ground to initiate a conversation, start picking their brain with relevant questions. Whether it is about where they work, what education they have or how they got started in the industry. If you are genuinely interested in talking to someone, these questions should come easily.
Share your story.
People love talking about themselves; it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy. Once a connection is established, don’t be afraid to tell your story. What are you doing currently? Where have you been and where are you going? Sharing a bit about yourself takes the engagement to another level.
Nothing to Lose!
I ask myself: what is the worst that could happen? We are hard-wired to develop relationships in order to build our proverbial tribe. Remember this. People are inherently friendly. A smile and eye contact go a long way.
Two way street
It is not all about you. Think how you can help them. Networking is about mutual understanding and benefit.
The other day I shared some of the new age self-education options that are out there. This will be a primer on my trip to Toronto next week for Social Media Week.
Hilarious hipster video was put out by the organizers of Social Media Week.
Social Media Week is a global event that takes place in several host cities from February 13-17. It consists of dozens of presentations, speakers and conferences on all things pertaining to technology, communications and social media. After the great experience I had attending a couple of events at Social Media Week Vancouver in September, I figured what better excuse to skip a week of class than go to Social Media Week Toronto (SMWTO).
My primary concern with investing time and money into an event like this is the added value. I have no doubt the content will be great and I will learn some useful skills. The other part of the value in my opinion is the relationship building.
I plan on using my newfound networking prowess to meet some movers and build some connections. For those concerned about my past business card fiascos, worry not, they are in production as I type. No longer will this guy be answering business card inquiries with embarrassing excuses.
The budget is another huge concern. I am a student with no income. However, with careful planning and frugal spending, I can make it work. The major expenses are: the event itself, accommodation and transportation.
The majority of events at SWMTO are free, friends were gracious enough to let me crash on a pull-out bed in their apartment and my flights are booked on Aeroplan miles. So far so good. Aside from a $61 service charge which Aeroplan was nice enough to sneak in to my ticket transaction, I will not have spent a dime upon my arrival.
Food is another concern. I enjoy eating good high quality food. Most of the events at SMWTO provide “light snacks and refreshments” before and after the entertainment. Not sure what that means, but I plan on taking full advantage of any complementary food; getting appie happy as much as possible. Perhaps even schmooze my way to a few lunch or dinner meetings.
I look forward to the coming week in Toronto. Aside from SMWTO, I am excited to re-connect with some good friends.
No doubt there will be some great stories for the blog as I continue to experiment with networking.
If anyone is in Toronto next week, drop me a line so we can meetup!
The cool thing about self-education is that it is a matter of choice. Everything rests firmly on the shoulders of the individual. There are no barriers to entry, applications or GPA restrictions. Desire and drive are two key necessities for mastery through self-education. Intrinsic motivation is an extremely powerful cognitive process. That is why self-education is 100% what you make it.
I wrote a bit in the past about my self-education efforts to date. These range from simply reading books to attending seminars and conferences on social media. Recently I have been getting a bit more creative with my education. I want to talk a bit about two different approaches I’ve been using in the hopes that some of you will be inspired to try them out.
Online Twitter Conversations
Twitter or social media may not be your thing. Hear me out.
If you have ever come across someone spamming your twitter timeline with a bunch of annoying random answers to questions followed by the same stupid hashtag, they are likely deep into a twitter chat. A Twitter chat is an online conversation hosted by an individual or company where a group of tweeters share insight on a pre-selected topic. The chat is structured by the host who provides questions, moderates and progresses the conversation from one question to the next.
The host often recruits an expert on the topic as their co-host. Free professional advice!
The chats take advantage of the hashtag search feature on twitter, allowing the conversation to be organized and followed in a linear fashion. The beauty of these conversations is the versatility. How else can a community of passionate contributors from around the world be assembled for an intellectual conversation?
There are twitter chats on just about every subject. You just have to do some digging and research to find the date and time.
I realize that some may see this conversation medium as impersonal and retarded. You are mistaken. I’ve been doing a few of these twitter chats per week. The diverse audience provides insight that you would never find in a real time conversation anywhere else.
A meetup is a group meeting organized online through social media on a specific topic. Like twitter chats, there are meetup groups for everything. Two weeks ago, I came across a message about a meetup called Internet Masterminds. Internet Masterminds is a meetup about marketing, social media, career and social networking. They have a guest speaker every week.
I showed up to my first #IMgroup meetup having no idea what to expect. Slightly less nerves while signing in compared to my last networking event. However, the nerves came roaring back when I was asked to make a quick introduction to the group. I have high threshold for pain, no fear of spiders or competition, but public speaking scares me. Public speaking in front of a group of 75 strangers is petrifying. I thought back to my grade eight public speaking class. Strike a power pose and make eye contact.
Somehow I managed to tell my story without too much stuttering. What a miracle.
I’ve been to two meetups so far. The most practical information I have learned about social media have come from these meetups. If you’re looking to learn about or meet people in an industry, a meetup is a perfect way to kill two birds with one rock.
The only issue with my self-education is my real education. Midterm week makes blogging tough.
Have you attended a meetup or twitter chat? Any creative self-education secrets for me? Post a comment!
What follows is my first attempt at networking. Let’s take a peak.
A couple weeks ago, I came across a tweet from Trevor Turnbull promoting an event he was presenting at. Being familiar with his work I was intrigued at the chance to hear him speak as he is very much in tune with social media in sports. The event was called ‘Your Keys to Networking Success,’ by ‘Networking in Vancouver.’ Or NIV.
Talking to strangers is not something that comes easy for me. I used to see networking as shameless self-promotion involving all sorts of fake courting and interaction in order to peddle ones hidden agenda. Not exactly an optimistic view of humanity. Forgive me for my short-sighted ignorance, but that is how I felt. Despite the prevailing hypocrisy, I decided to register.
The day came a week or so later. I had to go directly from class on campus downtown to the venue. This meant a long, uncomfortably steamy bus ride on the 44. It was pouring rain and windy outside. As the bus driver was prodding us in like cattle, I suddenly remembered my prof last semester lecturing about how busy Vancouver busses were operation zones for frotteurs (use that word in a sentence to impress someone). Great. Standing room only. Between listening to my ipod and constantly shuffling with my phone I managed to spear about three people with my umbrella as the bus crashed to every stop.
This guy drives like an animal.
I got to the venue, walked in with my heart racing as nerves started to creep in. It represented a pretty big deal for me to step outside my comfort zone and go by myself to something like this. I was greeted by one of the organizers asking if I had a business card to put in the jar for the raffle prizes. Blindsided, I said something to the effect of: ” You know I don’t have any with me today,” could barely keep a straight face while I crafted that one. Crisis averted.
Now what do I do before this thing starts? Clearly I mistimed my arrival. To my dismay, a friendly face! I went over and we chatted for a bit. Natalie recently completed her MSc in sport management. Check out her blog here.
The NIV event consisted of six groups of speakers: some on their own, some in pairs. They preached a variety of different strategies for networking. I eagerly listened as they talked about personal branding, finding unique ways to differentiate yourself and positive networking. The content was great. After they spoke, there was a mandatory networking period where they encouraged people to… Network. Shit. Should I just bolt and go watch the Canucks game?
Despite the new knowledge, networking still is not as easy. Especially for an introvert like myself. I curbed my natural escape tendencies and managed to introduce myself to a few people, actually making an awesome contact in the process.
I can provide one suggestion. Motivated trial and error is extremely important in order to make progress at just about anything. I learned this playing sport, but networking is no exception. Yes Allen Iverson, we are talking about PRACTICE!
If you are like me and are shy around new people, I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone. Introduce yourself to a friend of a friend or a stranger. A smile is a start. Be yourself and be honest. Why be someone else? Why be Dishonest?
A good resource for introverts is this primer on networking for introverts.
NIV has some great networking events coming up.
Any good networking tips, resources or events I should know about? Any good sites to order business cards?