The next Los Angeles Mediabistro Party, hosted by Debra Eckerling and Michelle Thatcher, is tonight from 7 pm to 9 pm at Elevate Lounge, 811 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP here. Attendees, be sure to say “Hi” to the hostesses, who are easy to find by their green boas! Mediabistro hosts parties in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Toronto, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Austin, Miami, Atlanta, and Washington, DC.
Today, Write On! speaks with Mediabistro party co-host Michelle Thatcher,who offers tips to thrive at the Mediabistro mixers, as well as some sound writing advice. Thatcher specializes in creating Web content to attract and engage audiences. She is currently Senior Web Editor at Kaiser Permanente.
How did you get started hosting for Mediabistro?
I was living in San Francisco, still relatively new in town, and looking for a way to meet people with common interests. A coworker suggested I check out mediabistro for classes and parties. I liked the parties so much that I became a regular volunteer, and that put me at the top of the list when the original host started looking for someone to take over the boa.
When it came time to leave San Francisco, I realized one of the things I would miss most was my great network of mediabistro friends. Fortunately, I was able to start hosting in LA as soon as I moved.
Why should people come out to Mediabistro?
It’s an excellent chance to connect with the media community. There are so many dynamic people doing so many interesting things in our industry; the mediabistro events make it easy to find those people, because you’re all in the same room.
Also—and this is one of the things that’s kept me engaged with mediabistro for all these years—it’s inspiring to see the diversity of career paths and opportunities that exist for people with our skill sets, especially if you feel like you’re in a professional rut.
Plus, it’s fun! You get to check out a bar or restaurant you might not otherwise visit, and you’re guaranteed to have something in common with everyone there.
What are the top three things people need to know to make this a successful networking event for themselves?
1. Remember that you’re building a community, not just finding contacts. Express genuine interest in the person you’re talking to; ask questions. If you can’t even feign interest, move on.
2. Keep a positive attitude. Sure, the economy sucks, business is down, and maybe you’ve been unemployed for a long time. It’s OK to mention these things, but don’t dwell on them. Be ready to talk about something that is going well for you: a favorite hobby, a trip you have planned, a great book you just read, whatever. People appreciate a positive outlook, and in the process you might lift your own mood.
3. Come back regularly. Not every party will be a home run; sometimes you can go all evening without “clicking” with anyone you meet. But I guarantee that if you show up often, you’ll connect with several people you know and like, and they will introduce you to other interesting people, and you’ll be glad you came.
What are the three biggest mistakes people make in networking?
1. Arriving without business cards. If I enjoyed my conversation with you, I’d probably like to check out your site, send you an e-mail with follow-up information, or add you on LinkedIn. I can do none of these things if you don’t give me a card with at least your name and e-mail address.
If your company doesn’t issue cards, order some online. It’s a small price to pay to stay at the front of someone’s mind.
2. Failing to follow up. If you hit it off with someone, or you think someone might be able to help you, or if the Fates smile upon you and someone has a lead on a job, then for goodness sake follow up! Send an e-mail, preferably within a day or two of the event, to let that person know what you enjoyed about your conversation and how you’d like to keep the conversation going.
I used to be horrible about this; I’d always intend to follow up after an event, then I’d get caught up in my busy life until so much time had passed that I’d feel foolish sending a note. Now I block off some of my schedule on the morning after an event and use that time to follow up with people I talked to the night before.
3. Asking for too much, too soon. It’s true, it never hurts to ask, but you’ll have a much better chance of getting what you want if you take the time to develop a relationship with someone before you ask for favors. So keep the conversation going via e-mail or Twitter; show them that you are both interested and interesting, and they’ll be far more inclined to help you out in the future.
How did you get your start as a writer?
Like most writers, I started as a reader. I devoured books from an early age, so it was inevitable that I would start making up stories and putting them on paper. I filled journals with my thoughts and inspirations, while also scratching out short stories and poems.
In college I had a chance to get behind the scenes of the publishing industry, and I loved it. I graduated into a job at a technology magazine, where I realized I’d found my dream career: getting paid to dig deep into a topic and then, through writing, share my new-found knowledge with readers.
How has networking effected your success as a writer?
Tremendously. Every job I’ve had came through my network some way or another. Even my freelance assignments usually come to me through friend-of-a-friend recommendations.
I have to emphasize, though, that when I say “my network” I mean “my circle of friends and close acquaintances.” I spent several of my San Francisco years fruitlessly throwing my resume at all the major publishers and trying to force a relationship with some of the higher-profile editors in town.
I was a lot happier once I shifted my goals from “job seeking” to “friend making”— and within a few years, I realized I had genuine connections to people at every company wanted to work at, without trying to do so.
How have you transitioned from—and/or what are the differences/similarities between—working for a media agency to writing/editing for a company?
I’m still making the transition, but I’d say the immediate difference is one of voice. As a journalist, my primary criterion for success was whether readers found an article useful or interesting. Especially as blogging became more prevalent, I was free to write with my own voice and from my own perspective.
At a company, by contrast, I’m still working primarily to engage and inform readers, but I have the added requirement of also meeting business needs with each piece I write. I’m less of an individual voice and more of a conduit for communication between the readers and the company. It’s a compelling challenge.
Advice for writers?
Write down everything you want to say, then come back later and edit mercilessly. As you edit, think about the benefit to your audience: who do you want to read this, and what would that person want to learn?
Also, don’t get hung up on other writers’ seemingly overnight successes. If you take a close look, most of them had a consistent writing practice for years before the spotlight hit them. If you dedicate yourself to a consistent practice, you can’t help but become a better writer as well.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started as a writer?
It’s cliché but true: the difference between a writer and a non-writer is that a writer writes. If you’re doing the work, there’s no need to seek external validation.
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