In 2007, over 100 people, armed with eyeliner, drew on me in an impromptu networking stunt at the HOW Design Conference. It was no-holds-barred. Some left signatures, others drew cartoons, one person even drew a particularly questionable male body part. At the time I was just having fun, but soon I would come to realize that this spontaneous HOW Live moment changed my life. This may sound like a bold statement. Really, a conference? Sounds like malarkey. But, I’m serious, it truly did change my life. Let me tell you how.
First, let’s take the DeLorean back to 2007. It was my second HOW Conference, but first away from my hometown of Chicago, IL. I had a few creative friends along for the ride and for the most part I kept to my small circle. At the end of the last day I was feeling really down for not forcing myself to meet more people. I can be outgoing, but for some reason I felt intimidated around all of these incredible designers. I felt a slight pressure to talk shop. Was I good enough? Was I cool enough? Will I sound like I know what I am doing? These things unknowingly paralyzed me until it was almost too late.
But, I had one chance to shift my mindset. The wrap up party was that night. HOWies get a theme as inspiration to dress up in costume and party. That year’s theme was black and white. I am someone who LOVES Halloween, but all I had was a boring black and white dress. Why was I being so lame? As I walked past Sephora on the way to my hotel room, I came up with the idea to buy black and white eyeliner and just draw all over myself before I went to the party. That is when it hit me. I can ask HOWies to do the work for me!
I ventured off to the party with tools in hand ready to make some new friends. It turned out to be quite the interesting social experiment. The first few people were apprehensive. Some people looked at me like I was crazy and said “no” but, most were really excited and didn’t think twice. By the next hour, I had a line of people waiting their turn! Some just stared worried it was actual Sharpie on my skin… but that would not happen until the next year. In the end, I went home with over 100 business cards of designers I connected with. At the time social media was not nearly as prevalent as it is today, so I was not really sure what to do with all of these names. I sent emails to everyone and made some connections I still speak with today. I figured the stunt ended there.
Until I attended next year’s conference. I had people coming up to me saying this:
“Hey! I drew on you last year! That was awesome!”
“You’re the girl with the upside-down glasses! I remember you!”
It was in that moment that I realized I had a personal brand identity people are remembering me for. To this day, I’ll be talking to someone new, and they stop mid-sentence, cock their head to the side, and ask me if my glasses are upside-down. The designers are the ones who made me understand how my glasses played an integral role in my life. So I took the concept of my glasses and applied it to my design approach by saying I have a “fresh look at creative.” And it stuck.
Dovetailing off this revelation, the next big shift for me was gaining more confidence in my work, which led me to become a better designer. This enabled me to attain a promotion to Senior Art Director, then a year later to Creative Director at Revelry Agency. I realized I was living under a rock when one of the partners asked me if I was aware that at 32 years old, I was now one of only 3% of women who held this title. With this in mind, I started to look for a mentor program to find women in the same role to mentor me and ensure I kicked ass as a CD. I ran across a group called SheSays, an award-winning organization running free mentorship and events to women in the creative and marketing businesses. Sounded right up my alley. I reached out to find out if there was a Chicago chapter. None yet… but they felt like I was the right person to start it in Chicago! So I did.
Today I am a Creative Director leading teams of designers, writer and developers, and I have been running the Chicago chapter of SheSays for five years with over 1200 members and growing. While I may not be the famous designer you are heading to HOW to learn from, my goal is to be of that caliber.
I truly trace all of this back to HOW Live and how it unknowingly made me the person I am today. If I had not pushed myself out of my comfort zone, my career path may have been much less exciting. I have since been to five more HOW Live conferences and have done different iterations of the Draw On Me Experiment, adding up to hundreds of designers making their mark on me.
So next year, I invite you to HOW Live to add your creative persona to my newest interpretation of the Drawn On Me networking experiment. Keep my ridiculous story in mind as you step foot into the HOW breeding grounds, or any networking scenario. While you don’t need to go to the extremes I did, just taking the time every day to introduce yourself to new faces will set the stage for good things to come. Remember you don’t need to talk shop right away. Perhaps ask what someone’s favorite 80’s movie is (mine is Back to the Future), or if they could be in a Reality TV Show – what would it be (when I was 18 I would have said Real World)? Or simply “I like your glasses!”
If you want an introduction to some new faces during HOW Live, you can also look for those of us with “HOW Champion” badges. Our job is to make sure you are having a blast and introduce you to some kick-ass people. By the way, being a HOW Champion is another amazing thing to come my way due to this experiment! It could be you next year!
Modified from original article featured on HOWDesign.com.