Networking comes up quite a bit on this blog, because quite honestly, it’s a harrowing situation — especially if you are a junior or unseasoned PR professional. When your agency foots the bill for you to go to a professional mixer or meetup, they have an unreasonable expectation that you’ll actually talk to another human and not hover over (or hide under) the coffee and mini-pastry table.
I find even the best networking events are kind of like high school, most people don’t want to be there and are extremely self-conscious about the whole affair. (Go Bulldogs!)
Here’s the thing, once you acknowledge the awkward elephant in the room, networking events can be productive and – gasp – maybe even fun.
Here are a few tips to make you feel a little more comfortable at your next networking event:
Don’t have a strict agenda.
If you go to an event with the expectation that you’re going to walk away with a reporter ready to write a feature story or a new client ready to start tomorrow, you’re already setting yourself up to fail. Like a unicorn or the Jersey Devil, the “one-and-done” conversation is a rare and mythic beast. If you’re on the hunt for that and try to go for the hard sell, you’ll miss a lot of great conversations. Go to an event with an open mind, and try to keep your conversations as open and free-flowing as possible.
Find your “other.”
When you go to an event, especially if you’re flying solo or don’t know a lot of the folks in the room, the easiest thing is to find someone else who looks like they are equally as unsure. Strike up the conversation. More often than not, they’ll appreciate it and open right up. Boom! Ice officially broken.
This may sound like a “no-duh” thing to list as a networking tactic, but I find it’s one of the most fundamentally ignored, especially if you go in with a set agenda (see the first point). Ask your new friend what they do or what their company does and try to actually take in what they’re saying without immediately trying to analyze their relative usefulness professionally.
Don’t pitch a reporter…yet.
If you find yourself speaking with a reporter, try to ignore your PR lizard brain telling you to pitch them then and there. (Also, networking events tend to be loud and distracting, so it’s the worst time to get in the muck messaging-wise). Ask them what they are working on and actually listen. You may be able to point them in the right direction or let them know of an overarching industry trend that could be helpful. Don’t pitch; be a connector or a resource. (Of course, if what they are working on benefits a client, offer a post event follow up.)
Aside from these points, I have a few personal ones (I don’t eat at events because I know at some point, someone I’ll want to talk to will catch me with a mouthful of mini muffin), but these are pretty easy to digest (unlike said mini-muffin) and remember. Now, go forth and interact with a human!