Networking: It’s not just an online thing

This evening, I had the pleasure of speaking to The University of Southern Mississippi’s chapter of  the Public Relations Student Society of America. The coordinating professor had the foresight to plan for the arrival of spring conferences, and thought it appropriate for the group to discuss preparing for these events. She asked me to speak on networking – something that I’ve been involved in as long as I’ve been in the profession. By no means am I an expert, but when it comes to the basic what-to-do and what-not-to-do, I can speak for days.

Hello my name is AnxietyHere’s a brief recap of what we discussed:

  • It’s okay to be nervous about jumping into a networking event. Many people are. It’s probably right up there with public speaking with things that make people anxious.
  • Remember, this is work, not a party. Treat it appropriately.

Do this:

  • Set goals before the event. How many people do you want to meet? Is there anyone specific? In PR we (should) always set goals before approaching a project – networking is no different.
  • Have plenty of business cards. Even if you’re a student. These days business cards are so easy to create and pretty inexpensive – there’s no reason really not to have one. Check out VistaPrint, tinyprints, Minted, and many more.
  • Have your elevator pitch prepared. While you’re likely not going to walk up to someone and pitch them, you need to be prepared for a good, full introduction.
      • Include something unique about yourself – a conversation starter. I like to run marathons/half marathons, I work full time and I’m a student – these are all things that I can include in my elevator pitch that could help drive conversation.
  • Today at an event, I got my first limp fish handshake. I didn’t realize how awful it was. Please, for everyone’s sake, practice your handshake.
  • When you’re talking with someone, ask questions. People like to talk about themselves, and you could possibly learn something about the person that you hadn’t considered asking.
      • Be sure to LISTEN!!!
      • You don’t know anyone at the event you’re going to? Hint: You’re probably not the only one. Try to find others who are in your same situation. You can find them doing the same bad habits you’re doing or good habits you’re attempting to pick up.
  • After the event, make notes on the business cards you collected from those you met. Follow-up with those connections; this is a great opportunity to incorporate social media into your networking. LinkedIn is a powerful tool (check out this previous blog post) – use it!

Don’t do this:

  • Try to wing it. Preparation is paramount. Some people just naturally succeed at everything when they wing it. I haven’t met that person yet, but I’m sure they’re out there.
  • Treat the food/beverage like an all you can eat/drink buffet. In addition to looking like a glutton, eating and drinking while networking is really difficult. You only have two hands. Use them wisely.
  • Stick with only people you know. You went to a networking event to meet other people. If you wanted to chit-chat with your friends, you shouldn’t have wasted your time/money/effort into going to a networking event.
  • Play on your phone or read the event program the whole time. They’re easy crutches when you’re feeling anxious about getting out and meeting people. Don’t use them. Hint: If you see other people doing this, these might be the other people like you that you can approach like mentioned above. 

Additional Thoughts:

  • Name tag goes on your right side.
  • Check out this Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy on body language and Power Poses. In fact, check out all the Life Hacks Ted Talks – they’re very interesting (a collection available on Netflix).
  • If you’ve met someone before, but they don’t remember you, be kind, but remind them of where you met before. On the other hand, if you don’t remember someone’s name, be honest. Apologize for your forgetfulness, and try not to do it more than once.
  • Volunteer to help out at the event. It’s a great way to meet people and gives you a task to ease your nerves.
  • Find a wingman. But that wingman can’t be equally anxious about networking – they need to be the kind of person that can help get you out of your shell.

Remember, practice makes perfect. If you’re new to the networking world, fear not, it will get easier will time. This is just a small collection of thoughts, and by no means a comprehensive list. Every person is different. Every situation is different. Get out there, give it a shot, and let me know about your experiences.

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