“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”
No phrase better captures the importance of networking, not only in public relations, but in just about any industry. It’s an essential part of getting ahead, yet there are many ways to self-sabotage. For some shy folks in the biz, networking can be absolutely terrifying.
But successful contact-building is something you can practice, and with the weather warming up, there are sure to be tons of relevant opportunities to do so. Here are some important reminders for the next event you attend.
Do your research. See if you can take a look at an RSVP list before the event to get a feel for those attending. Will it be mostly young professionals? Industry vets? Getting to know the crowd beforehand not only is a great way to prep conversation topics in advance, but it helps calm nerves or anxiety.
Do come with some ice-breakers. Easy ways to strike up conversation include: comparing notes on a recent speaker; asking about membership in the sponsoring group/organization; industry trends, or topical news. Open-ended questions or casual comments (“I’m glad I rushed out of my office for once instead of working late again; how about you?”) can start a conversation flow.
Don’t dress down. Networking events are great opportunities to meet people quickly, so it’s important to leave a positive first impression. Your role doesn’t matter; there is no reason a college intern shouldn’t dress like an executive! Accessories are also a great way to express your personality and could act as a potential ice breaker.
Don’t cling. It’s fine to go with a colleague, but don’t huddle with her all evening; you’ll be more approachable if you’re mingling and have an open body posture. By the same token, don’t monopolize those you’re meeting. After 5 or 10 minutes, excuse yourself to take a call/visit the bar/find a contact. Better yet, play (business) matchmaker and introduce them to another contact or associate of yours, then move on.
Don’t abuse the open bar. Bee-lining to the bar might seem tempting in an intimidating crowd of people, but be sure to control your drinking! Limit yourself to one or two drinks for the event and take your time with them. You want to be remembered for your business or employee potential, not for being a party animal.
Don’t forget to follow up. Just because the event is over doesn’t mean the networking is! Look through your new collection of business cards and follow up, whether through Linkedin or email. It’s helpful to reference something you talked about at the event and look for opportunities to connect again.