Public relations business is all about people. It’s about creating and maintaining relationships. Networking is not a rocket science. It’s a bit of common sense, hint of bravery and a portion of people skills. The earlier you start networking, the better you become at it. You’ll also be able to build a diverse network. In this mini-series, I’ll share some of my advice and insights on how to be a better student-networker.
There are different ways of meeting people from the industry. I will showcase two of those. This week, I’ll write about the industry events. They are an excellent way of practising your networking skills, fantastic way of gaining insights into the industry and could be the first attempt of building a network.
After you sign for to the event you’d be interested in attending, make sure you do your research. Check who speaks at the event and follow them on Twitter. See what they do and be prepared to have a chat with them. Check if any attendees tweeted that they’ll be there. Interacting with people, using social platforms, before the event will help you. Twitter has been a great conversation starter for me number of times. When I approached someone, I got a lot of people saying ‘Oh, yes — I saw your tweet!’ Never underestimate power of social media, and especially Twitter.
Get out of your comfort zone
Approaching someone you don’t know might seem daunting. Especially if this person is much more senior than you and might be hiring you in the future. All of those thoughts about making terrible first impression float through your head. But it’s completely normal. And we are all unsure about making those type of interactions. However, it gets easier with time and practice. The amount of the awkward encounters I made is stratospheric, but I’m getting better with every event. I always adhere to the principle that while being a student, you have a room not to be perfect — especially in such professional situations, like networking. Crucial thing to do, is not to overthink it and just start engaging with people in the room.
When you’re approaching people at the events, have a good introduction prepared. I always start with my name and state that I’m a PR student. Make sure you have some questions prepared to ask during the conversations, too. Don’t try to sell yourself. Don’t talk too much — listen and learn instead. Ask about their role, their company, their client. Don’t be too intrusive, but don’t restrain from asking about things that you’re passionate about. The amount of insights that you can gain from people you meet during industry events is humongous.
Don’t try to sell yourself. Don’t talk too much — listen and learn instead.
Make sure you have an access to the wi-fi of the building that the event is hosted or have your own internet data on your phone. It’s always a good way to get noticed by tweeting. Find out the hashtag of the event, look for the @handles of speakers and tweet. Tweet pictures, tweet speakers’ thoughts and views. Draft some tweets beforehand, so this process is effective. After the event, make a write up of the event with the key takeouts.
Don’t attend events for their content
Gaining insights from the different events is great, but for me, it’s never been the primary reason of attending many of those. I always look at the speakers’ list first, before I even take a look at the topic of the seminar. Industry events are a fabulous opportunity to meet people you normally wouldn’t be able to meet. Don’t worry too much about the fact that certain event is not aimed at you! I once attended a… financial directors forum (sic!). The reason I’ve done it, was because I saw that the CEO of one of my favourite agencies was chairing the panel. After this (drastically not aimed at me) event, I managed to introduce myself, get a business card and make a connection. Never mind that I was a bit late for my law class. I hate law and sacrifices need to be made.
Don’t worry about the fact that certain event is not aimed at you!
Coming back to the previous point (no, not the one on me hating the law) about business cards, it’s vital that you formalise your connection. I use LinkedIn as my primary way to connect. There are few ways of getting your connections into one place. After you’ve had a brilliant conversation with the person you’d like to make a connection with, ask for their business card and/or add them on LinkedIn. I always have my phone ready, with the LinkedIn search screen, so people I meet can find their own profile and add themselves to my network. Really simple and effective way of connecting.
Another part of this advice is to follow up. I can’t emphasise more, how important this is! In order to be remembered, send a quick email, LinkedIn message, or tweet about how you enjoyed meeting someone. I usually tweet everyone I met during the event. I also tweet speakers and share some thoughts with them. If you don’t follow up, you might have just lost a big opportunity to be remembered.
Being a member of the PRCA (or other organisation) was really important part of my networking journey. You don’t need to limit yourself to them, but they do hold a great number of events (including member drinks!) every month. And PRCA do offer student memberships that you should really consider. Joining PRCA has opened a countless amount of door for me. Take, for example, my latest Month in the PR events — in only a month, I managed to attend so many brilliant events and meet so many inspiring people!
- Free drinks and open bar can be tempting, especially for students. But make sure you limit yourself to one drink. Don’t ever go for a red wine — spilling it over someone’s white shirt is the last thing you want to do. White wine, or ideally water are your best friends.
- You might want to consider getting your own business cards. In the digital age, they are probably not as common as they used to be, but this is still a good way of making sure, you’ll be remembered. The printing companies, such as MOO, offer some really good deals.
- Francis Ingham, PRCA Director General, when I interviewed him for my #4PRQs series said:
The most important person in the room is often the most ignored one, because people are afraid to approach them’
— Francis Ingham of PRCA [#4PRQs]
‘Networking for students’ is a three part mini-series on my blog, where I share my experience of meeting new people during the industry events, or while grabbing networking coffees. Part two and three coming up in the following weeks.
If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!