A post about networking on PR Daily caught my eye. The author of the blog Mark Macias, makes the point that Public Relations skills apply to social situations, “especially networking events where your image is everything”. You see, networking is my nemesis. I’ve attended Chamber of Commerce lunches, CIPR events, businesswomen only events and business breakfasts (where the main speaker brought along a metal framed frog by which to illustrate his points and then became emotional whilst recounting one particular PR experience).
I can’t help it, but most of them make me cringe. I know the plus sides are mixing, finding leads, attracting potential clients and ultimately creating new money; but having a metal frog waved at you at 7.30am whilst eating cereal with strangers is just bizarre. The real irony is, that there were only two people in the room who had attended out of choice and with genuine enthusiasm. For the rest of us it was like being extras in an episode of The Office.
The thing is I do see the potential of networking events and some have been a great success in securing work – a Ladies That Tweet event held last summer lead to a three month contract with an international charity. So I get the point Macias is making when he says “the quicker you master these skills [networking], the faster your business grows”. I just find them awkward.
Macias says it’s important to be “focused and self-aware” and to seize “the smallest of openings” at networking events – ensuring you make the right impression in the limited time you have. Despite being a journalist by profession and being used to talking to people from all walks of life about a variety of subject maters, I still make a total meal out of networking. So it was with great interest (and relief) that I read Macias advice on how to apply PR skills to any networking event:
The best publicists listen and interact. The worst publicists talk to you and ask few questions. The best publicists know how to drive conversations. The worst publicists can drive a train into a house, and they won’t even see it coming. They aren’t in control of themselves or their ideas. When you’re networking, be conscious of your words and how you use them. Drive the conversation with open-ended questions that lead to your intended destination. Learn how to grab information by guiding conversations, as opposed to talking to others.
Make eye contact. This is a common-sense rule, but many people at this networking event failed to make consistent eye contact. It was as though they were afraid of emotionally connecting to me, or perhaps they were hiding something. If you have difficulty making eye contact with others, practice in the mirror. A sociology professor from college demonstrated this to my class, and it works. I do believe the eyes lead to the soul, so don’t be afraid to reveal a part of yourself at these social events. You’ll survive.
Dress the part. Be conscious of what you choose to wear that morning. I met some business professionals who looked like they stepped out of a 1970s Kmart catalog. I don’t want them advising me on creativity. If you’re expressive or creative, you will likely express it in your clothes. I’m sure it sounds shallow, but the reality is when you’re networking at these events, we base our perception on reality—and your reality is what you’re wearing at any given moment.
It’s not about me. It’s about you. In publicity, I tell clients we need to think of what the media needs — not what you need. It’s no different at networking events. When you learn that you are talking to a commercial real estate designer (as I discovered at this mixer), you need to learn more about what his/her needs are before you can determine whether or not you can work together. This takes us back to point No. 1. Listen and interact. The best publicists are authentic, and you can feel it when you first meet. That’s because these publicists understand that it is really about us — and not just you.