I recently taught a postgraduate public relations writing course at a local college. We spent the semester talking about CP style, writing clearly and concisely, the various types of PR documents from newsletters and briefing notes to pitches.
One day I gave the students a challenge: to introduce themselves to three random people and convince them to have their photo taken.
“What does this have to do with the learning objectives? This is silly!” one student objected.
She would quickly find out that relationship-building has everything to do with being effective in public relations. You can write the best pitch—one that is well crafted, edited and proofed—but the chances of hitting your target are much greater when you actually know the recipient.
I’ve worked as a journalist and editor for many years and can tell you that I always pay more attention to a pitch when I know the person delivering it, even if I’ve only met them once at a media event. If I know the person well, I am even more likely to find a way to get their product or pitch into my magazine or blog.
When you work in PR, in addition to being a good communicator, you must develop good networking skills, learn to have conversations with just about anyone, and build relationships. Not everyone finds networking easy, and in fact many feel extremely anxious striking up a conversation with a stranger. Even some of the most seasoned professionals struggle with this. The more you force yourself out of your comfort zone, the easier it gets. And the results are always worth it.
Here are a few tried and tested tips for making the most out of networking opportunities at social and corporate events:
- Avoid travelling in packs. If you’re at a cocktail reception or networking event, it might be tempting to stick with the people you already know. If you’re standing in a group, you’ll be less likely to reach out and forge new connections. Plus, you’ll seem less accessible to those looking to approach you. Build up your confidence by navigating these social situations on your own. While it may feel uncomfortable, as soon as you have your first conversation you’ll start to feel better and more relaxed.
- Scan the room. Find someone who seems open to conversation and is not in a rush. The last thing you want to do is introduce yourself to someone who is making a beeline for the washroom or the exit. Begin by locating someone who is standing on their own—they’re probably feeling as eager for company as you!
- Introduce yourself. If you open by stating your name and where you work, they’ll feel compelled to do the same. Feel free to make a joke about how nervous or uncomfortable you feel in these types of social situations. It can help break the ice.
- Have some open-ended questions ready. Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” can put a speedy end to a conversation. Remember, most people love to talk about themselves when given the opportunity, so make the conversation about them, rather than you. Consider the following questions to kick off a meaningful conversation: “What brings you here today?” “What do you like most about the business you’re in?” “How did you get involved in your company?” “What made you decide to go into this line of work?”
- Wrap it up with an exchange of cards. There is no requisite amount of time you have to spend talking with one person at a networking event, as long as you can politely find a way to wrap things up. Before you part ways, be sure to swap contact info. I always keep a stash of my business cards in my wallet and I make a point of saving the business cards I collect in a binder. On the back of each card I will write a note about where I met the person or any detail that seems significant or that will help me remember them in future.
Remember, there is great value in networking. So even if you feel uncomfortable starting a conversation, take a deep breath, smile, and do it! Trust me, you’ll thank me for it.
What are your best networking strategies? How do you overcome that initial fear of not knowing anyone in the room? Share your tips in the comments below!