Networking: that deer in headlights moment
Networking is hard for most of us. Sweaty palms? Dry mouth? Sudden case of short-term amnesia? It takes time to perfect so here’s a tale of a first-time networking experience and the lessons learned.
Are you good at networking? If you are then lucky you, but if not — welcome to the club.
I’m told that practice makes perfect when it comes to networking and so it’s unsurprising to find other young people in similar boats.
I started out in public relations three years ago as a personal assistant. A couple months later I attended my agency’s annual media event; 400 TV and media moguls ready to eat, drink and talk business. But I was two months in and a PA — what did I know about PR? What did I know about the TV industry aside from the bazillion crime dramas I watch? Not much. Or so I thought.
People kept telling me that I knew more than I thought I did, it was just a confidence issue. Also apparently most people are blagging it anyway— the air of confidence gives the perceived air of knowledge.
Dutch courage can help the fear of the unknown disappear but you really shouldn’t be relying on booze for confidence. And you definitely shouldn’t need alcohol to be able to introduce yourself to people.
So here’s what I did at my very first networking event:
- Handed out name badges
Evidently this was part of my job as I helped organise the event but it was also incredibly useful because I was able to put faces to all the names of our clients and the other attendees too.
I understand you’re probably not going to be handing out name badges but if you’re able to look at the guest list before attending an event and research who everyone is, it will save countless time wasted on getting stuck talking to the ‘wrong’ people.
2. Introduced myself to known faces first
This is more of a confidence boosting exercise before approaching complete strangers. I approached current clients and explained who I was — new to the agency and sector but excited about learning about the industry. There were colleagues with me so I would sometimes join them when they found their clients too. But the point is, introducing yourself to ‘safe’ people that in a way have to be nice can give you that extra boost to approach others.
3. Acted like a normal human being
I didn’t know anything about PR at this stage, and not much more about the TV industry. So what could I talk about? I like to think I’m not completely boring so I just spoke to people about life. Hobbies, adventures, cool shit we saw online or in person.
I remember one time waiting 15 mins for a journalist to turn up to a call with the CEO of one of my clients. So I chatted to him about surfing — turns out he’s a big fan too! And do you know what? Everyone enjoys the break from talking shop. Especially before an interview…
This was a great tool I’ve honed and have used throughout my career ever since. It’s how I forge relationships with clients, journalists, mentors, and anyone really. Because we are all people at the base of it.
4. Had fun
I know some people like to take themselves seriously. Some people like to take life seriously. I would advise avoiding those people. Life isn’t serious, it’s not a spreadsheet full of formulas; it’s unpredictable, it’s exciting, and it’s full of ups and downs. How can you be serious about something so completely wild?
When you’re at a networking event please, for goodness sake don’t take it or yourself too seriously. Have fun, meet people, chat about random stuff. Trust me, working with someone you can’t stand is bloody awful so get to know a person before you start pitching your company to them.
5. Didn’t give a shit about title
I was a PA, she was a CEO, he was an MD. I don’t care what your title is, and frankly neither do they.
Does a title put you on another level? No, it doesn’t. It means you have more experience and you’re potentially going to have an interesting story to tell. But being at the beginning of your corporate journey doesn’t make you any less interesting.
As far as I’m aware those at the top don’t care about title either — not the good ones, anyway. In fact, most are more than happy to offer advice and tips, or even just chat.
At a client’s event I went up and spoke to a senior exec from Clear Channel. We shared horror stories about teaching from our previous lives. Did he ignore me or judge me because I wasn’t in the C-suite? No, because we’re all people and sharing stories is something most (at least) enjoy doing.
The point I’m trying to get across here is that we need to stop seeing people as products and start seeing them as human beings. This approach has won me new business pitches, new work relationships and even new friendships.
It’s great when someone can offer actionable advice on the spot but why not get to know them first? If you give people a chance, those ‘wrong’ people I mentioned above can turn into incredibly helpful people further down the line. Or they could just be future friends.
I want to change business networking for the better; make it more about people, interactions, relationship building, fun. I believe augmented reality games are the way to do this. Sure, we’ll send targeted suggestions of who you should play with but we need to maintain the beauty of serendipity too.
And in the meantime — happy networking!