When It Comes to Networking, Be a Guinea Pig
Both students and professionals gained valuable insight from three panelists at the PRONet Committee’s Face to Face Meets Digital networking event on May 24, 2011. Throughout the evening, a core theme was reinforced, “The key to networking is, are you memorable?”
2010 “Washington PR Woman of the Year” Debra Silimeo of Hager Sharp welcomed attendees with opening remarks about her own experience making lasting connections. “Networking is about building a ladder,” stated Silimeo. “You never know what can happen when you bring people together. You might find a client, you might find a job – but the best thing is you can make friends.”
Networking pros Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, Margie Newman, founder of DC PR Flacks and Dan Lyons, president of Lyons Public Relations and founder of DC PR Lunch Crew also shared traditional and new media networking strategies. One piece of advice for professionals, even students and job seekers, is to always have a business card handy.
“It’s really important for you to have the empowered sense to communicate beyond your current title,” stated Newman during the panel discussion. She also stressed that all professionals can build a name for themselves and find ways to represent their skills without naming their employer. “You are your own client,” agreed Silimeo.
Other key recommendations from the panel included:
Before Your Elevator Speech, Break the Ice
While an elevator speech is all about you, panelists agreed that job seekers should remember the basics of meeting someone for the first time. Rather than starting a conversation by stating, “I need a job,” professionals should respectfully break the ice and think about ways they can help that individual. For example, Event Moderator Sabrina Kidwai mentioned she often uses the Green Bay Packers to start conversations with other sports fans. One relationship she built with a reporter led to sources for his articles, and in return, media placements for her clients.
Oftentimes, social media tools like LinkedIn and Twitter make it easier for professionals to find these conversation starters. “A good PR person doesn’t know all the information, but a good PR person knows where to find it,” stated Newman. However, panelists agreed that while new media is a great relationship builder, certain conversations (e.g. inquiring about an open
position) should be taken offline.
Be a Guinea Pig to Find Your Groove
Attendees chuckled over Newman’s event mascot – a furry little guinea pig – which she used to stress the importance of finding “the setting that works best for you.” Supporting this point, Lyons shared that he started his lunch group, because he wanted to network in a more intimate setting. Typically, six to eight mid to senior-level professionals attend the DC PR Lunch Crew each month.
Being Engaged Means Losing the Phone
Another important element of networking is to be engaged. Huhman, a well known career expert, advised professionals to be open in their body language by leaning forward and nodding to show their attention. Lyons also stressed the importance of staying off cell phones during the event. Instead, professionals should focus on meeting other attendees. Panelists suggested questions, such as “How did you get into PR?” or “We work a lot of hours. What do you do for fun?” to help start conversations.
They also advised professionals to politely break away from conversations to avoid damaging relationships. Lyons jokingly mentioned that he always walks around with a nearly empty glass, which provides the perfect opportunity to say he needs a refill. Professionals can be honest about their desire to network with others as well.
Following the panel and a Q&A discussion, attendees were able to test their “new” networking skills, meeting both the panelists and other professionals during a light cocktail hour.
A special thank you from the PRONet Committee to Hager Sharp for donating their time and space.
– Stephanie Bostaph, PRONet Committee