People who work in PR are known for being social butterflies who can drum up a lively conversation with just about anyone. But I’ll be the first to admit that, yes, I work in PR, and yes, I still get a little anxious right before I walk into a networking event. It can be intimidating to attend a luncheon or conference by yourself. There’s that first long minute filled with nervous energy while you look for a friendly face, and then everything melts away after you start your first conversation. And by the end, you’re glad you went. This quote from Kristin Newman’s memoir perfectly sums it up:
“I was a shy little girl and an only child, so on vacations I was usually playing alone, too afraid to go up to the happy groups of kids and introduce myself. Finally, on one vacation, my mom asked me which I’d rather have: a vacation with no friends, or one scary moment. So I gathered up all of my courage, and swam over to the kids, and there was one scary moment… and then I had friends for the first time on vacation. After that, one scary moment became something I was always willing to have in exchange for the possible payoff. I became a girl who knew how to take a deep breath, suck it up, and walk into any room by herself.”
One scary moment is almost always worth the trade-off. Here are three tips to get you through that one scary moment and become an expert networker.
1. Geek out together
The good thing about attending PRSA networking events is that you automatically have at least one thing in common with everyone else there: you work in PR (or aspire to work in PR). So bring up industry news that your regular social circle doesn’t get nearly as excited about, like Snapchat’s new glasses or the latest brand in crisis. In addition to industry news, it’s helpful to be up on the latest global and national happenings, always, but especially before a networking event. My go-to resource is theSkimm, which presents the news in a quick, easily digestible format. It’s ripe with conversation starters.
2. Go beyond small talk
Based on the idea that we’re not defined by our job titles (although I would argue a career in PR results in a serious work/life blend), I recently stumbled upon this great list of questions to ask people instead of “What do you do?” from Fast Company. Some of my favorite questions are:
- Do you have any side hustles or passion projects?
- Are you working on any exciting projects right now?
- What’s your favorite emoji?
- What was the highlight of your week/weekend?
- What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?
These are guaranteed to spark conversations that won’t fizzle out after the first minute.
If you’re new to an organization or city, the fastest way to make connections is to raise your hand and volunteer. For example, in PRSA you can join a number of committees, from new professionals to membership to communications. Choose a volunteer opportunity based on your strengths, whether that’s planning events, running the check-in table, or helping with promotion on social media. When you get involved, it allows you to build deeper relationships with members. Plus, you’ll know a few friendly faces when you go to the next event.
What are your tips for becoming an expert networker?
Caitlin Rebecca Ryan is a PR writer for Eric Mower + Associates in Charlotte, NC, with a passion for live music, snail mail, and novels. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and her blog.