Let’s flashback to March of 2010: I was a naive junior in college attending my very first professional networking event: The second annual Public Relations and Social Media Summit at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
The summit is a place where public relations and social media fans, students and professionals get together and discuss the latest and greatest in their respective fields. The day is filled with speakers from some of the most recognizable brands in American including IBM, Pepsi, American Eagle Outfitters, The North Face and more.
Intimidated doesn’t even begin to describe how it felt sitting in a room full of well-respected and well-established experts and business executives. There I was, an inexperienced 20-something who just picked up my first order of business cards the day before. I was also the guy trying to live-tweet from my flip phone while balancing a plate of complementary donuts, while everybody else was posting from their shiny new iPads.
At the end of the conference, I stood in amazement as I witnessed everyone mingle and exchange business cards left and right. Instead I sheepishly huddled next to my equally as scared students as we observed all of the networking around us.
Now let’s cut to October of this year: It was déjà vu as I was going to attend the third annual Public Relations and Social Media Summit, once again held at Marquette University. This time though, I vowed I would be prepared, both physically and mentally.
I learned from my previous mistakes: Last year I walked away knowing a lot more about public relations and social media, but I didn’t know the names of any new friends or contacts. I decided that this year I was going to do it right.
I started on a good foot as I had my business cards ready to go and I was wearing an appropriate outfit that was professional but would also feel comfortable during my 12-hour networking binge.
Next up were those tempting complementary sweets and coffee. While it might seem like a good idea to stock up on food for such a long day, I kept having flashbacks of sticky hands, frequent bathroom breaks and the devastating food caught in your teeth. As I checked in to the event, I took the amount of food I needed, not wanted, and made sure I had a friend check my smile after I was done eating.
During the presentations, I started networking early by tweeting about the presentations and interacting with my fellow attendees. Everyone comes to these types of events to meet new people, so don’t be shy to send someone a message or retweet some good information. Also look over your event’s hashtag to get a sense of who is attending the event and identify who you will possibly want to talk to before the day is over.
This brings me to my next point: Electronics. Last year I only brought my classic flip phone. This time around I made sure to bring a fully charge laptop and cell phone. While the main point of conferences like this is to listen to speakers and learn more about your field, having some electronics will help you connect to the people in your field and possibly further your career.
The biggest challenge comes after the final keynote presentation: Talking to people. There is usually some kind of professional after party that allows for plenty of time to meet and greet. This is the opportunity to strike, to walk up to strangers and work up a conversation. What I didn’t realize my first time around at the summit was that people want to talk. They didn’t travel for hours and spend a load of money on a ticket to simply listen.
During the post-event gathering, I found the courage to talk to a few nice people from a full-service agency. They didn’t care that I was a “real-world” professional; they simply wanted to chat and share stories and ideas. It also made it easier that I decided to bring some friends with me to help ease the pressure of finding conversation topics. Consider them your networking wingmen.
Well, I’m proud to say I did it: I finally climbed the Public Relations and Social Media Summit. I didn’t stand awkwardly in the corner or find any rogue pieces of food in my teeth halfway through the day. By the end of the conference I had learned a great deal about the newest trends in PR/social media, exchanged quite a few business cards and made some new connections. Now I am eagerly awaiting the fourth annual event.
Do you have any networking stories or advice? Feel free to share below.
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