Networking, a function extremely necessary to my line of work, is something that I have a strong ambivalence for.
On one hand: I enjoy attending these sorts of events.
On the other: I often find myself wandering about such events, clueless in how to interact. I’ve been lucky in the past couple attempts that I connected with obviously equally socially anxious or introverted types, or with socially inept/geeky/awkward types.
I have, on past occasions, been able to talk to a few individuals merely because of the happenstance of equal/common ground. In March, I was able to connect with 1-2 other students at a CPRS event, where the focus of the event was for students to connect with well-placed PR pros. Connecting to PR pros at the same event was a great experience, but the topical discussions were related to my interest as it connected to their particular profession. In the case of that event, I chatted with the Co-CEO [Deborah Weinstein] of one of Toronto’s best PR firms: Strategic Objectives (an agency that I hoped I would get my internship at, but still hope I can someday work at); Lauren More, VP of Communications from Ford Canada; and Jason Kinnear, VP of Technology at Edelman PR (another company I hope to work for some day).
Connecting to the pros was a simple matter of common interest. I find interest in a lot of things, but when my interest intersects with their expertise/professional area, it makes things easier.
In the case of Deb Weinstein, my connection was different. During the talk, I was taking down notes of what she was saying and at one point her strongest piece of advice was “Always take notes”, which shortly after saying that, she wrote down on her pad “Joseph Laflamme takes notes.” The event was set up in rotations, so at the end of the rotation, I chatted with Deb quickly about how I once worked at Marketwire and I commended her staff on being ‘on the ball’ when it came to sending in stuff to MW. Getting what was needed from SO, was rarely ever a hassle. They sent us well written news releases (which rarely needed any format editing) with full boilerplates and contact information, and getting a hold of the SO person responsible was always easy to do. She then realized why my name had seemed so familiar to her… it was because of my time at Marketwire.
My connecting with Lauren More was through my interest in Cars. While Ford is not high on my list of favourites, I am impressed with their efforts in the last few years. Despite their CEO saying some dumb things during the Bail-out fiasco, Ford had already had its motor running for a proper turn-around. They had relied too heavily on the F-150, Explorer and Mustang to keep them afloat. The increase in fuel prices started to hurt Explorer and it’s bigger brother, the Expedition. The Five Hundred wasn’t attracting anyone and the Focus was stagnating. According to More, they started back in 2005-2006 to do a complete revamp of the entire line and when 2009 rolled in, they already had a fleet of great new cars, while Dodge and GM had been scrambling in the months previous to get bailout cash. My conversation with her diverged into other areas as well as “Does the Oakville plant have tours?” and “What’s with all those lights on the southwest side of the plant?”
The answers to those questions are: No, but Windsor does tours and; the lights are for QA – cars are blasted with light so QA folk can scrutinize ever last centimeter of a car after its been built.
Jason Kinnear… I already knew weeks previous to the event that I wanted to work in Technology PR, so my chat with Kinnear was quite possibly the best thing to happen for me in the last year or so, outside of my education and getting my internship. I chatted with Kinnear for probably 10-15minutes about technology and how trends are hard to predict, but for every trend there will be an anti-trend, so to speak. The arguments for that can be seen in mobile phones. Years ago, phones started to get smaller, but now they’re getting bigger – Samsung’s Galaxy Note and the rumoured iPhone5 are a perfect examples of this. Also, in the same vein are how people are relying on the camera’s on their phones and yet… the sales of Digital Camera has not slowed down at all.
Of course, being a photographer, I am wise to why that is… Cameraphones suck at providing the features of a decent Digital Camera. That’s pretty much it. You can’t shoot manual on a phone and if you can, the phone doesn’t weigh enough to minimize shake and blur.
So, that’s that. I managed yet again to ramble and go off topic by my 9th paragraph.
Seriously, though. Advice for the socially anxious/introverts when attending networking events. Walk around, stop and listen to what’s being said and laugh when something funny is said, pipe in if you can – but most certainly – be ready for a handshake.
You’ll have opportunity to introduce yourself and when you do, it helps to be succinct [something I have yet to learn] and learn what the other person does. Be sure to commit it to memory, you might be talking to that person again later on.
Having a business card doesn’t hurt either. Actually… that should go without saying. Get a personal card if you must…
Vistaprint does them for cheap. DO IT… DO IT NOW!