Networking…Not Just Card Collecting
This is a guest post by PRSSA Treasurer, John Henderson.
Every winter we sponsor a networking event at the Old Bag of Nails Pub in Uptown Westerville. This is a chance for communication students (or any students really) to meet communication professionals in a pretty casual setting. I can remember going last year and it being my first networking experience ever. It was definitely an entirely different experience when compared to this year’s event. Last year I knew very few people well and if I remember correctly, I felt very stiff and scripted. This year it was much different but maybe that’s because my outlook has changed on the whole networking phenomenon.
When I first got involved with PRSSA, I heard the term “networking” all the time but the problem was that I had no idea what it meant. It sounded pretty important but nobody ever really defined it for me. People just kept saying that it was about making connections. I didn’t really know what that meant or even the importance of these “connections.” But really, that’s why networking events are so valuable…because of the connections that you will make. Connections are what get you places. Connections get you jobs but not only that, they are sources of knowledge. These are the people from whom you will learn the most. The stories that they share will help prepare you for the future. I had in my mind that networking had to be this formal process but soon learned that this does not have to be the case at all. More than a year later, my entire outlook on networking has changed. Here are a few of my tips for making the most of the networking experience.
Dont use the term “Networking.” I understand that we can’t totally do away with this term but “networking” just sounds so formal and stiff. For the majority of us, that’s not who we are. We are real people. We have personalities and we like to have fun. We don’t want to be known as these uppity suit and tie types who go around handing out business cards out like grandparents with peppermints. Instead, let me suggest that you simply refer to it as “making friends.” Compare the phrase ”I’m going to go make friends” to the phrase “I’m going to network.” A huge difference, right? I believe that if you think of networking in this way, you will develop an entirely new outlook on the whole thing. Make it about building relationships with real people and less about the number of hands you shake or business cards you collect.
Network with people who care about the same things you do. Networking should be about building genuine relationships. There’s no doubt that everyone could be potentially be of help to you at some point in your life but I’d suggest gravitating toward who are not only easy to talk to and that you connect with but also have had experiences that interest you. Would you rather “be friends with” people you know will definitely benefit you or those who might someday benefit you? I’d go for the definite. If you are interested in non-profit work and you sit down to network with somebody who has worked for a company that makes fiberglass boat seats, not only will you probably be bored out of your mind but you won’t learn much that pertains to your specific life and career interests either. Not only will you be more comfortable with the whole experience, but you will learn things about yourself and your future by networking with people who are like you.
Make it natural. The only way that it will become natural for you is if you practice. I know parents say this all the time but it is true. Practice does make perfect. Every time that you interact with someone, whether that is in person or on the phone, you are sharpening your people skills. Another important thing is to just be yourself. If you try to be someone that you are not, you will find yourself awkwardly stammering in attempt to find the right words, words that don’t come natural to you. If you just loosen up and reveal the true you, then you’ll make a much greater impact than if you act like someone who you are not. Face to face conversations and personal interaction is the best way to get to know somebody and connect with them on a personal level. Social media is a great way to connect with people but if you never actually meet that person, then you will always just be a Twitter handle to them. They won’t know the real you and you won’t know the real them. It is so easy to put up a fake persona online but in person, you are forced toward individuality. Small networking events are a great way to start. In the professional world, you will be meeting new people on a daily basis so it is important that you learn these skills now. When I compare the networking events from this year and last, I immediately recognize a difference in my comfort level. This year, because I knew people from previous events and have had more real world experience, I was able to speak about things that I would not have had I not previously met these people or felt comfortable in this environment. The best conversations are the most natural and those are the conversations that you will remember and that other’s will remember you for.
So go network. Make some new friends. Learn from them. And remember, it’s about making connections and forming relationships that matter to YOU. It’s not a business card contest and don’t ever let it turn into one. The quality of your relationships are much more important than the quantity of your connections.
Visit John’s personal blog at http://johnthenderson.wordpress.com/