A guide to networking from the professionals

Public Relations, when it comes down to it, is all about people. A business has to understand its audience. Networking is one of the best ways to do this.

They might be clients, potential partners or suppliers, or anyone else with relevance in your industry. It’s no surprise then, that your PR professionals are also experts in connecting with people, online, on the phone, and in person. For a new comer to any business, meeting the right people can be a little intimidating but it’s also an excuse to learn from the best. Here is what I’ve learned from Magenta’s networking wizards:

Be real – You need to think beyond the basics of networking. You’re there to build the beginnings of a relationship with people, to learn their skills, experience, and interests. You’re also there to discover how you can help them. Begin by setting yourself targets, whether it be learning something new about the field or meeting particular people. Focus on building real relationships so that people will be happy to hear from you again. Don’t just focus on collecting business card, be yourself.

Be ready – When someone asks you: “how’s business”, “busy” is not going to make you memorable. On the other hand, while you want to come across as professional, if that means you dive straight into the technical jargon of your own expertise, your fellow networkee is going to find the first excuse to escape. Instead, find a balance between the vague and the technical. Be ready with an overview of your work – sector, services, and regional spread – plus any exciting news, whether that be internal news such as benefits or workplace wellbeing, or external work such as research projects or charity campaigns.

Be the conversation starter – Breaking the ice with someone you haven’t met can feel awkward or forced if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you can, look up the attendees beforehand and decide who you want to talk to and about what. If you haven’t got a specific topic in mind, make sure you’ve scanned the headlines on your sector. Identify stories that genuinely interest you. You’ll create a natural filter; the people who show an interest are likely going to be the ones who you have the most to talk about with.

Be confident (but not self-absorbed) – Making the first move can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure who you want to talk to. Approach someone who is standing on their own and introduce yourself. If someone is talking to you, give them your full attention. The fastest way to make a good impression on someone is to make them feel heard, and you will be surprised how happy people are to give out free advice to those receptive to it.

Be reliable – If you have told someone that you’ll follow up, it is a huge waste not to. Add them on LinkedIn and let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them. Regardless of what comes of the meeting, you will make a better impression and leave with a potential contact for the future.

It doesn’t take much to make a great impression on those in your industry as long as you are willing to have a dialogue that both sides are engaged in. Bring genuine enthusiasm about your industry and the potential you have to progress with the right people around you. Being comfortable in your environment offers a degree of charisma that makes creating a good impression far easier…and if you don’t feel the confidence, fake it ‘til you do!

Ben Keeley