PRSA Portland Metro Chapter

Networking Column: Making Every Minute Matter at Events

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May 15

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By Julie Williams, APR, MS

When I attend an event, I don’t go with the intention of networking (even at “networking” events). I go for professional development. Networking is a byproduct.

There are so many ways to grow professionally through events: new connections to people, learning new things, job hunting, exploring a field or prospecting for new clients.

Unfortunately, more often than not, you leave an event feeling unsatisfied or discouraged. Was that worth two hours of my week? I paid how much and got all dressed up for that? Why wasn’t I heard? Why did I go?

Ring a bell?

This could be because you lacked a reason for attending the event. Unless it’s mandated by work, attendance is usually voluntary. The difference between worthwhile and worthless lies in a simple question: What do I want?

Find the Purpose

There are many chances to ask this question. Even as you’re parking your car near the venue 10 minutes after the event started. All it takes is pausing, taking a deep breath and asking (perhaps even out loud): what do I (really) want?

Here are some potential answers:

  • Connecting to others: I want new friends and colleagues because I’d like to know more people doing certain kinds of work and who have the potential for helping each other out.
  • Learning: I want to learn new things. I’m curious to hear other’s perspectives and grow my own.
  • Job hunting: I want to have a new job in the near-ish future. Maybe I’ll learn about available opportunities I’m qualified for or learn information that helps focus my search.
  • Exploring a field: I want to learn more about this subject because it interests me. I think it has potential to be part of my current or future work.
  • Prospecting:I want to meet more people I would enjoy working with, in some capacity, some day. There are so many companies in this town I don’t even know about yet.

The least effective time to ask this question: on your drive home.

Choose Whether it’s Worth it

After assessing what you want, there is a follow up question: Is this event relevant to what I want?

  • Go and focus your energy on this purpose.
  • Go anyhow (perhaps you’ve already paid). Accept the irrelevance. Simply go and observe.
  • Don’t go (even if you’ve already paid). Maximize your time and energy. Participate online using the event hashtag or move on all together.

Be “On Point”

Part of having a purpose is being intentional about how you show up–bringing the right tools, not just the right mindset. That is, whatever you’ve determined is right for you. That way you know what to focus on throughout an event.

For example, if your purpose is learning, then you might dress in more comfortable attire, have a notebook and pen handy and forgo food to keep your hands free for note taking.

Consider these questions in preparation for the next event you attend:

  • Who to bring as a wing person?
  • What to wear?
  • What to bring? (e.g.: business cards, pen, notebook, phone, gum, cash)
  • Whether or not to actively use social media while there?

Serve the Intention, Not the Agenda

“What do I want?” is not about having an agenda, it’s about setting an intention and staying centered on that intention through all of your choices. For example, when I see someone “suited up” at an event I perceive that they’re looking for new opportunities or that they’re bringing their ‘A’-game.

Knowing your purpose helps you stay on course in your conversations. It helps others understand what’s of interest to you and perhaps how they can help you.

Did you notice how many of the “I want” answers above emphasize open-minded learning and discovery? These are the key ingredients for professional development and also often lead to an interconnected community of people and things.

Let the event organizers worry about the event’s agenda. Your mission: show up, be genuine and come away with something you really wanted.

Julie Williams, APR, MS, is owner of Versatile Creative Consulting, providing strategic communications counsel to social enterprises, and a PRSA Portland Metro Chapter member since 2010. For more tips and news, follow Practical PR for Life on Facebook, find Julie on Twitter @oregonintegrity or say hello@versatilecreative.co!

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