Indianapolis becomes the PR networking capital of the world next weekend as a thousand college PR students arrive in the Hoosier capital for the annual PRSSA National Conference.
Having attended more than a dozen of these meetings, I am impressed with how students come to PRSSA conferences with their A games. From newly minted business cards to professional business attire, PRSSA members are serious about making a good impression on their peers and and the 1,500 PR pros convening at an adjacent hotel for PRSA’s International Conference.
Missing from this year’s conference will be one of the consummate young networkers, Ryan Baum, who currently is traveling around the world after graduating from the University of Florida. Two years ago, Ryan wrote a popular Culpwrit guest post that provided networking suggestions worth repeating for students as well as the pros heading to Indianapolis. Here’s Ryan’s practical advice:
Start by researching the event speakers, and, more importantly, their topics.
Try to find personal connections with your target contacts, like something distinctive you share in common. Bring it up when you talk during the event, and then mention it when you follow up to jog the professional’s memory.
In that vein, narrow down your pool of potential contacts at larger events to focus on a handful of authentic interactions instead of an abundance of shallow small talk.
Attend sessions and workshops prepared with the Twitter handles of the speakers and some background information, which can be gleaned from their Twitter history and a quick Google search. By understanding what each speaker cares about, and why, you can engage in a more meaningful way.
You can also set yourself apart by starting in the days leading up to the event and tweeting to speakers about how excited you are for their presentations. Again, authenticity is key, so utilize your research and include one specific aspect of their topic that you are particularly looking forward to.
Students often have more to gain from professional relationships, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a one-way street. Figure out what you can bring to the table to show that you care about the other person beyond what they can provide you. Use what you learned in your research to determine what needs your new connection has and think about how you can help.
This could be as simple as tweeting an insightful article related to a speaker’s discussion point during her workshop or even recommending a restaurant if a professional travels to an event in your town.
I have personally had success with live-tweeting speakers at the UF PRSSA chapter and creating Storify event recaps afterward. Here is an example I made after Golin CEO Fred Cook spoke to our chapter.
This technique works because you are engaging with the speaker (and other attendees), sharing the content with a larger audience and preserving the presentation for posterity — all benefits for the speaker. Also, any engagement will help professionals remember you when you follow up.
Continue the Conversation
Face time at the event is important, but relationships form over time, not through a quick handshake.
As you process National Conference and assess all of your new connections, follow up by requesting to connect on LinkedIn and make sure that you personalize the message. Include something distinctive that you talked about to recall his memories of the conversation. I also like to include one specific idea from the presentation that resonated with me, and how I plan to apply it to my life or professional career. That means a lot more than saying “nice presentation.”
In the case of a multi-day conference, you can also use social media to follow up before you leave the event. My university hosted the first frank gathering last year and one of the speakers was Jenifer Willig, who led the charge on the international (RED) campaign. Adara Ney, 2013–2014 UF PRSSA president, reached out to her on Twitter after her presentation, and they ended up having coffee the next morning before Willig flew home.
In the weeks following the event, continue the conversation by occasionally reaching out and staying on the professionals’ radar. Like and retweet their content that you enjoy and share your own relevant articles and information with them when appropriate. You can also reach out via email for a more personal discussion. Just be careful that you don’t overdo it; it rarely helps to come off as overeager.
Brace for Failure
Before you start reaching out to new contacts, it’s important to prepare yourself for silence.
Most of the time, even when you are doing everything right, you won’t hear anything back from the professionals you reach out to. Try not to take it personally, and keep at it — it will all feel worth it when you finally get a response from a popular speaker or industry leader.
Culpwrit owner Ron Culp, providing perspective from the other side of the aisle, explained that industry-standard long weeks can make it difficult for professionals to interact. “There simply isn’t enough time in the day,” he said, “even for those of us who are inclined to respond to everyone.”
If you can’t attend the PRSSA conference in Indianapolis, you can follow the action on Twitter–#PRSSANC.
Ryan Baum will pursue a career in advertising account planning upon completing his world tour that so far has covered 29 countries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans. He currently is in Istanbul.