How I struck out in networking

StaffBioPicsDanOlsenLesson learned — you have to put yourself out there to meet new people.

Coming out of college, I thought I knew it all. But apparently, I knew everything except how to network. That, I had to learn the hard way.

Networking is key in everything we do as public relations professionals. Our career success — and frankly, success in our current positions — is dependent on relationships built along the way.

Like the friends you meet in college, there are some good, some not-so-good, some awesome and some down-right crazy (those are the best) people you will build relationships with as you make your mark in the PR world.

Here are a few tips, from my hard lessons learned, to boost your networking skills, create lasting relationships and avoid the crazies.

Network in Your Passion Zones

I found attending networking events just to meet new people wasn’t the best choice, especially when you go to an event you have no interest in — trust me, it’s obvious.

It is important to tie your passions and networking events together. If you love healthcare, find opportunities to meet other health professionals. If you work in PR, run — better yet, bolt — to the PRSA chapter nearest you. Special shout-out to CMPRSA for providing great networking opportunities.

Identify Places Where Community Leaders Meet

Apparently, community leaders aren’t just a bunch of people deciding things for your community. They’re there to help lead and be the voice of change for those who aren’t as outgoing or without type-A personalities — and yes, those who just complain about everything on Facebook instead of getting involved.

Leverage service club memberships such as Rotary or Kiwanis. Get to know individual members (rotating who you sit with is always good strategy. And usually, if you sit in the same spot more than once, it may cost you a dollar). Volunteer to serve on committees where your skills will be invaluable or offer to speak on topics that highlight your company. My passion is helping bring more business, families and visitors to my small-town community of Charlotte, so I sit on the CanDo! Marketing Committee. Chambers, Economic Clubs and other community service projects also offer a variety of networking prospects.

Invite Others Along

My biggest mistake was going to networking events alone. If I didn’t know anyone in the room, I was anti-social. That definitely didn’t help me in my networking endeavors.

Attending an event full of strangers isn’t easy as it takes you out of your comfort zone. Take along a coworker, colleague or intern, but give each other space to achieve individual networking goals.

Follow Up

Okay, this might be the one thing I did right. I always followed up.

A simple email or phone call saying it was a pleasure talking with him or her and offering to collaborate when opportunities arise is an easy follow-up. However, I always shoot for grabbing coffee or lunch with them later.

So, hopefully you get to read this before you learn the hard way on how to effectively network. But, if you are like me and have already floundered in your networking efforts, well, sometimes it can be the best way.