Public relations is a skill that applies not only to the media; it also applies to social situations, especially networking events where your image is everything.
I recently attended a local Chamber of Commerce networking event, and like every other entrepreneur, I went there to mix, mingle, find leads, make sales, and create new money. It's the driving force behind every successful entrepreneur or business owner. The quicker you master these skills, the faster your business grows.
Roughly 150 people were at this NYC event. I've been to hundreds of journalism and PR mixers, but this business crowd was different. Unlike journalism conventions, where reporters sit back and observe, this Chamber of Commerce mixer was packed with type-A personalities. Every man and woman was focused and self-aware. No one waited for the right moment. Everyone seized even the smallest of openings.
The longer I mingled with New York City's entrepreneurs, the more I realized how image matters in business—and not just on TV or in the papers.
As a former executive producer with WNBC and senior producer with CBS, I have more than a decade of experience working with publicists from all over the country. But you don't need a lofty title to understand that some publicists get it and others ought to find a new career. Every journalist will tell you that a good publicist makes the job easy and a bad publicist turns it into a laborious task.
It was no different at this Chamber of Commerce networking event. The best entrepreneurs made the art of networking seem easy. The more awkward leaders made the event painful.
It got me to thinking: Public relations skills also apply to networking events. You might pay for salesforce or oprius, but if your networking skills are off, you might be doing just as much damage at these mixers as a hit job in the National Enquirer.
Here's a quick rundown on how to apply your public relations skills to any networking event.
The best publicists listen and interact. The worst publicists talk to you and ask few questions. The best publicists know how to drive conversations. The worst publicists can drive a train into a house, and they won't even see it coming. They aren't in control of themselves or their ideas. When you're networking, be conscious of your words and how you use them. Drive the conversation with open-ended questions that lead to your intended destination. Learn how to grab information by guiding conversations, as opposed to talking to others.
Make eye contact. This is a common-sense rule, but many people at this networking event failed to make consistent eye contact. It was as though they were afraid of emotionally connecting to me, or perhaps they were hiding something. If you have difficulty making eye contact with others, practice in the mirror. A sociology professor from college demonstrated this to my class, and it works. I do believe the eyes lead to the soul, so don't be afraid to reveal a part of yourself at these social events. You'll survive.
Dress the part. The best female publicists know how and when to reveal a bra strap. The best male publicists know when a touch on the elbow is appropriate and how long to hold on during a handshake. It doesn't mean you need to express your sexuality like a porn star, but it does mean you need to be aware that connections are made through the sensory of skin. Use it to your advantage, but make sure you study this sociology before you start showing off lace or feeling up elbows. Be conscious of what you choose to wear that morning. I met some business professionals who looked like they stepped out of a 1970s Kmart catalog. I don't want them advising me on creativity. If you're expressive or creative, you will likely express it in your clothes. I'm sure it sounds shallow, but the reality is when you're networking at these events, we base our perception on reality—and your reality is what you're wearing at any given moment.
It's not about me. It's about you. In publicity, I tell clients we need to think of what the media needs—not what you need. It's no different at networking events. When you learn that you are talking to a commercial real estate designer (as I discovered at this mixer), you need to learn more about what his/her needs are before you can determine whether or not you can work together. This takes us back to point No. 1. Listen and interact. The best publicists are authentic, and you can feel it when you first meet. That's because these publicists understand that it is really about us—and not just you. Now that I think of it, this was a skill my teacher taught us all in kindergarten.