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February 22, 2011
In the Flesh: Effective Networking
 
Public relations is a skill that not only applies to the media, it applies to social situations—especially at networking events where your image is everything.
 
I attended a local networking event a few nights ago and, like every other entrepreneur, I went there to mix, mingle, find leads, make sales, and create new money. Effective PR is 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.
 
But the longer I mingled with the 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 how some publicists get it, while others need a new career. Every journalist will tell you a good publicist makes his job easier. A bad publicist turns every interview 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 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 like 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 once demonstrated this to me, and it works. I do believe the eyes are a window 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 little skin. 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 telegraph your sexuality like a porn star, but it does mean you need to be aware that connections are made through touch. Use sensory perception to your advantage, but make sure you get a (mental) feel for the person before you start showing off lace or feeling up elbows. Which reminds me, be conscious of what you choose to wear. I met some business professionals who looked like they stepped out of a 1970s Kmart catalogue. I don’t want them advising me on creativity. If you’re expressive or creative, you will likely express it in your clothes. When you’re networking at these events, others base their perception of you on what they see as much as what they hear. And what they see is what you’re wearing at the 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 (like I discovered at the mixer), you need to learn more about what her needs are before you can determine whether or not you can work together. This takes us back to point one. Listen and interact. The best publicists are authentic in a way you can feel when you first meet. That’s because these publicists understand that it is really about “we” and not just you—a skill my teacher taught us all in Kindergarten.

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Mark Macias is the co-founder of BigBirdFans.com. He produces social media videos for all kinds of clients and consults on publicity campaigns. You can read more at www.MaciasPR.com.

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