Agenda-free networking

Crowd raising arms at party in night clubPublic Relations and communications is largely about shaping perception. But how do we control our own? How do we make sure that we are being viewed as a valuable member of our community and not as the annoying flak?

Now, this isn’t a post about personal branding, which despite my dislike for the phrase, is a real aspect of our lives that we need to be aware of as we actively broadcast nearly every aspect of our lives online. How we carry ourselves and how we interact with a wide range of people affects how we are perceived as communications professionals.

As I prepare to head to BlogWorld, I have been thinking a bit about how I will conduct myself. What my escalator pitch is. How I interact with people and making sure I am affecting the proper perception. I think that having this sort of plan, yes, this goes beyond “be yourself,” is essential for any size networking event.

So, while agenda-free networking may be a slight oxymoron, let’s explore how we can do just that.

  • Be yourself. Above all else, paint a genuine picture of your personality. Embrace your awkwardly loud laugh. Be the guy that buys everybody a drink. Be the silent sage. It’s OK to embrace the role you are most comfortable in. There is tremendous pressure for us to be constantly “on.” Sometimes being off is being on.
  • Be the story you want to tell. This is important. How will people talk about you after you walk away. Make sure that the impression you leave is the one you intended on leaving. If you sense a conversation going south, don’t awkwardly walk away, rescue it using those fancy communications techniques we teach our clients.
  • Walk softly and carry a big stick. By stick, I mean camera. I’ve found that carrying a camera is such a great way to interact and meet people. You get to strike up a conversation, learn their names and make a memory.
  • Ask questions. Be inquisitive. I treat each person I meet like they are smarter than me. I feel that every person I meet has an opportunity to teach me something. It’s OK to ask questions.
  • Follow up and follow through. If you take a business card, do so with a purpose. Same if you offer yours to someone. I believe it’s OK to be direct with your thoughts and desires.

We’re waist deep in conference season (well, I’m 6’8″, so waist deep for me, neck deep for you). What networking strategy will you use to control the perception people have about you?

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