The Art of the Spiel: Networking for the Rest of Us

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Here at PR News, the editorial team constantly finds ourselves shifting from working at our desks to full-on social butterfly mode, emerging from the chrysalis of our office to catch up with subscribers and audience members at our conferences, summits, boot camps and awards shows.

With that shift comes a certain mindfulness around the art of real-world networking, which has become increasingly threatened in an age of apps. Though communications pros can easily whip up a profound brand statement or piece of social copy remotely, the task of being present and networking with our colleagues can at times seem not only unappealing, but insurmountable.

What's more, effective and efficient networking presents a paradox that evokes the core skills of communications: how do you present yourself in a manner that's simultaneously quick, authentic and accurately conveys who you are without it coming off as pure elevator pitch or prepared spiel?

Here are some networking tips we've picked up along the way that won't make you sound like a paid bot:

Get the business card swapping out of the way. If you have them on deck (and you should), give out your business card at the start of the conversation. Even if you don't feel like talking to that person ever again, this ritual sets a precedent of openness and relieves the pressure for both of you of feeling like you have get every little bit of information into a finite and speedy interaction. In an exercise inherently structured and manufactured, letting the person you're talking to know that you'll still be available after is a win for both parties.

Don't throw away the spiel—work it in to the conversation to make it relatable. Planning out exactly what you want to highlight about yourself, your work and your organization prior to the event is not only smart, it's necessary. But blurting out your personal spiel willy-nilly is anemic to good storytelling, suggesting not only that you're nervous, but that you also lack the confidence to speak about yourself organically.

If there's a question you'd like to be asked, consider starting a conversation by asking that question first—it will likely be asked to you in return. Once you get to know more about the person you're speaking with and their work, you can highlight bits of your background that mirror their own. If networking is all about connections then it's only logical that the way that you present your story can help foster common ground. There's nothing disingenuous about withholding pieces of information and delivering them at a time that is relevant to the conversation, or not at all.

Listen up! The brands and organizations continuously succeeding on social understand that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are not just tools for pushing out content, but for listening and building community. Just as artful social listening involves knowing when to stay quiet and acknowledging/aligning with your audience, real-world networking is all about social listening, too.

Those listening skills will  help you understand what parts of your spiel to amplify, and which parts are irrelevant to the conversation.

Moreover, if you read the body language of the person you're networking with and notice that they seem hyper or high-energy, don't feel compelled to be the first to speak. By the same token, if you're approaching someone who seems uncomfortable, awkward or withdrawn, start the conversation with something light to diffuse the awkwardness. Listening isn't always just about using your ears, but also your eyes and your brain to connect with the person you're talking to in a natural way.

Practice your networking skills and celebrate your peers' achievements at the PR News Platinum PR and Agency Elite Awards Luncheon on September 21 in New York, NY.

Follow Justin: @Joffaloff