One benefit of working at a company with as many connections as Ceisler Media has is the opportunity to build my network by attending events. Whether covering hearings at City Council or going to meetings for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, I’ve challenged myself to use these networking opportunities as a way to step out of my comfort zone.
I’m an introvert by nature. So thrusting myself into a setting in a room full of people I don’t know never came naturally to me.
Over time, however, and with the support of coworkers, I found myself more confident and comfortable opening up at these events. And connecting with people has helped me grow my network.
So, here are five takeaways on I’ve learned by going to professional networking events during my time at Ceisler Media
1. Take Initiative
You probably know the feeling. It’s five o’clock, the end of a long day. You’re looking forward to going home and watching TV on the couch or perhaps working out – in other words, enjoying your free time before preparing for the next day.
If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do when you’re socially drained is leave home for an event that requires you to be more social. Whether you’re an introvert or not, sometimes the toughest part is convincing yourself to add a few hours to your work day by attending another event.
But, as the expression goes, “showing up is half the battle,” and as cliché as it sounds, it’s actually true. By simply taking that initiative to go to a networking event, you’re already putting yourself in a beneficial situation. Chances are, you’ll be among like-minded individuals who can help you grow your brand.
Early in my fellowship I went to a public hearing and I introduced myself to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. Later, when I had to write a report on the event, I realized I had missed the name of a person who testified. But I had the card of the Inquirer reporter, and when I reached out he was able to help provide me the information I needed. You never know when a connection you make while networking might be useful.
2. Work the Room
It can feel intimidating when you’re in a room of people you don’t know. This is especially true early in your career when everyone seems much more experienced and familiar than you. Let’s say that you’re covering a Council hearing at City Hall. Everyone around you is catching up with each other. Councilmembers casually walk, greeting everyone but you. Reporters and camera people are setting up their equipment.
It can feel overwhelming – I know.
But the more of these events you attend, the more you’ll see some familiar faces which can ease your anxiety. Just saying hello to someone you’ve seen before can help you loosen up and increase your confidence. From there, you can use your connections to make new connections. With each mutual connection, chances are you have something in common.
3. Step Out of your Comfort Zone
Sometimes, you may find yourself at an event where you don’t know anyone at all. This presents the biggest challenge – especially for an introvert like me – because it requires me to put myself out there in front of a stranger. It may feel a bit forced at first, but taking the time to introduce yourself to someone will help you feel more comfortable. If I’m at a hearing and I’m taking notes, I might use that as an excuse to start up a conversation. I’ll ask, “Hey, did you get what the speaker said about this bill?” Just that can start a dialogue and connection between us.
With networking, it’s no different. In any situation where you meet a new person, you have to make yourself vulnerable to some extent by letting down your guard and opening up. Even if a person is more experienced, if you present yourself in a humble and respectful way, they should want to help you succeed because they were once in your shoes as well.
4. Follow Up Soon After
After I interviewed Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro for a piece I wrote about the late Ceisler Media Senior Analyst Penny Gerber, I wrote a thank you letter to him to let him know that I appreciated his time. I could’ve sent an email, but sending a thank you letter was more personal. I thought it would make a more positive, lasting impression.
You don’t need to handwrite a letter every time, but reaching out soon after you meet a person is the best way to ensure you continue that relationship. This can sometimes slip your mind after the event is over, but you should try to follow up as soon as you can to let them know you appreciated the opportunity.
5. Keep Looking for More Opportunities
There are always opportunities to grow your network. It’s up to you to stay on top of events. It can be difficult to find time during the workday to actively seek out these events, but one way to stay in the know is to sign up for email alerts.
For example, I’m interested in events hosted by the Chamber of Commerce in Philadelphia, so I signed up to instantly be notified of their events Another way you can find out about networking events is through word of mouth. The more you talk to people you’re connected with, the more they’ll be able to gauge your interests and goals and be able to point you in the right direction.
It takes time and experience to develop your networking skills. But there isn’t a shortcut. The only way to improve is to keep going to events. If it feels uncomfortable at first, just remember that it’s part of the process.
Networking is a skill. Like with most skills – like drawing or playing an instrument or sport – the only way to develop is to keep practicing. You improve your skills by going through the process of trial and error and the same applies with networking events.
There will definitely be times when you feel awkward or self-conscious, but the key is to not let that discourage you. It’s a process, which means that it’s long, messy, and uncomfortable at times. But it’s all necessary for your professional development, learning about the industry you work in, and learning about yourself.
Now go out there and meet people.
Brandon Boyer is the Penny Gerber Fellow in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia Office.