With PRSSA 2014 National Conference quickly approaching, I am sure you are actively counting down the days until your trip to Washington, D.C.
As part of your Conference preparations, I hope that you’re also thinking about how to make the most of the opportunities that you will have to interact with the 2,000-plus public relations professionals who will be attending the PRSA 2014 International Conference, directly across the street from the PRSSA National Conference. PRSSA students attend the PRSA General Sessions to hear an impressive lineup of keynote speakers, and you will meet PRSA members at the Champions for PRSSA Coffee Break on Sunday morning.
One of my favorite things about the PRSA Conference is the opportunity to interact with PRSSA students. Public relations students bring an incredible energy and enthusiasm to the PRSA Conference. When speakers open up the microphones for questions, it’s often the students who are first in line, and who ask the most thoughtful and insightful questions.
Here are a few tips for making the most of the opportunities to network with public relations professionals while in D.C.:
- Dress the part. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of professional attire. For the daytime Conference sessions, dress as if you are going to a job interview. You never know when the professional sitting next to you has an internship or job opening for which you would like to apply. That first impression counts.
- Ask someone for a business card before offering yours. It’s a bit presumptive to just hand someone your business card. It is preferable to have a short conversation, ask for their card, and then offer yours in exchange.
- Be sure your business card includes your social media profile information. More and more, we build professional connections via Twitter and LinkedIn. Having that information on your card makes it easier for someone to connect with you right away.
- Don’t hand your résumé to professionals unless they ask for it. The Conference is a great way to make an initial introduction, but be cautious when asking about job openings and internships. It’s acceptable to ask professionals if their company has openings and advice on how to pursue them, but don’t force your résumé into their hands. Instead, ask if you may follow up with them after the Conference.
- At the end of your conversation, make a quick note of how you met the person. After exchanging business cards, I find it helpful to jot down on the back of the card how and where I met the person. A simple note to yourself like, “Sat next to her at the Monday session,” or “Met him at the Champions Coffee Break,” will keep you from struggling to put the name and face together later. This is a great tip to use when you meet other students as well.
- Follow up. This is the most important step, but timing is key. Professionals have taken several days away from their jobs and families to attend the Conference, and they will likely spend the remainder of Conference week in “catch up mode.” Wait about a week to reach out. This is also the more appropriate time to follow up on job opportunities and share your résumé.
Most of all, I hope that your time at National Conference will plant the seed for a lifetime of involvement with PRSA. After you graduate, be sure to join PRSA and attend the Conference every year. You never know when you might be the professional who makes a difference in the life of a student.
What other helpful tips do you have for interacting with professionals at National Conference?
Kelly Davis, APR is the public relations director at Riggs Partners, a creative marketing consultancy in Columbia, South Carolina. She is a director at large on the PRSA National Board, serving as the board liaison to PRSSA.