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Event re-cap: Beyond Networking


Jen Sharpe of Think HQ reflects on the recent IABC Victoria Beyond Networking panel.



The IABC ‘Beyond Networking’ panel event this week was a valuable opportunity for students and established professionals from the communications industry to meet, receive tips on effective networking (on and offline), and put all the advice into practice with a networking practicum afterwards.

I was privileged to share the panel with Michael Korjen, Public Relations Manager at Bombora Technologies; Lloyd Lazaro, Managing Partner, Asia Pacific, Ampersand Executive, Search and Advisory; and Damien Batey, your IABC Victoria president and Manager, Communications, Asia Pacific and Middle East, Mototola Solutions. The panel discussion was moderated by IABC student ambassador Jenna Waite – who, incidentally, now works for Think HQ after a series of networking experiences at previous IABC events.

This was a really engaged audience, and given the mix of students and established professionals, I think that’s an interesting remark on how constant the journey of learning is in this industry.

Early responses indicated that everyone’s experience of “networking” is vastly different. On the panel alone, we ranged from those who physically cringe at the mention of the word, to those who thrive at professional networking and actively seek out opportunities to dabble in finger food and chit chat with our industry peers.

While the panel held some diverse views on the best way to approach networking situations, there was a consensus on the value of networking: genuine professional relationships are integral to our profession, and breed benefits in both the short and long term.

The top five take away tips were:

  • Be authentic – talk about your journey and aspirations. People who know what you’re about and what you value create the best opportunities
  • Longevity is key – connections that initially seem irrelevant might prove fruitful in the future
  • Celebrating your own, and other people’s, successes and achievements is an important part of creating relationships. Ignore the tall poppy syndrome, and celebrate freely!
  • There’s a good degree of psychology in networking – read, observe and act carefully.
  • Just as you would in your personal life, be prepared to end a professional relationship when it has run its course or “expired”.

There were some insightful learnings shared by the panel (of course punctuated with horror stories of networking gone wrong), but the take away message for many was how rich and diverse the benefits of networking can be if you approach it in a genuine and open way.


About Jen Sharpe

Jen is Founder and Managing Director of communications and public relations agency, Think HQ – which specialises in projects of substance. An introvert at heart, Jen has built her professional reputation on delivering quality campaigns across not-for-profit, philanthropic and government sectors that have been influenced by her solid relationship building skills.  She depends on quality, not quantity in terms of professional relationships and believes value alignment is the key to great ongoing connections.


One thought on “Event re-cap: Beyond Networking

  1. On Networking, and Reverse Mentoring for Communicators

    This was my first experience of an IABC event and with the utmost respect to the excellent panel of presenters; I actually found my most vivid reflections on the event after the fact were less about the main theme and the wisdoms delivered there than about the dynamic of the event itself.
    Briefly, though, on the point of the exercise itself, I did meet some great people and made a couple of connections, so job done there. However, I did wonder initially, how a mixed audience of relatively experienced communicators, some very senior communicators and then students with little or no experience of the day-to-day cut and thrust of the discipline might work. In a reflection of the foundation challenge for any communicator, I wasn’t sure how you pitch content at such a diverse audience, where the context of the material could appear so different, depending on where you were on the experience spectrum. How much value would I get, for instance, as someone with almost 20 years of experience in agencies, industry and government, from something that resonated with a student communicator looking for their first internship? Conversely, how could something that struck a chord with me be properly understood by those without the honed perspectives I have?
    Luckily, the strength of the panel there on the night, in my mind, was that they were able to offer their stories and their views on networking and on the profession, but they disagreed as much as they agreed. This may sound counter-intuitive when you’re trying to put an agenda together and achieve consensus on the message, but communications is, of course about complexity, alternative perspectives, and above all, context, so the range of views was actually instructive to both emerging and veteran practitioners. Always understand the need to tailor your approach to your needs and to the variables you’re confronted with. Sounds obvious, but we can sometimes overlook the fundamentals, especially in the contemporary, constantly evolving, multi-channel environment.

    To my original point though, about the real strength of the event, which I think was that students rubbed shoulders with the silverbacks, and those in between. It was a dynamic that could very easily have created cliques and divides – it might not have worked, but it did.
    I found myself in conversation with a group made up of myself, another established but younger communicator and 2 students. The students were full of energy and genuine commitment to finding their way into the industry and to learning from those of us that had been around it, and were full of questions. I and my practising colleague, without thinking about it too much, took the role of mentors to the students, and, as you might expect, we found the opportunity to think carefully about the advice we would offer them, and to then deliver it to them satisfying, and kind of humbling. It’s a responsibility not assumed lightly, because experience can sometimes bring with it a jaded pragmatism that isn’t necessarily what younger, searching minds most need.
    What they most need, I realised later, is what I and my contemporaries also need, regardless of how long we’ve been in the job – inspiration, real fundamentals you can apply in real situations, a sense of mission and the conviction that you can achieve great things using the skills of a practised communicator.
    That was what I got from those 2 students – their clear eyed commitment and energy and eagerness to learn and to create change and disruption was a reminder of the things that first drew me into the profession, and made me think critically about what communications is really about. I found they were, without realising it, reverse-mentoring me, and that I could learn (or perhaps more accurately, re-learn) as much from them as they from me.
    I’m grateful to them for it, and it made for a really valuable night.


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