By Meagan Flynn
We’ve all heard it before: It’s not about what you know–it’s who you know.
As young journalists looking to set foot in the field, we should accept that that statement is true in many cases. While we are looking for the most ideal and beneficial internship, knowing people who know people–who know more people–makes it a lot easier to secure the right one. All it takes is a simple email or the drive to introduce yourself after a speaker’s presentation.
Last weekend I attended the ACP National College Media Convention in Chicago, where there were dozens of opportunities to network with dozens of speakers. One of the most beneficial sessions for me was on narrative writing–my niche. I made it a point to meet the speaker afterward, a longform supporter from CNN.
Somehow, I ended up talking to her for almost an hour. So, I’ve come up with a quick guide to networking:
1. Come up with a question
Oftentimes I want to meet these busy professionals but don’t know how to make it seem like talking to me is worth their time. If I don’t have a specific question in mind that I need answered, I think of a random–but relevant and good–one. It may not produce the most applicable-to-my life answer, but at least it gives me a basis for talking to them in the first place. From there, the conversation can go anywhere. It just needs a starting point. This time, I wanted to ask the speaker for some tips on the story I’ve been pursuing–maybe get an email.
2. Talk Last
Patiently, I wait for the other eager college journos to ask their questions. They think I’m being polite by letting them talk first–sure, I like being nice. But really, going last grants you an unlimited amount of time with the speaker. If you’re ever waiting in that awkward cluster-line to shake hands with a pro, make sure you’re at the end of it. You don’t feel under a time constraint or impolite for making others wait while you talk.
3. Follow this person (not to be confused with chase/stalk)
Finally, the other journos are finished, and I get a turn. I explain to her the basis of my story and the issues I’m having with an interviewee. She gives some advice, seeming rushed. She wraps up. “Sorry, I need my nicotine fix,” she says. I have to walk the same direction, anyway, so we walk and talk. She asks me more about what I do and what I like to write–we talk shop. By the time we reach the doors to the cold, we’re in the middle of an in-depth conversation. I ask if she minds if I follow her. She keeps talking–an invitation, I assume.
Her cigarette goes out because she hardly pauses to suck down a drag–if only I had my notepad out to jot down all the advice she was spilling. She lights another square. Talks some more. Puts it out. I take mental notes all the while. We head back inside, and as I’m contemplating how to say goodbye, she says she needs a caffeine fix now. So I show her where the coffee shop is, wait for her to get her two grande iced mochas, follow her back down the escalator, and follow her back outside for yet a third smoke. For a minute I wonder if I’m acting puppy-dog-like.
Nope, I decide, just networking. And she keeps talking, so I listen.
4. Be human
Ditch the prim and proper goody-two-shoes facade and have a real conversation.
5. Be memorable
When I emailed her after the weekend, the subject: I followed you on your smoke break. “Love your subject,” she said. “I can remember that.” Well, perfect.