Yesterday, I attended an event organised by Solent University PR students. This provided students on public relations, advertising and marketing degree courses the opportunity to meet professionals in their disciplines. We are there to pass on some of the accumulated wisdom from our own experiences and answer students’ questions about how to take their first steps in the industry.
This must be the sixth of these annual gatherings I’ve taken part in. I’ve also given career advice to students at Bournemouth University and the University of Winchester over the years.
Yesterday’s event was by far the most satisfying for me and, I’m told by their tutors, more satisfying for the students. Why was that? I think there were five ways in which this event was better than others and there are lessons there for anyone planning networking or PR training events.
Choose your location carefully
Recent ‘Meet The Professionals’ have taken place in the spectacular but cavernous Spark building at Solent University. Not only has this made it difficult to hear one another in a one:one conversation, but marketing and PR students have found the space intimidating.
This year, we used a smaller seminar room, of the kind more regularly used by students. This seemed to help them relax.
Choose the right time for your event
Previous events have been held in the early evening. That’s maybe more convenient for the professionals, but it means students either have to hang around after classes or go home and come back later.
This week’s event ran from 9.30 to 1pm. That meant students could drop in between lectures, which encouraged more to attend. It also ensured that those professionals who attended were really committed as they were prepared to give up a whole morning.
Allow deep conversations to develop
Speed dating has its place in business networking, but these are inexperienced students, seeking information and wanting to explore issues of importance to them. By providing no constraints to our conversations, the organisers enable intimate and challenging discussions to take place. Discussions which got to the heart of the PR students’ needs. It meant students moved on when then conversations came to a natural pause, not because they were forced to stop.
Mix your speakers together creatively
Rather than one:one discussions, the organisers ran the event cabaret style, with two or three professionals to a table speaking to students. Putting different kinds of professionals together – agency and in-house, big business and freelancer, PR and video production, etc. – gave the students a chance to receive different perspectives on their questions and maximised the impact of the speakers who could relate widely different experiences and show how different disciplines interact.
Ensure guests come prepared
Finally, it was the input of the students themselves. This year’s cohort had clearly thought about what they wanted to ask, some had even researched the specific professionals attending, they certainly had their own opinions on being PR students and the issues faced by PR people.