Associate Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs Reem Wahab shares her take on networking in the advocacy world as a newcomer.
Attending events for the first time in the advocacy world can be quite daunting. Depending on the event, you are usually in a room surrounded by politicians, staffers, clients, and many others who share the same goal as you. The goal in question? Networking. Typically, these events only last a few hours, so you have a limited time to form connections with as many people as possible. To some, working the room comes naturally; but to others this experience may be nerve-wracking. As a newcomer to public affairs, my experience is a little unconventional, so here is my take on networking in the advocacy world, through fresh eyes.
My first exposure comes at a time when people are turning off their computers and coming together face-to-face for the first time in years. Old colleagues are reuniting in-person, or, as in my case, meeting in-person for the first time. If you had told me five years ago that I would be starting a new job completely from the comfort of my own home and wouldn’t meet my boss until three months later, at a whiskey tasting event, I would have replied, “I prefer vodka, but where do I sign?” Combine that with the dwindling presence of a global pandemic and learning how to reengage with society, I would be a little more hesitant to grab that pen. However, I can confidently say that returning to normalcy after being in lockdown for years has created a collective sense of excitement, and people are keener to engage in conversations due to being isolated from one another for so long.
Admittedly, entering a room full of strangers with the expectation of forming new connections by the end of the night can be slightly intimidating. Especially when the many faces around you are seen regularly on government websites, television, and online news stories. That said, you quickly learn just how human public figures are. The politician whose name you regularly see in the news and speaking at events is just a normal person who you can strike up a normal conversation with. In fact, once you factor in the humanity of the people you are surrounded by, there is nothing intimidating at all.
The biggest takeaway for me is that starting the journey into a new career can be daunting no matter what, but starting anything is always the hardest part. It gets easier. One important reality that I learned that helped me early on is that at the end of the day every single person in the room has once stood where you are. We have all at one point in our lives found ourselves in a situation where we are intimidated by our surroundings – whether you are a small fish in a big pond, or a big fish who swam into an even bigger pond. To make experiences like these less daunting, remember that every human around you has a story to tell, and most people love to share these stories, so ask them! In my experience, the best tactic for forming new connections is to learn as much as possible about who you are talking to. People usually love talking about themselves and their journey since that’s their best-known subject, so listen carefully to their stories and this may help you with your own journey.
Entering summer, most formal networking events are wrapped up until September – yet summer provides a great opportunity to socialize and network on a more causal level which can help form stronger connections. When I first started my career, advocacy networking seemed intimidating as a newcomer to this world. Now, I am looking forward to any opportunity to network with someone new, because the insights strangers have offered have helped immensely with my personal and professional development.