I’ll be the first to admit it—I’ve caught the social media bug and I’ve been networking extensively with PR practitioners via online media. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the importance of meeting people in the “real” world, too. This past Tuesday I attended an Under 40 Networking Event with my friend Tory, and the night turned out to be quite eventful. Here’s a little play-by-play littered with commentary:
Tory, a fellow PR student at USF, flooded my MySpace comment wall with demands that I accompany her to a networking cocktail hour. At first, the idea intimidated me even though I couldn’t determine an exact reason why. Hesitantly, I agreed to go. I mean, what college student would turn down a $5 event with drinks, food, and local professionals?
After our Design class ended on Tuesday afternoon, Tory and I rushed back to my place to make ourselves look more presentable and professional. We chatted about our expectations for the night, and I felt pangs of anxiety start welling in my stomach. I had attended events like this before through PRSSA, but usually with a much larger group of peers, where as Tory and I would probably be the youngest professionals at this particular outing. Luckily, Tory is a very confident and well-spoken student and I prayed some of her poise would rub off on me.
Before the event, we met up with one of Tory’s friends—a successful, well-connected realtor in the Tampa Bay area. Although I’d never met him before, conversation flowed easily and though we weren’t talking about the communications industry, it was insightful to hear from someone close to my age who was making a name for himself in his field.
This is why these events are so important. While it’s great to connect with those in communications, it’s still imperative to meet those outside of your industry to learn about the business world in general and to practice your conversational skills with those in other fields.
When we arrived, we searched for parking in the most narrow and alarming parking garage (almost positive I saw sparks fly from the car behind us as it scraped up against the spiraling ramp). Then, we took an ear-popping elevator ride to the 47th floor of one of the most intricately designed buildings I’ve seen in downtown Tampa. The interior design resembled photographs I’ve seen of the Titanic, and I joked with Tory about taking strategically posed prom pictures on the elegant staircase. Too bad neither one of us had a camera… those could have been some highly entertaining shots.
Tory’s friend was supposed to be the gateway to all things networking once we got inside, but he quickly disappeared into a crowd of USF alumni, who had turned out in full force at this event. Left to fend for ourselves, Tory and I decided to mingle with a few USF employees. As I slipped into easy conversations with perfect strangers, I realized this wasn’t so bad—in fact, it was really easy and was great practice for formal and informational interviews. I learned to pick up on conversational clues that helped me generate questions that the person would want to answer, and would do so in detail. This is common sense, but something I was never consciously aware of before this.
Our quest for gourmet food that is essentially the holy grail for all college students led us on a tour of the room, and helped us navigate our way into various conversations. Unfortunately, no matter where we were in the room, it seemed as though the food always managed to run out right before it reached us. This was, in my opinion, a form of brutal torture.
Once we realized that our mission to find food had failed, Tory and I lingered around the bar area where we met three young professionals who work for a small investment and equity firm. One of them is the Director of Marketing at the company, and was very interested in our public relations career goals. Usually, I shun anything having to do with numbers and finance, but hearing him speak about his work really intrigued me. Had I not gone to this networking event, I would have never considered financial and investor relations something that interests me.
I would go into more detail about the rest of the night, but I don’t want to brag. I will tell you that Tory and I ended up participating in a wine tasting for Bonny Doon, a premiere vineyard in California. We also ate a 7-course, 5-star meal that included ingredients I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I ate—such as ostrich tenderloin and apple and endive salad. All for FREE. Ha. This from the girl who’s been living off of PB&J for the last two weeks.
All I have to say is that networking face-to-face has its perks, and I hope more students take advantage of networking events in their area to interact with those already in their careers. Good luck and happy networking!