Source: Western Connecticut State University Alumni Facebook Page

By: Bill Silvia

On Tuesday, April 4, 2019, WCSU organizations and offices hosted the “Alumni & Student Meet & Greet.” The Alumni Association, Student Government Association, Honors Students of Compassion, and Career Success Center invited students and alumni to the Westside Ballroom for networking and refreshments. In the lead-up to this event, The Echo published this informative article.

As this article relies heavily on my personal point of view I am a senior who has attended several, non-campus-sponsored networking events in the past. These experiences have ranged from fun – – to what I felt was a complete waste of time. When you place me in a room full of talking people, two instincts kick in: to either hug the wall and avoid presenting an obstacle to anybody walking through the room, or to escape the area and find a room less likely to induce a sensory overload.

While the title and much of the marketing promoted the “Meet & Greet” as just this sort of event, it was primarily a coaching session for such an event. Facilitator Robert Schutt segmented off the evening with instructions about the standard procedure for a networking event.  segmenting served two main purposes. The first was to share advice on standard etiquette for networking events and the reasoning behind it. The second, arguably more important (at least, for those who don’t thrive in this sort of environment), was to give a cadence and direction to the event.

Each time the facilitator spoke, other conversations in the room died down. While this may seem an obvious and small detail, it gave participants an opportunity to recover and center themselves. While preparing themselves for the next bout of introductions, participants had Schutt’s lecture to keep them interested.

While the idea of over an hour of introducing oneself to strangers without pause would be daunting to many people, fifteen to thirty minutes at a time is much less imposing. In addition, everybody in the room was following the same instructions, which makes it a little easier to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself.

After three repetitions of this cycle, the event was brought to a close. Several raffles were held, with current students having the opportunity to win Apple AirPods, and alumni having the opportunity to win tickets to a wine tasting event. Gift cards to Dunkin Donuts were also raffled.

My expectation (and that of some of the others I spoke with prior to attending) was for this event to feature direct introductions between students and alumni of similar majors, however, that did not occur. Instead, the event focused on developing your ability to introduce yourself to people and learn about them.

While some students may have forged connections with others in their area, I was unsuccessful at meeting another person in a similar field of study. Instead, I developed skills that may be useful at future conferences. Perhaps the most valuable thing I personally learned was how to talk about myself without feeling self-conscious.

Students who plan to participate in open-ended networking events can definitely find a lot of useful information if this event repeats in the future. I have already practiced some of these skills at other events featuring alumni, though it takes a considerable amount of energy each time I bring myself into another person’s space for my own benefit.

Some elements of the advice presented, however, may vary between people and among events. While the advice described is to always start with small talk, many people would prefer a stranger introducing themselves to get to the point more quickly. At the last conference I attended, I started to look for an excuse to step away the minute the person I was talking to started talking about seeing the sights instead of the research we were there to share.

In addition, advice to attend networking events based on who is attending rather than the quality of the free food has its benefits, but may not hit the same note with students struggling to afford room and board on top of their tuition.

This sort of training can help to decrease some of the confusion from the whole process. I may have not personally participated in this event had I known I would not be introduced to any psychology alumni, but I can’t deny that it helps to lower stress about future networking events.

Those students for whom even a facilitated event such as the Meet and Greet is intimidating may want to look into Mentor Lunches. Many conferences hold these events, where students or less experienced academics with a common interest are paired with a leader in the field. For those who prefer to discuss a common interest rather than small talk, and to talk to a smaller group of people that are guaranteed to have something in common, this event may be both less stressful and more fulfilling.