This blog piece was written Camila Kaplunov, one of our Summer 2017 Paris fellows, and edited by Sarah Rudd, our summer marketing intern.
When I arrived in Paris as a Sage Corps fellow, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of orientation programs, networking events, and activities that Sage Corps had arranged for our cohort. One orientation activity that sticks out to me as being particularly beneficial was the “pitch” practice that we participated in during our first few days of the program.
My orientation leader, Milette, taught us how to formally start a conversation with a business owner, and gave us a step-by-step explanation how to come up with a 30 second pitch. She mentioned the importance of covering topics such as an introduction about ourselves, an explanation of why we were at the conference, what we were looking to get out of it, and how we could potentially benefit whatever company we were pitching ourselves to. Then, she gave all of the fellows five minutes to draft a practice pitch to deliver to the rest of the group. By doing this, Milette helped us get out of us our comfort zones. By having the opportunity to practice my pitch with this activity, I was able to solidify my final delivery for the place where it mattered the most: Vivatech.
To say that Vivatech was overwhelming would be an understatement. As a 19 year old college student with limited experience networking, socializing with well-established CEO’s, and delivering myself as a potential employee, I felt like I was in over my head (to say the least). It took me awhile to get accustomed to the hustle and bustle of such a large-scale, immersive networking event like Vivatech. Especially as a non-French speaking American student, facilitating simple conversation became a nearly impossible task.
Eventually, a nice gentleman approached me, extended his hand out and said, “Hello, I am Sabri. What brings you to Vivatech this afternoon?” I was excited that I finally had an opportunity to practice my networking skills! I extended my hand, gave a firm shake, and began to deliver my long-awaited pitch. After handing me his card, Sabri said goodbye and went on with his day; it wasn't until later that I realized he was the founder of TEDxParis. Without Sage Corps’ attention to detail in getting us prepared for such a large-scale networking event like Vivatech, I honestly don't think I would have ever mustered the confidence to carry on a conversation with such an esteemed individual like Sabri.
I left that conversation with a pep in my step. I had attempted networking for the very first time and found a newfound sense of confidence to take on the rest of the conference with ease. I swept back and forth from the crowded aisles of the “startup” sections, confidently describing myself to potential employers; it was exhilarating.
As time went on, I began to get quite comfortable with what once seemed to be the impossible task of socializing with strangers in a foreign country; I found myself getting used to the world of networking. Whether or not you're new to networking or job hunting, there are three takeaways I would like to share with you from my experience at Vivatech. Hopefully you can learn a little bit from my personal experience.
1. “Smile and Shake.” You never know how far a bright smile and firm handshake can take you in the competitive world of business.
2. Don't be afraid to be on your own. Often times, young students like me can be intimidated by the thought of speaking to strangers. However, it’s important to take advantage of any opportunity you have to have a meaningful conversation. So go out on your own and take on the big bad world of networking. You’d be surprised with the amount of people you will meet and, better yet, potential friends, co-workers, or even future bosses.
3. Lastly, have fun! I wish I didn't have to be so cliche, but I would hate myself if I did not add this very important piece of advice in. So many people lose themselves in the act of networking. Yes, networking can get very aggressive and can provoke a lot of emotions. But, making an effort to enjoy the process of meeting new people not only makes the experience more enjoyable for you, but also for the person you are speaking to.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start networking!