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WCC Speed Mentoring : Taking the Pressure out of Professional Networking

Posted By Julia Radice, Association of Climate Change Officers, Friday, July 29, 2016

Author: Sara Vargo, Association of Climate Change Officers

At the 2016 East Coast Climate Strategies Forum this July, professionals from across sectors gathered to hear plenary discussions, keynote speakers such as White House National Security Council Advisor Alice Hill, and bootcamp-style courses to earn credit for ACCO’s climate change-related certifications. A particularly unique event was held on the first evening by ACCO’s Women’s Climate Collaborative (WCC) appropriately titled “Speed Mentoring.” When a speed dating format meets a professional networking session, you get the Women’s Climate Collaborative Speed Mentoring Event. 

The event was structured very similarly to speed dating; each attendee spent 15 minutes at each table, led by a mentor who focused the discussion on one particular aspect of professional life. Topics included ‘making the most of your elevator pitch,’ ‘effective negotiation skills,’ ‘how to improve your personal branding,’ and ‘delivering what your manager really wants.’ Attendees then rotated around to the next table, and at the end, each had visited four different tables discussing different professional topics with different groups. From the perspective of someone who is a newcomer to the field, the structure of this event was ideal for taking the pressure off of one-on-one networking. While an essential part of modern professional life, networking can be stressful and intimidating, especially to someone just entering the professional workforce. This event removed some of that stress and allowed me to hear not only valuable pieces of advice from mentors I may not have approached on my own but also the perspectives of fellow participants. In fact, the input from those participants often ended up being the most valuable part of the event, for me. 

A concept that was expressed by multiple mentors was the importance of “knowing your audience.” Whether applied to negotiating, personal branding, communicating with the c-suite, or perfecting your elevator pitch, knowing who you are communicating with and how to effectively adjust to that audience is often the most important part of achieving the professional goals you are after. The organization of this Speed Mentoring session helped me to see that advice from multiple perspectives, applied to almost every area within one’s career. The structure of the event and the pace at which we were able to sit with mentors allowed the importance of “knowing your audience” to really sink in and stay with me. 

Christina O’Connell, Director of Business Development for Credit360 - a UL Sustainability company, was particularly memorable to me for her advice on delivering the most effective elevator pitch. The reality is that you never know when you will interact with someone of great importance in your company and having a “concise, personal and most importantly unique” pitch can bridge the gap between you and someone who could be an ally, down the line in your career. Christina said something else that I found particularly encouraging to me, as someone just starting out; that having an effective pitch does not necessarily mean pitching where you are in life, but where you want to be and the qualities that you think make you a good employee, often your passions. 

The advice of “knowing your audience,” and tailoring your pitch was echoed in a discussion on negotiation skills and tactics. The recommendation was to be cognizant of whom you are negotiating with and also of the ways you can appeal to their personal needs within the organization. An example one mentor gave was to identify not only the cost-cutting ways that your potential pitch could influence them but also the aspects of consumer demand and potential risks involved that could be beneficial. That said, the angle of saving money, while often effective, is not necessarily relevant to everyone or for every company. Essentially, it is important to ask the question, “what is in it for the person you are pitching to?”.

In an event structured like this one, an atmosphere of ease and casual dialogue is created that allows conversation to carry on past the event and into continued conversations. Without a specific reason for approaching someone, aside from to pick their brain about their career, networking can seem fake or insincere. The WCC Speed Mentoring session allowed for any awkward or phony introduction to be bypassed, going straight to meaningful, career-oriented conversation.  

The WCC is all inclusive; men engaged as mentors and as participants in this event. The mission of the WCC focuses around encouraging and promoting the professional advancement of women in the climate and sustainability professions--and engagement by all genders is essential to this endeavor. This event intended to provide mentoring and networking opportunities to all, bolstering our efforts to address climate change by supporting the professionals who work on such an important issue. For me, I was pleasantly surprised to see a unique playing field of professionals at the Climate Strategies forum; men and women, interns and CEOs, climate scientists and authors, all collaborating together. I have to believe that the existence of the Women’s Climate Collaborative influenced that equal playing field for ACCO and for the Climate Strategies Forum but also for anyone that has had the pleasure of attending a WCC event. 

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