Part of developing leadership skills and growing as a young leader is getting familiar and even comfortable with a wide array of new experiences. Sometimes, all it takes to gain that greater comfort level is a little practice.
Raymond Brex Delray, Chapter President of the Southern Utah University (SUU) chapter of the NSLS, says his chapter wanted to take a leadership role in helping SUU students prepare for a common professional event that strikes fear in the hearts of many: networking at a business meal.
Led by Delray, the SUU chapter members decided to host an event that would give them all a chance to refine their professional manners and practice their networking skills.
“During the Spring 2023 semester, we held an etiquette dinner. At this event, students from around campus had the opportunity to learn dinner etiquette and network. We had a great turnout and had the opportunity to partner with other organizations throughout campus.”
Helping Students Conquer Networking Anxiety
Etiquette dinners such as the one the SUU chapter hosted have become increasingly common on college campuses, and for very good reason. Most undergraduate students have not had substantial experience in how to conduct themselves at a professional dining event.
When you throw networking into the mix, it’s easy to see why the prospect of dining in a professional setting might trigger serious anxiety. Students worry that, while their table manners might be fine for family or a college cafeteria, they could be sorely lacking in the context of a professional dinner.
One approach to mitigate anxiety is to practice mindfulness and breathwork. Another is to gain exposure and get in some practice.
Preparing for an event such as hosting an etiquette dinner requires a good bit of advance planning and coordination, especially when attendees will come from the campus as a whole, not just your chapter.
Delray notes that this was definitely the case for his chapter members, who approached the event planning with an eye towards collaboration and organization.
“We took a five-part approach. First, we planned the event with our E-Board. Next, we worked to obtain sufficient funding to host the event. Third, we had to manage the logistics, including arranging for the food and drink, retain the services of an appropriate speaker, book the room, and other similar discrete tasks. Fourth, we created and distributed flyers and did what we could to promote the event campus-wide. Finally, we held the event and focused on managing last-minute challenges.”
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Challenges Create Opportunities to Grow as a Leader
Hosting the successful etiquette and networking dinner required the chapter to bring their best efforts and skills to the table. In particular, Delray says that the project required three main leadership skills: “communication, organization, and teamwork.”
Carrying out a complex project like this can truly help leaders grow and expand their capabilities. It’s a challenging undertaking, but Delray acknowledges that the challenges have helped him become a stronger and more capable leader.
“Leadership is about using your position to make a positive impact on those around you. This event pushed me to my limits and helped me to grow as a leader. I would not have been able to do it without such a supportive Chapter Advisor and E-Board."
Managing Events Requires Strong Planning Skills
For other chapters who are thinking about hosting events of their own, whether that’s an etiquette dinner, a fundraising event, or something entirely different, Delray has some advice that came from lessons learned while planning the SUU dinner.
“Create a detailed plan of all of your events. By doing this it will be easier to delegate tasks throughout the E-Board, thus making the event more manageable.”
Strong collaboration and a fair division of labor are essential to helping groups plan, create, and host events such as etiquette dinners and networking events. While the SUU chapter is proud of what it accomplished this past spring, its members are looking forward and making new plans. Their next goals are straightforward enough: “Induct new members and increase member participation.”
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