Finding young people to grab the reins from us old guys in aviation is a bit like the weather … everyone talks about why we need to do something, but not everyone is clear about how to actually make that happen. Certainly doing nothing is the wrong answer. So what can we do to increase our odds of connecting all the right people together?
At the recent NBAA convention, the association offered a number of us an opportunity to mingle with a hundred or so officially named Young Professionals who’d volunteered to listen to us more-experienced (secret code for older) industry folks detail how we started while also delivering a bit of unsolicited advice for job seekers.
The NBAA team was spearheaded by the association’s Sierra Grimes with Brett Ryden from Southcomm’s Aviation Pros.com leading a group of his editors who together created an hour’s worth of practical education at the show’s Innovation Zone. The panel was evenly split between ladies and gents … myself, Jo Damato from NBAA, Sarah Barnes from Paragon Aviation and Textron Aviation’s senior VP of Customer Service Brad Thress. Our moderator was writer Lowen Baumgarten.
Stage members spent a few minutes detailing their experiences, but since we were there to answer questions, I was antsy to interact with the audience. Over the course of the hour there were perhaps seven or eight good ones, but I wanted more. I probably shouldn’t have.
Reality kicked in for me about 20 minutes after we began as I realized that some of what a number of young people had told me the night before was really true … networking is not an innate skill, not even close. I’d seen this kind of thing before too. Universities apparently assume graduates automatically absorb networking skills out of thin air I guess.
As well prepared as we panelists were, I felt like I should have focused more on the human factors (safety geeks love that phrase) of our job that morning. As a member of an industry hungry to see young, enthusiastic minds join up, I assumed way too much about how well these young professionals were prepared for what we tried to offer.
Really, I thought after we finished up that morning, when was the last time I’d left a crowd of people I knew to strike out and meet people on the other side of the room I didn’t know? Long time I think. So why should I have expected all these young people to try it? And I’m supposed to be the experienced one.
So in preparation for next year’s Young Professional session, as well as any similar networking events, allow me to offer a few guidelines in the voice of my alter ego, Mr. Know it All, that might make this kind of get together more effective, as well as more enjoyable nor matter who uses them.
- Everyone fills out and wears a nametag. Audience member tags offer up a first name and an interest, “Rachael, airport management,” or “Sam, Pilot.” Mine might say “Rob, Speaker, Pilot, Writer.” It’s a quick icebreaker.
- Everyone spends some time before the event begins by walking through the audience just saying hello, even if it’s only to point to a nametag and say “Hi, I’m Sarah from Des Moines,” or “I’m Tim and I want to focus on aircraft maintenance.” Maybe you’ll only get through half the people, but I promise quite a few people of you will know a bit about the speakers and the audience before the formal intros begin. This makes asking and answering questions easier.
- Remind everyone that it is OK to interrupt any of the panelists with a good question and that everyone should feel horribly embarrassed if the event ever evolves into a multi-person lecture.
- Finally, consider one of my favorite classroom discussion starters … “If no one raises their hand with a question, I’m going to pick someone randomly and I’ll ask them a question.” The upside to this little conversation starter is that if I ask Frances a question, for example, she gets to grab the microphone and decide who she’ll pick for the next round.
I know job seekers might think this might sound rather frightening or also like quite a bit of work. But seriously, it all becomes a lot more fun as people get to know one another, assuming they remember the cardinal requirement for any aviation networking event … a sense of humor.