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J-School Confidential: Meeting People Is Easy

Our j-schooler offers a class in connecting with other industry types at media events

By Meghan Louttit - October 19, 2007
Our "introverted," "soft-spoken," small-town j-schooler explains how she conquered the intimidation of meeting new people, attended multiple industry events, and even scored a free trip to Hollywood, all in the name of advancing her fledgling career.
Two months into my freshman year at Ohio University I found myself on a plane to Hollywood, preparing to mingle with some of New Media's top pioneers at the annual Online News Association conference. I checked my homemade business cards over and over, wondering if my experience editing my high school yearbook was enough to impress. I hadn't joined The Post, the school newspaper, or any other publication yet, and the most well-known media figures I had met were Stan Boney, the local weatherman, and Seth Doane, a former ChannelOne anchor. I felt that this, combined with my small stature and soft-spoken nature, made my apprehension well warranted.

The truth: The main reason I approached the Online Journalism Student Society's booth at the Communication school's involvement fair was because they were offering a trip to Hollywood, a much more lucrative offer than any of the other organizations present. Without a second thought I called my parents up and said, "I'm going to Hollywood." I didn't realize that by taking this first foray into the world of professional journalism so early in my college career, I would learn an essential j-school life lesson: It's all about who you know.

While this reality had been explained to me before, my internal justice system felt it was wrong. If it's all about who you know, why bother putting any effort into your work? In Hollywood I learned that while you can know all the big-shots in the business, you need talent and a work ethic, too. If an acquaintance goes out on a limb to recommend you and you fail, you'll make yourself and your benefactor look like a fool. Chances are they won't back you again.

So how does one become "good" at meeting and mingling? Well, while I'm no Laurel Touby, I have picked up a few tips in the past three years. And if an introverted girl from a town with a population of approximately 1,500 whose only claim to fame is that it is 30 minutes from the ninth most dangerous city in the U.S. -- Youngstown, Ohio -- can learn how to use connections around the country to her advantage, then you have a pretty good shot.

Being so unsure of myself, I ended up fumbling through my first day at ONA conference, until the late afternoon when I found myself in a conversation with a professor from a university in Texas. Halfway through the discussion I realized I sounded smart and knowledgeable. True, we were discussing university-related subjects, but it was a step. The thing about conferences and other large gatherings is that for some people it takes practice. You can't be afraid of sounding like a fool every once in a while.

For the second day I made a goal for myself of approaching and starting conversations with at least five professionals. I jotted down some notes and wrote a few questions that I was comfortable asking. I took ideas from my journalism classes, issues raised during panels, and my knowledge of current media affairs. By the end of the conference I had collected over 50 business cards.

Did that guy in one of your classes have your dream internship? Send him a Facebook message asking if he could let you know how he scored it.

During the conference take notes of who interests you -- maybe they worked for a company you want to intern for, maybe they had great connections themselves -- and shoot them a quick email. It only takes about a minute to say you enjoyed the conversation and hope they had a good trip home. Considering our generation's competency with email and social networking, there's no reason we shouldn't excel in this area.

The second chunk of sources is the people closest to you. J-school professors are a great because most of them have had a wealth of experience in the field. This also includes current and former bosses and even fellow students and alumni. Did that guy in one of your classes have your dream internship? Send him a Facebook message asking if he could let you know how he scored it, or if he wouldn't mind getting a cup of coffee. Most people are happy to share their experiences and pass along their contacts.

I'm not ashamed to say that every single job and internship I've had since I came OU has been secured because of someone I know -- a fellow student, a school trustee, an alumnus, a former supervisor and someone I met at ONA -- I've relied on all of them to pass along my resume or make a call.

Of course, once they make the call, it's up to you to impress.

Meghan Louttit is a journalism student at Ohio University and is a former intern at American Express Publishing and

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