Virtual Networking for National Mentoring Month

On the 25th of January, as part of our Mentoring Challenge in partnership with Sports Business Journal, we hosted a virtual networking event on the topic of networking and the key to maintaining a successful mentorship.

Led by CSM’s Steph Smilowitz, Executive Vice President of Brands, the session began with a panel discussion featuring Vanessa Taveras – VP of Strategic Partnerships at IMG Academy and Johnna Hayward – Head of Strategy and Partnership Marketing at New York Liberty who were both members of the previous CSM Mentoring Challenge Class of 2021-2022.

The discussion kicked off with an introduction into mentorship and insights as to how we can all benefit from networking.

For Vanessa, the value lies in relationship-building, for in her mind the sport and entertainment industry is one that is uniquely relationship based. As a result, “the ability to have organized opportunities to build relationships, learn by trial how to develop a relationship with someone and how to leverage the resources someone can bring you, is super valuable at this stage of your career.”

Johnna, who approaches the topic from the perspective of a mentee, was keen to stress the self-drive and proactivity required to form a positive mentorship: “The responsibility is on you; you need to be proactive about scheduling recurring meetings. It’s one thing to schedule a call, it’s another to have a topic ready. It’s important to show initiative and excitement”.

The conversation soon moved on to some of the challenges encountered when networking, and a common theme emerged. Often, the thought of networking can be daunting for people in the nascent stages of their career, not least for introverts or those who are less outwardly confident. Even as a self-proclaimed ‘extrovert’, that was a theme that Johnna could relate to.

However, Johnna had a few top tips to share on how to make the process easier: “Try to enjoy having a conversation, including discussing things that don’t have anything to do with your job, so it feels less forced. If you start with something more fun and light hearted to kick things off, it makes it easier to then delve into the work stuff. It helps create an authentic conversation”.

Vanessa agrees, encouraging those present to “remind yourself that everyone is feeling the same way. Everyone gets nervous. Just try and find something to connect on. You’re not trying to close the deal in your first conversation; connect and then reach out later.”

As the discussion drew to a close, there was still time for Johnna to offer another helping of friendly advice on how to make the most out of connections. “Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Face to face networking is always more effective. It’s one thing to send a LinkedIn message or have a Zoom meeting, but it’s a whole other conversation to go out of your way and get a coffee. Those face-to-face conversations really hold weight in the long run”.

After the Q&A, the group split into breakout sessions, building on the earlier conversation and taking a deeper dive into initial experiences of networking, including some of the challenges they have faced and best practice tips.

Here are our three favorite quotes from those breakout sessions:

  1. “Remove the pressure from networking, try not to always think of it in context of getting a new job or recruiting a new client, and see it more about about knowing more familiar faces”. Steph Smilowitz on reframing how we view networking.
  2. “Not every conversation has to be a business transaction, take the pressure off networking. Conversation can be casual and about getting to know someone”. Lauri Eberhart Esq. draws on a similar theme. Developing a personal relationship with a mentor or mentee is just as important as building a professional one.
  3. “Lateral networking is very important. We discuss our roles and understand each other’s struggles, which is important”. Elizabeth Sanchez – a mentee on last year’s program – raises a salient point that networking does not always have to be with someone more senior. There is much to learn from your peers, too.

It was a fitting way to end a productive session. With many of our mentors and mentees now out on the road, attending key industry events, we hope they have scope to put the collaboration and networking insights to good use!