A millennial’s survival guide to attending a gala event

ImageJessica Levco

Recently, I went to a party I wasn’t invited to.

Now, I didn’t crash it. Through a friend, I got a free $1,000 ticket to attend my first gala at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

It. Was. Unbelievable.

As a millennial in the PR and communications field, you might find yourself at glitzy galas, award ceremonies, and other A-events, saying to yourself, “I don’t belong here! How did this happen? I’m craving a burrito.”

Once you finally calm down—or get something to eat (they probably won’t serve burritos)—you’ll need to adapt to your new settings and act like a professional.

Here’s how:

Pay attention to place settings. Don’t let all the fancy silverware intimidate you. Remember, start with the outside utensils and work your way in. Still unsure? Wait, watch, imitate. Someone else will have a clue, even if you don’t.

Avoid sitcom-style antics. If there’s an auction, don’t pretend to bid on something that costs $30,000. Even if you think you’re being funny, the auctioneer won’t laugh.

Have adult conversations. You never know who will be sitting at your table. Speak clearly. Most likely, someone will ask you what you do, so be prepared to recite your elevator pitch. And don’t forget business cards—you could wind up making valuable connections.

Bathrooms are the best spot for eavesdropping. If you need a break from the dance floor, go to the bathroom. That’s the best spot for gossip. (Note: Not sure whether this applies to men.) My time in the bathroom felt like “Real Housewives: Toilet Edition.” You just won’t believe the stuff women talk about. This can be especially helpful if you’re marketing a product or service to a higher-end clientele and need to know your audience better—or really, if you just like gossip.

Find out who’ll be attending. Do you know who Gary Sinise is? I don’t, but everybody else does. Apparently, he’s really famous, and when I said, “Who is that guy?” everybody just looked at me like I was a weirdo. But hey! I was the only person at the table who could point out Eric Lefkosky, a major Groupon investor. I’m not sure if that was impressive or just made me look even weirder. Anyway, here’s what I’m trying to say: Scope out the scene before you go. Maybe you could look at pictures of attendees from last year’s event on the organization’s website. Also, note to self: Watch “Forrest Gump.” (Editor’s note: Remember, life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.)

Don’t let the glitz go to your head. After the gala, my friends and I went out to some bars in the neighborhood. Pre-gala, I thought these were some pretty cool spots. Post-gala, all I could think was: “Meh.” I guess that’s what happens when you spend the evening with the movers and shakers.Instead of acting like a normal millennial at the bar, I just stood around and ate the gala macaroons I had smuggled into my purse. As crumbs flew out of my mouth, I regaled millennial bar-goers with high-end bathroom gossip and what duck confit tastes like. I quickly realized that nobody cares. So, after you’re done with your first gala, just drink a PBR and act your age again. If you played your cards right, you might get an invite to attend another one soon.

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3 thoughts on “A millennial’s survival guide to attending a gala event

  1. Love it, Jessica. Not only are you my fav former student, you are also the funniest! Mrs. Q

    (Can’t believe you didn’t know who Gary Sinise is. You are young.)

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