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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Networking 101: 5 tips for millennials

By Jessica Levco

Networking can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before. But don’t fear—the Millennial Mafia is here to help!

Recently, Ragan Communications and The Playground Theatre joined together for a night of networking, improv and booze. We thought we’d share a few tips from what we learned.

Don’t mingle with other millennials. Save your conversations about Rebecca Black and your iPad 2 for a Friday night with your old college buddies. Now is the time to branch out of your generational comfort zone and talk to people who’ve been in the biz longer than you have. Hey, you might just learn something.

Have a drink, but don’t turn into a Lindsay Lohan. It’s perfectly acceptable to introduce yourself to people with a glass of Chardonnay in your hand. But save your hard-core drinking for the after-after party. Nobody likes a sloppy networker.

Start a conversation. Avoid this opening line: “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I work for ABC company and do XYZ.” That’s a rookie move. Allow the conversation to develop naturally. For starters, why not ask, “How did you hear about tonight’s event?”

Know what you do. When someone asks you what you do, be prepared. Say at least two to three sentences about your job responsibilities. Give the listener the highlights—nobody really likes talking about work, anyway.

Follow up. Assuming you followed rule No. 2, you should be sober enough to compose a quick email or a DM to the people you met. Everybody likes to be remembered.

Ragan and The Playground will be teaming up again for another night like this in the near future. We hope you’ll join us—and remember, bring your business card.

PS: Have you seen Episode 2 from the Millennial Mafia? In this one, we teach Boomer Bill an Internet safety lesson. Some describe it as “homo-erotic.” We describe it as “funny.”