Newhouse NYC students learn the art of small talk

by Adrianne Morales

March 6, 2020

Four Newhouse alumni show students the natural way to network

"The Art of Small Talk," a Feb. 27 workshop hosted by Newhouse NYC, aimed to help students develop crucial networking skills.

Newhouse NYC program adviser Marisa Bardach Ramel ’04 started the event with a presentation on selecting, contacting and connecting with people to build a professional network. Ramel encouraged students to connect with people who have the jobs they want, or who are role models in the industry, like CEOs.

“Shoot big and see what happens,” Ramel said.

Students were separated into four groups based on their majors and interests. Each group was paired with a Newhouse alumnus, who held practice conversations with the students, running scenarios like bumping into a co-worker in the cafeteria or meeting an alumnus for coffee.

Participating alumni included Bryan Dumas ’07, communications manager at Altice USA; Cheryll Forsatz ’94, vice president of corporate communications and PR at Ferrero; Andrea Lavinthal ’01, director of style and beauty at People magazine; and Samantha Woolf ’99, head of marketing, NY at United Talent Agency.

Cheryll Forsatz, Samantha Woolf, Andrea Lavinthal, Bryan Dumas
Clockwise from top left: Cheryll Forsatz '94, Samantha Woolf '99, Bryan Dumas '07 and Andrea Lavinthal '01. Photo by Emporia Meng.

Woolf encouraged her group to think creatively when searching for new connections, and suggested that students can take a circuitous approach when trying to connect with senior executives.

“She advised us to befriend [executives’] assistants so maybe they can work us into the schedule,” said junior advertising major Valerie Turcios.

Advertising junior Kristin Thomas said, “What resonated with me the most was when [Woolf] said we have to remember that anyone we are reaching out to is just a person like you and me, and there is no reason to feel intimidated or uncomfortable speaking to them.”

Dumas said not to get discouraged if students don’t get a response from a busy professional. He advised everyone to approach networking with a sincere desire to get to know someone, not as a transactional activity with a specific objective in mind.

“Everyone's a person. They have hobbies, they have passions,” Dumas said. “It's about making a connection, whether it's professional or personal."

Alexis Stackhouse, a junior in television, radio and film, found Dumas’ advice helpful for calming nerves before a meeting.

“It’s the casual, non-career related conversation starters that are keys to building real relationships with people,” Stackhouse said.

Junior advertising major Taylor Kaplan told Forsatz that she tended to build people up in her head while researching them, which made her nervous. Forsatz suggested Kaplan use her research to her advantage.

“Think about a question that you know they would love to [answer],” Forsatz said.

Lavinthal stressed the importance of pushing past social discomfort. For those who are on the shy side, she encouraged them to introduce themselves to anyone they meet. She shared advice given to her by former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Kate White: Don’t ever get in an elevator with someone and without having a question ready.

Lavinthal said that approaching someone you don't know does not have to be intimidating. She suggested you can start with, “Hey, I don’t think we’ve met yet. I’m an intern with so-and-so and I’ve seen you around. What do you do here?” Lavinthal also said that researching someone’s professional background and asking questions about their experiences is fair game.

“Everybody has an ego, everyone likes to be flattered,” she said.

All panelists agreed on one thing; the value of the Newhouse network.

“The Syracuse family is always here to help,” Dumas said.

“That’s the beauty of Newhouse,” Forsatz added.

“One of the perks of doing the Newhouse NYC program is getting 'face time' with Newhouse alumni who love to give back,” says director Cheryl Brody Franklin ’04. “The alumni all had such valuable advice to share and want to see the students succeed, this semester and beyond.”

Adrianne Morales is a junior broadcast and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School. She is participating in the Newhouse NYC program this semester, and is a social media intern at NBCUniversal