Polishing our soft skills with Charles Bennett

By Ariel Gendelman, Global MBA Luxury Brand Management major 2019-2020

This week, the Luxury Brand Management majors finally had our first meeting with Charles Bennett. Our Strategy & Management counterparts had already had their two sessions, so we were eager for our opportunity to pick up tips and tricks for navigating the ambiguity of professional networking events. We headed to the ESSEC campus at La Défense and filed into the red stadium seating of the cozy classroom, eagerly awaiting the evening before us.

To get things started, Charles asked us to introduce ourselves by stating our names, where we’re from, and a fact that no one knew about us. It was a great reminder that even though we’ve spent the last two months bonding and feel like we’ve known each other for decades, we’ve just barely scratched the surface—there’s always something new to learn about a friend.

After that, we jumped into the good stuff! For starters, Charles urged us to redefine small talk in our minds—instead of treating it like idle chatter, use it as a teaser to entice your audience so they’ll want to know more. By using small talk as a forum to ask open-ended questions, you create the possibility of sparking a deeper conversation. To do this, you must perfect your 30-second pitch by honing in on your USP (Unique Selling Point); the thing that makes your personal brand special.

Everything you do is relevant; you just have to find the way to apply it.

We practiced our pitches on each other, complete with video recordings. Charles explained that we often have little unconscious habits that can put people off, so watching and analyzing videos of ourselves allows us to reflect on how we come across to others.

After making the connection, we were advised to follow up the pitch with a question like:
  • Tell me about your experience in this company. What has been your career path?
  • What has been your experience with this company?
  • What is the mobility like within your organization?
  • What are the current needs of your organization?
  • What are you expecting this current year?

We were given lots of practical advice about everything we’ve been struggling with during our previous networking endeavors: how to enter tightly sealed circles, exit strategies for stale conversations, and guidelines to setting boundaries for those who have none. 

Charles closed the evening with some sage career advice:

Never be afraid to ask for what you want. Remember everyone needs to start somewhere. You are your own unique brand so don’t try to be like anyone else. Don’t be afraid to reach out and always offer value first. 

If you don’t share what you’re bringing to the table, who will?

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