How to make an impression…when you’re the youngest person in the room | Katie Proctor

This weekend I found myself back in New Orleans for the Food & Culinary Professionals (FCP) Executive Committee meeting. I attended as the new Restaurant and Retail Chair for FCP, a subgroup of the American Dietetic Association. And it was time for an icebreaker. Simple enough, really.

  1. What’s your favorite spice?
  2. Name your favorite childhood show.
  3. What one food would you take to a desert island?

 I quickly penned my responses on a blank notepad, folded the paper and passed it up front. Now for the guessing game. Responses were read aloud and the group guessed whose “favorites” they were. After hearing the words “Captain Kangaroo”, “Gilligan’s Island” and a slew of shows I had never heard of in my life, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Here I was at a professional meeting and I was about to be pinned as the girl who used to be a fan of “My Little Pony”. But it wasn’t the pony franchise itself (or the fact that I thought Tony Randall and Sandy Duncan were the ponies’ actual names) that made me rethink my response. It was the fact that it was made popular in the mid 1980’s, meaning I just gave away the fact that I was by far the youngest person in the room.

Not that my “youth” wasn’t already apparent, I just hadn’t expected to draw attention to it right away. How many times have you found yourself in a professional situation where you thought you might be judged for your age? Intimidated to voice your opinions? Challenged that you didn’t have enough “experience” to be strategic or insightful? While this group welcomed me with open arms, here are my top three tips for other young professionals.

 Speak up. This is not the time to lose your voice. You will gain more respect by sharing your thoughts. This is not the time to be “that person” who has an opinion about everything, either. While you’re at it, drop the “this may be a dumb question” or “I don’t know if this will work” qualifiers and be confident in what you have to say!

 Be inclusive. My initial reaction to situations where I don’t know many people is to “find” a few trusted friends. But over the years I have learned infinitely more when I am receptive to the group as a whole. If the group is “on their own” for dinner, take the initiative to make reservations for all who are interested. If the meeting lasts more than one day, switch up where you sit in the conference room.

 Rock the millennial. Be yourself because the most dynamic groups are the ones who welcome and foster diverse opinions. Help others see from a millennial’s perspective. You are the only one in the room that can do this!

 Age is an asset, not a handicap, when it comes to leadership in professional organizations. Who’s with me?