All posts tagged FLEX

Professional Development Tip of the Month: Networking

By Rachel Stiller, FLEX Events & Fundraising Committee Co-Chair

As a young professional, it is inevitable that at some point you will be networking. The difference is—will you do it well or poorly? Here are a few tips to start practicing now so that at you’ll feel confident and prepared at your next networking event:

First, take a moment to evaluate your body language and facial expressions. Your body language will be more evident to those around you than any words you say. Remind yourself to smile during conversations; this will help calm your nerves and others will see you as warm and inviting. By keeping your body language open and friendly, you will be more approachable and it will help you build rapport and trust.

Second, instead of waiting to be approached, take control and simply walk up to a person or a group, and say: “May I join you?” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies and remember that the most successful networkers are good at making other people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Your goal is to be a conversationalist, not a talker.

Next, share your passions and be specific about your goals. Win people over with your enthusiasm. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to do what you do. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.

Finally, remember to follow up. It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within a day or so of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.

This article was published in the Future Leaders & Entrepreneurs Exchange’s (FLEX) January 2020 edition of the FLEX Your Ideas (FYI) Newsletter.

FLEX Looks Forward to a New Year

When FLEX, the young professionals group of the Venango Chamber, started in 2007, no one could have predicted the growth we would see. Thirteen years later, we have 128 members, and we continue to add and improve our programs and events.

Rather than look back at 2019, we are excited to look forward to 2020 and begin creating a vision for what the year will look like and make a plan to make those things happen.

“What excites me heading into 2020 is the blend of seasoned leadership and experienced professionals,” said Rachel Stiller, outgoing FLEX President. “Everyone on leadership has had involvement with FLEX and are passionate about the mission of the organization, which will benefit us as we move forward with those projects we started in 2019.”

Rachel also added: “We are all equipped to maintain our current level of energy as a young professional group and I anticipate we’ll continue to see FLEX make leaps and bounds this year through the hard work and dedication of our incoming leadership.”

Kat Thompson, incoming FLEX president, added: “Serving as VP this past year under Rachel’s presidency has been an amazing learning experience. Seeing up close her passion and knowledge has inspired me in my involvement with FLEX and in my own professional development.”

“As the incoming president, I look forward to continuing the trajectory of growth and development established by 2019 leadership under her guidance and with the support of the Chamber,” Kat said. “I, along with our seasoned chairs, am excited to welcome two new faces to the leadership team. With continued involvement in our communities, I hope to see FLEX become a household name across Venango County, and be an accessible and valuable resource for young professionals.”

We invite you to get involved with FLEX in a new way this year! Whether it’s coming to an event, joining one of our committees, or volunteering, we hope to see you as we continue to grow.

Meet the 2020 FLEX Officers

President – Kat Thompson
VP/Secretary – Saxon Daugherty
Membership Chair – Laura Ordaz
Marketing & Community Partnerships Chair – Tessa Byham
Events & Fundraising Co-Chair – Ashley Smith
Events & Fundraising Co-Chair – Rachel Stiller

This article was published in the Future Leaders & Entrepreneurs Exchange’s (FLEX) January 2020 edition of the FLEX Your Ideas (FYI) Newsletter.

2019: A Year in Review

Written by Susan Williams, Chamber President/CEO

In 2017, the Chamber’s Board of Directors crafted five year strategic plan, with three overarching objectives:

  • Create stronger business to business connections within the Venango Region
  • Develop the next generation of business leaders for the Venango Region
  • Be the business information connector for the Venango Region

Each year, we review these objectives, along with our commitment to ensure the sustainability of the Venango Chamber, considering what has been accomplished to date and where our resources will be best focused in the future.

Your stories and news continued to be the focus of the VenangoWorks! newsletter, with recurring features on education, leadership and advocacy. With the assistance of the Chamber’s summer interns, social media posts were more engaging with members and the community.

Monthly Tech Talks held at the Chamber were in response to members’ requests to convene technology natives, to discuss best practices and share favorite tools and tactics. Chamber staff welcomed regulars and new attendees on the third Friday of each month at 8 a.m.  Take-a-ways were shared in the following newsletter.

While mixers and the Chamber’s Golf Outing were modestly attended, a perfect August day drew 100 members and guests to the Annual Steak Fry at the Oil City Boat Club. Oil Heritage and Cranberry Festivals were blessed with perfect weather and great member and volunteer support, continuing a tradition of community pride.

The Annual Awards Banquet and FLEX Presents celebrations set the stage for recognizing business, non-profit, and individual accomplishments. 

The Chamber’s Education Committee added several teachers and administrators this year, to better identify the challenges and opportunities to connect local business to our schools.  By gaining a better understanding of school mandates and goals around career exploration and planning. We can now be better partners in responding to those activities that prepare a workforce for local employment.

FLEX members (now over 120) met several times each month, for social and volunteer activities, and held four professional speaker events this year.

The Be Here Initiative, with Program Manager Ashley Sheffer, was more visible than ever in 2019.  Community members met for Community Conversations, more than 50 attendees learned about visioning and giving great customer service at a ZingTrain workshop, and billboards displayed across the County demonstrated why now is the best time to Be Here. Ashley met with students and teachers at local schools, helping them better understand the attributes of our area.  Students from Rocky Grove volunteered as ambassadors, delivering maps and brochures to local businesses and visitor stops.

The Advocacy Committee hosted candidate forums in the Spring and Fall, with those running for Venango County Commissioner.

Leadership Venango graduated its first class of 13 in May and the new class of 12 began their year with a one-and-a-half-day retreat, before beginning monthly leadership classes.  The inaugural class completed projects that not only helped them gain a better understanding of the relationship between education and workforce, but created tools to advance these relationships.

Chamber President Susan Williams, Executive Assistant Tessa Byham, and Program Manager Ashley Sheffer attended the annual Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals (PACP) conference in October, where they continue to learn how your chamber can be most impactful in our mission to build, serve and promote regional business.

As change comes faster, your staff seeks to be on the cutting edge of nurturing a thriving business environment in Venango County.

This article was published in the Venango Chamber’s December 2019 VenangoWorks! Newsletter.

Want to be Happy? Be Grateful

We hope you’ve had a great holiday season! During this time of year, it’s especially important to recognize what we have and to be grateful. Our last TED Talk recommendation is all about the connection of gratefulness to happiness, and speaker David Steindl-Rast tells us: “It’s not happiness that makes us grateful, it’s gratefulness that makes us happy.”

It’s not just about grateful experiences, but grateful living. How do you do that? “By experiencing, by becoming aware that every moment is a given moment, as we say. It’s a gift. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t brought it about in any way. You have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you, and yet, that’s the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us, this moment, with all the opportunity that it contains,” he said.

We can’t be grateful for everything, but we can aim to be grateful in every given moment for opportunities we are given. Listen to Steindl-Rast’s TED Talk at

2020 Tip of the Month: Professional Development

We hope you enjoyed our TED Talk recommendations this year! In 2020, we plan to share monthly “Professional Development Tips” in each newsletter, on various topics including personal branding, networking, work and life balance, and mentorship.

We want to share these tips FROM young professionals. If you have a tip or advice you’d like to share, please email Tessa at

This article was published in the Future Leaders & Entrepreneurs Exchange’s (FLEX) December 2019 edition of the FLEX Your Ideas (FYI) Newsletter.

December 2019 Young Professional Profiles: Ryan O’Neill & Valerie Perry

Ryan O’Neill is originally from Titusville and now works as an Account Executive at Forever Media. He attended Edinboro University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.

Ryan is also an Army Combat Veteran and served in Iraq from 2003 to 2005.

He is excited to be back in our area and has hope for the future here. “I like how personable, approachable, and helpful people are. You get a real sense of community and genuine caring,” he said. “The area is growing and evolving to meet the needs of a changing world and you can see this through the expansion of our industries, cultural centers, and retail establishments.”

At his job with Forever Media, Ryan gets to be a part of this growth and work with local businesses, which he describes as a “humbling and exhilarating experience and one that I truly enjoy doing day in and day out.”

In his free time, Ryan reads, lifts weights, hunts, fishes, cooks and bakes, hikes, camps, and spends time with his nieces and nephews. He also has dreams to go into business for himself someday and spends time working on business plans while also learning and volunteering to improve the community.

Some of Ryan’s favorite places to visit in our area include the hiking and biking trails and the local libraries, which he says are “a truly valuable resource.” Ryan also likes to visit the small businesses and loves to see them grow from startups to viable businesses. You can find him at local festivals and events, too, including Applefest, the Venango County Fair, and other smaller gatherings that occur frequently in our area.

Ryan looks forward to getting even more involved with FLEX, to network and have access to ideas and resources from fellow professionals and entrepreneurs. Welcome to FLEX, Ryan!

Valerie Perry grew up in Oil City and is among the first group of Cruise & Travel Directors for Holland American Line.  This company is redefining the cruise industry by changing the role of the Cruise Director and providing education and enrichment on the history and culture of destinations.

Prior to her current job, Valerie worked at National Geographic, where she was the Head of Programming and Production for National Geographic Live—a speaker series where explorers share their stories from the field.

“I got to work at National Geographic which is pretty great, but I also had the courage to walk away when I knew it wasn’t quite the right fit anymore,” she said. “It would have been easier to stay—seeing people’s jaws hit the floor when you tell them where you work never got old—but Holland America Line offered me a job to do what I really loved doing: public speaking and getting people excited to travel.”

Valerie attended Cranberry High School, where she graduated as Valedictorian in 2003. She then studied at Grove City College where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Christian Thought. She considers herself a lifelong learner and will attend a class or webinar about anything.

In the future, Valerie would love a larger platform to speak to people about travel (a television or digital series is her dream) and someday she’d like to own a travel planning company. She’d also like to start a scholarship fund to help area youth pursue their dreams, too.

Valerie’s hobbies include photography, hiking, camping, spending time with family and friends, and visiting National Parks, of which she has visited about 120. She is also a travel writer— chronicles her journeys and she wrote a guidebook to Caribbean ports called “Sea More: Caribbean.”

There are many reasons Valerie loves living in Venango County. She loves the quiet, being away from crowds and traffic, and being surrounded by nature—much different than when she lived in Washington, DC. She also likes that there is always something to do when she’s had enough quiet, like grab a beer at Trails to Ales or see friends in a show at the Barrow Civic Theatre.

Valerie does not technically work in Venango County; she works onboard Holland America Line ships for 3-5 months at a time. During her contact she works every single day, so to make up for the lack of weekends and days off, she then has 1 or 2 months off in-between contracts. This gives her months at a time to explore and enjoy this area.

We wish Valerie the best of luck as she heads back to work, and we look forward to seeing her again when she’s back in the area!

These articles were published in the Future Leaders & Entrepreneurs Exchange’s (FLEX) December 2019 edition of the FLEX Your Ideas (FYI) Newsletter.