We started by talking about some of the information I gathered at my recent visit to the Space Coast SQL Group. Don was interested in how I managed the transition from SQL to networking and I didn't have a really great plan or segue, I just asked if anyone would be interested in talking about it! That in turn generated a discussion about my presentation style which is decidedly informal and based on the idea that if the audience doesn't participate I'm failing, and I don't just wait for them to engage, I ask them questions. Don thinks (and I do as well) that it works well for me most of the time, though I haven't tried it speaking to 500 people.
That brought up the question about whether I'm better at networking and discussion when I'm speaking (a position of authority so to speak) than when I'm an attendee - and I think there is a difference. As an attendee I'm quieter and while still likely to engage with a couple new people, I'm not as "on" as when I speak. Some of that is appropriate, some of that means I need to work harder at networking when I'm "just" an attendee since I'll be in that role a lot more than that of a speaker.
We also talked about my networking credentials. As a SQL presenter I think I can show a track record of using SQL that makes me credible and experienced, but on the networking side...what do I have to show? It's definitely not having x contacts in my network. He suggested starting with some success stories from my own career that center on networking, and to start thinking about publishing something on networking. You could argue that I do that here, but perhaps I need to write something a little longer and less 'follow me on my journey', something that would be useful to the average beginning networker.
One thing you may see from all this is that it's not just networking, I'm having to figure out where this all fits into my game. I'm trying to do more than just boost my network skills, but I'm also not aiming for a transition to a networking coach either. Right now it feels like a rounding out - my technical skills are reasonable, I've got good background in professional development, mentoring, and managing, but I'm weak in sales, marketing, and networking. Have to say I'm not looking forward at this point to fixing the sales and marketing gap!
I've been reading Turn Small Talk Into Big Deals ($13 at Amazon) and it's - to me - harder to work with than the first book. It focuses on figuring out the networking/conversational style of the other person and how to adapt, followed by ideas about how to network in a lot of different situations - reunions, dinner, etc. Our focus has been on the conversational styles, and I told Don I struggle with it because I'm still trying to remember names! Too much going on. We worked on that by him asking about people I've mentioned in our talks and asking me to classify them, then he'd point out why he arrived at a different point based on my descriptions. For example, in general, if someone else initiates a conversation they are typically either competitive or outgoing - so that is a great way to immediately cut the choices in half either way (amiable, analytical, outgoing, competitive).
Still struggled with how to classify and then adapt. How long to assess? What if you are talking to 2 people with opposite styles? Don says that he starts to adapt almost immediately, and came up with an analogy I could understand - a dimmer switch. For amiable people you dial it way down, for competitive you dial it way up, for others or groups you hit the middle of the road. Not perfect, and won't always work, but I can see where being a step beyond the average networker can help you just make the conversation shorter or more effective.
The last point we touched on was repetition, as it repetitively meeting people. It's interesting that just a simple hello and name exchange this time makes it easier to talk a little more next time, and soon it feels comfortable to fall into conversation. The lesson is that you don't have to do it all on the first meeting, start with a light touch and look for the next opportunity to go a little further.
One more call coming up soon!