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Starting Conversations - Part 5

I just finished up my third coaching call with Don Gabor (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) and I think I'm gaining a little ground, but still finding that I have a lot to learn.

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!


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Steve Jones on 21 May 2009

I think I'm with you on the speaker v attendee. When I hit events, if I'm speaking, I engage more. If I'm attending, I sit back and listen.

Might need to try this tonight. Going to the Denver group, just as an attendee, not speaking. Might try to engage a few new people.

Posted by Jack Corbett on 21 May 2009

I definitely am more apt to engage people if I am speaking.  I think I do it because I think it's expected and it helps me relax if I can make friendly contact with a few people before.  For, example, having met and/or interacted online with a few people from Tampa before speaking over there made the experience easier because there were some "friendly" faces in the audience and adding to them by talking to people beforehand makes it even easier.

As an attendee, I don't have the perception that people expect me to be outgoing so I tend to hang back and sometimes it's even because I struggle to remember names.  Of course, almost everyone I meet says the same thing, so it shouldn't be a barrier.

Posted by don on 27 May 2009

To follow up on Steve and Jack's point about the speaker vs the attendee being more or less engaging, consider these four points:

1) If you are an attendee more than a speaker, then you will be "hanging back" more than "engaging" and thus from a networking perspective, probably less productive.

2) While speakers are the center of attention at events, people generally like speakers who are open and engaging even if they are only an attendee.

3) At an event, if attendees or other speakers have to guess whether you are in an "engaging" or "hang back" mode it will only confuse them as to your receptivity. When people are confused, they tend to disengage and look for someone else more open to contact.

4) I advised all attendees at events to take an active role in reaching out to others -- without drawing undo attention to themselves at the expense of another speaker or attendee.

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