Starting Conversations - Part 4

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As I've mentioned in earlier posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) I've engaged speaking and networking Don Gabor to help me build my skills. I recently had my second coaching session and wanted to share more of what I've learned so far. The plan was for me to study conversational styles and try to apply that at the SQLSaturday #13 speaker party, but I just ran out of time and wasn't as prepared as I wanted to be. I had some other goals for the event too, so moved forward, and then the second challenge was that I just didn't feel well by the time I got to the event.

With that intro, I call Don and we start talking, and my intro to him was that I hadn't done very well. One thing he coached me on in advance was to spend more time with new people than people I knew. That's a hard habit to break, and I didn't manage to do it very well this time. I did have Stuart Ainsworth introduce me to the speakers that I didn't know, but I have to say that I also didn't do a good job of learning names. This is going to take some practice! I really ended up only having one good conversation with someone that was almost new - yeah, it's a funny phrase - but it was someone I had met very briefly earlier and we had the chance to talk in more detail this time.

Don thought I did better than I thought, though clearly there is room to improve. Part of that is just being a good coach and not just focusing on negatives, but he also really listens and kept probing for more. How did this conversation start? How will I follow up? Was it lack of time that prevented more detailed conversations? He says that most technical people see things as black and white (what I call literal people) and that we tend to see everything as success or failure, when it's not that clear. I'm definitely like that to a degree, but I'm also analytic - if I want to get better, I have to be able to assess and correct.

One thing he is coaching me to do is budget my time better. If there are 20 people that I might spend time with and 2 hours to do it, then I need to try to spend 5 minutes per person. Obviously the real world doesn't work out in such an ordered fashion, but the idea is not to spend too little or too much time, but to increase (and practice) my network. Plan the work, work the plan. Not a new idea, and just as valid here.

He's also mentioned that networking is seed planting. Planting seeds isn't hard, but you don't know which ones will sprout into something interesting. Just build the habit of doing it and over time you get the rewards. I think that's another way of saying it's a leap of faith, though neither seems quite right. Still looking for that best description.

My first aha moment was that if I'm going to try to encourage networking and provide networking events at PASS and SQLSaturday, it's going to take more than just a set of 'do this' notes. Yeah, not exactly a big aha, but really it was putting it back into the context of training. Because I didn't do well last Friday night I need to do some more work, and for most of us that might be six months from now. I'm lucky enough to get another attempt at SQLSaturday #15 in Jacksonville, then at the end of May I'll be in Birmingham for SQLSaturday #7 and then in early June for SQLSaturday Pensacola - so I'm going to get a lot of chances to learn! I need to build that into my networking plan for the Summit, make sure that we help people who give it a try a chance for an evaluation and then a retry.

Another point of interest is that it isn't always easy to convert an 'online' connection to a physical one. To stereotype again, most technical professionals tend towards reserved, but less so online. In person they often fall back into shy mode, and even the existence of an online connection doesn't always open the door - another place where at least one of the two people involved has to have better than average networking skills or it doesn't turn out great.

Don also mentioned that as I'm adding networking to my brand, I have to work on ways to stand out. He said meeting everyone at the party was a good way to do that, because typically no one else makes the effort. It also reinforces that I'm approachable and opens the door to the ones more reserved about meeting new people. The other part is to work harder at introducing people to each other that I know, and that is absolutely something I look forward to doing more of as my network grows.

I've still got a lot to learn.

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