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I attended Networking: a Workshop in Getting the Most from the TLE, by Jim De Piante. The session was about becoming more comfortable with networking and learning how to network more effectively. The key takeaways that more people need to hear are: everyone is a born networker; focusing on helping other people is a great way to get into the mood to network; and the best way to be interesting is to be interested.
It made me wonder how more people can feel the thrill of making a connection between two other people. Maybe a conference or workshop could have a speed networking event and challenge people to make connections between the people they’d talked to. How would something like that work? Hmm…
His model of building relationships has three steps: create a relationship, cultivate a relationship, and help. What I found interesting about that is that Web 2.0 tends to invert this process. You’d start by helping people, directly or indirectly, and other people can then choose to cultivate that relationship with you. Funny, innit?
An audience member asked if networking wasn’t something that needed to be self-serving. I think Jim handled that question well, pointing out that there’s a little bit of self-interest, but it’s altruism that really builds strong relationships. For people who feel negatively about networking because they’ve run into self-centered networkers or they think they need to be self-centered, I recommend two books: “Love is the Killer App” and “Make Your Contacts Count.” Both talk about the importance and benefits of reaching out and looking for opportunities to help people.
Jim also mentioned Stephen Covey’s point about emphatic listening. He was careful to add that he was not advising people to fake interest, or to exaggerate signs of interest. The trick to emphatic listening to actually be interested. When you meet someone, you’re looking for common ground. On that ground, you can build common experiences, and on those common experiences, you can build a shared understanding–hence the value of small talk.
I found the idea of looking for common interests to be interesting. I know it’s accepted wisdom, and I encourage people to make it easier to find common interests by sharing more about themselves. What I find interesting is that people’s interests still provide me with many opportunities to connect. First, I enjoy the exercise of applying ideas from one area to another. Second, I enjoy matching people within my network and carrying ideas back and forth, so if someone’s interests aren’t a match for me, they’re bound to be a match for someone in my network (or my future network). It all goes into my head (or my database, if I’ve been diligent), waiting for some future connection.
I have more to write, but I also like sleep, so – tomorrow, then!