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Thinking about small talk at networking events

There’s always something happening in Toronto, and I go to one or two events each week. Most events have a social portion where people network. I’ve found this part difficult in the past. I tend to treat events as mainly opportunities to catch up with people I already know from the Internet or previous interactions, with the occasional introduction to someone new or a serendipitously overheard conversation that leads to more thoughts.

When it comes to meeting new people, I find it easier to focus on what people are interested in or what people need, and to promise to send them my notes from the event. That’s what I wanted to share in the The Shy Connector. Now that I’m moving even further away from the standard model of people who go to these events, it would be great to figure out how to structure the conversation in order to give the most value. If I let the conversation take the path of least resistance to the “So, what do you do?” question, it seems to end up going nowhere particularly useful.

Basic thoughts I can focus on:

  • People are interesting and have fascinatingly quirky details. (Ex: JJ’s story about shipping his car to Europe.) Learning about these things lets me understand more about life, and possibly discover people I want to keep in touch with along the way.
  • I might be able to help people, such as by researching a topic of common interest and blogging about it.
  • People can be difficult to keep in touch with, so it helps to find a good excuse to take the conversation forward. Sharing my notes is one way to do that. If people blog, that’s usually a great way to learn more about what they think. Not that many people blog, though.

What do I really want out of these small-talk conversations? I’ve enjoyed it the most when people recognize me from previous events’ sketchnotes or my blog, and we can launch into a conversation with a clear, common interest. I can’t always have that, and I should take the initiative to make other people feel more comfortable. What do I want?

  • I want to learn from other people’s perspectives.
  • I want to find particularly fascinating people (for example, people who love learning and continuous improvement) and learn from them.
  • I want to help people save time by sharing what I’ve learned.
  • I want to learn along with people by exploring topics of common interest.

For the next few events I’m going to, I’ll try these conversational approaches:

  • “What are you looking forward to learning?” There must be some reason why people are picking this event over other things they could do with their time.
  • “What do you plan to do with it after the talk?” This might be a little harder, but it will be interesting to find people who plan to translate ideas into actions.
  • “Have you been to other events like this?” Comparisons can be enlightening, too.
  • “What else would you like to see presented?” Might turn into blog post or presentation ideas…

Getting to know people who read this blog–hooray for hangout experiment #1!

Quick link to details of upcoming hangouts: http://sachachua.com/hangout

*squee!* It turns out that virtually hanging out with people–no pre-planned presentation, not even a fully-tested understanding of the platform, and only the roughest idea of an agenda–can be totally awesome. Not at all as scary as I’d imagined, and more fun than I thought it could be!

It felt amazing, like having a bunch of friends over for tea, except without the temptation to keep cooking. People were freely chatting with each other, and I didn’t have to worry about filling in the silences. In fact, the combination of a voice/video/text chat worked out wonderfully – I could listen to people share their insights, and I could chime in without interrupting. I picked up lots of ideas for things I want to learn more about or share, and I learned all sorts of interesting things about people who participated.

It was a great shared learning experience, too. People talked me through dealing with the platform’s technical limitations – changing the Hangout to a Hangout on Air, remembering to start the broadcast… We played around with some of the features of Google Hangout. Hangout Toolbox’s “Lower Third” adds a newscast-like attribution to your video, which makes it easier to see who’s speaking. Google Drive’s shared documents and sketchpad real-time editing sparked ideas about collaboration.

NEXT STEPS IN TERMS OF HANGING OUT

So this was fun, and we should definitely do an experiment #2. =) I’m so glad people joined me in this experiment, and I’m looking forward to the next one! Which will be… hmm… I’ve promised to organize ones in other timezones as well, so July 3 9 PM PHT / 1 PM GMT / 9 AM EDT, and another one on July 17  at 8:30 PM EDT.  =) I think a fun way to make this work is to sort out the scheduling details with at least one other person who can be there. That way, even if no one else shows up and it’s a short conversation, I won’t feel like I’m talking to myself. Winking smile 

For the next virtual hangout, I want to try using AnyMeeting so that people don’t get turned away at the (virtual) door. Google Hangouts are limited to ten people, although more people can watch the video stream. (They don’t have access to the text chat, though!) I can imagine that audio/video gets chaotic past a certain number of people, but if people can toggle their audio/video on as needed and we use the text chat to let any number of people ask and answer… I think that would be a great possibility to explore.

In the meantime, people can discuss topics or connect with each other through Google+ or other channels. Once the recording is up there, it’ll be easier for people to remember what we talked about. Since it’s difficult to take notes and listen and talk and type all at the same time, my memory’s all fuzzy until I get a chance to review the recording, too! I look forward to digging into some of the ideas (see “Next steps in terms of blogging” below for the ones I remember), and maybe people can connect with other people to follow up on things that sparked their interest.

Maybe I’ll inch my way up towards regularly doing this every month, every two weeks (or even every week!) in various timezones. I like the idea of hanging out, getting to know people, hearing what’s on people’s minds and what’s going on in people’s lives, and watching people connect with others. I’ve learned so much from people through blog comments and e-mail through the years. Maybe it’s like an open house, like the way I structure my get-togethers so that people can come any time they want and leave any time they need to. I can just sit down with a cup of tea and hear from whoever wants to share what’s going on in their life – maybe anchored with one conversation that I know I’m going to have, but opened up to anyone who wants to drop by. I don’t know whether public recording or unknown participation will get in the way of sharing, but maybe it’s worth a try.

Another way to look at it—probably an even better way—maybe this is about creating more opportunities to learn from people, and by learning from people, I can help those people learn even more. Most people don’t blog, or they feel self-conscious about writing when they don’t know who’s reading. One of my favourite ads is this IBM Linux one from 2003, where lots of people teach this young boy about life. I often feel that my life is like that, except maybe with more facial expressions and sound effects. ;) If you help me (or the other people who come to these hangouts), you help lots of other people, and maybe those tips get turned into blog posts or visual notes too. So maybe we pick things we want to learn about together, and people volunteer to share what they’ve learned, and we all move forward while also telling stories and swapping tips… =)

NEXT IN TERMS OF BLOGGING

More collaboration: It might be interesting to put my to-blog list out there in a form that other people can add to—maybe a Google Doc? And maybe if I develop closer connections with people reading this blog, then people will feel comfortable pushing back when I don’t explain something clearly or I take something for granted so that I can learn how to write better. =) Maybe I can collaborate with people on outlines and questions for things that I should write or make: that Emacs book that I ended up passing to someone else (who also procrastinated it)? a guide to sketchnoting? tips on how to live an awesome life?

I’d love to learn more about speech recognition. I’ve been thinking about it as a way to make my posts sound more conversational. (I read much more than I talk, so I tend to sound bookish.) Because I need to train the speech recognition model, I’ll probably be slower in the beginning. If I can get it to be reasonably accurate, it might be a good way to get thoughts out quickly someday.

Helping people get better at blogging: While I don’t have the One Right Answer, I can share what’s working for me, and I might be able to help people—especially if they can figure out what kind of help they need, like a little bit of social accountability or a friendly person they can ask when they have questions. =)

Onward and upward! I’ve created a new page at sachachua.com/hangout that will include details for upcoming hangouts. Looking forward to more experiments!

Web experiments this week: Webinar on “How to Improve Your Visual Thinking” and a Google Hangout on blogging; would love to connect with you!

This Wednesday, I’m experimenting with two virtual ways to connect, and I hope you’ll join me in figuring things out!

From 3 PM EDT to 4 PM EDT on June 19 (Wed), I’m joining Augustin Soler and Chuck Frey to give a visual thinking webinar organized by Matt Tanguay. We’re each giving a 15-minute presentation with Q&A. Augustin will talk about Lean UX Process at Mural.ly, Chuck will talk about 5 Brainstorming Tasks You Can Manage with Mindmapping Software, and I’ll talk about How to Use Evernote to Improve Your Visual Thinking. There’s a nominal fee of $5, but you can register for free with the promotional code “sachachua”.

Spoiler alert! Here are my notes. Winking smile 

image

By the way, you can find my public Evernote notebook of sketchnotes at https://www.evernote.com/pub/sachac/sketchnotes .

I’ll do a quick demo of my Evernote setup and processes, and I hope people will pick up lots of timesavers and interesting ideas from the short talk. It builds on my previous blog post about how I use Evernote to support my sketchnoting. Since a lot of people don’t know that you can use Evernote to search image notes or publish notebooks of your sketches, it’s good to share these tips.

15 minutes each is not much time for demo/Q&A, but if people ask lots of questions in the webinar chat, I’d love to answer those questions in follow-up blog posts and conversations. I’ll be recording it on my side, and Matt will probably record it on his side as well. Looking forward to sharing the notes afterwards too!

In addition to the webinar, I’m also experimenting with an open Google Hangout about blogging from 8PM to 9PM EDT on Wednesday, June 19. I’ve been thinking about where we can take this blog and what I can do to make it better, and I’d love to hear from people. Google Hangout seems like an interesting way to connect. =) If I can get to know people through that – what are you here for? what would you like to learn more about? – and get lots of questions either over video or in the text chat, I think that would totally rock. Shall we give it a try?

To give you a sense of what it’ll be like, here’s a rough sketch that I’ll use at the start of the hangout:

20130619 Living an Awesome Life - Hangout 1

I’m really interested in virtual meetups and communities because I don’t want good ideas to be limited to geographic locations. I want to help figure out ways that people can connect and share—visual thinking, sketchnoting, Quantified Self, Emacs, blogging… Although Toronto has a very active in-person meet-up scene, there are all sorts of interesting people around the world, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to bump into each other online. Can you help me experiment with these ways and figure out how to do even better?

If you’re interested, you can register for the visual thinking webinar (again, free with the promotional code sachachua, but paying for admission helps the organizer defray the cost of the online meeting service) or sign up for the Google Hangout (when it’s time for the event, just click on the “Hangouts” link to join the call!). I’d love to hear your questions and suggestions about the topics, and your meta-feedback about these ways to connect online!

Time enough for friends

Eric and I were talking about the ways of making friends, and I wanted to reflect on it further. Here’s what I’ve learned so far!

Friendship is good, at least according to Aristotle and a whole bunch of other philosophers, psychologists, and researchers. Some people seem to develop friendships effortlessly. Others don’t particularly focus on it. W- says that I’m better at it than I think I am, but it’s useful for me to think of this as something in which I’m a relative beginner. That way, I can see the parts and learn more about how they fit together.

I like developing friendships because:

  • Other people are awesome and I’m glad that they exist. Spending time with good people makes me feel even happier about life.
  • Conversations, letters, questions, and ideas help me learn all sorts of things that I might not have come across myself.
  • Working with friends helps make bigger things happen.
  • Life has its zigs and zags, and it’s good to share the journey with people. We can be sounding boards and safety nets for each other.

What are some of the key actions or stages? Where do I do things well, and how can I make things even better?

  • Meeting new people: I meet lots of people through presentations, meetups, blog posts, social media, and introductions. Sometimes friends bring interesting people to my tea parties, too. It’s easy for me to bump into new people.
  • Getting to know people: Chatting with someone at a meetup is one thing. Continuing the conversation over e-mail or coffee is another. In between, there’s the first hook: Is this someone I’d like to get to know? What common interests can we start with?Will we have interesting and comfortable conversations? Blog posts and presentations are great shortcuts for this because people can easily identify common interests. (“I’m a visual thinker too!”) I tend to respond better to people who are confident and who share some of the things they’ve been learning about too. If it’s just the surface details (who you are and what do you do?), it can be hard to go from there. I try to focus on getting to know quirky or inspiring things about other people as a way of making it easier to follow up with them.
  • Bumping into people frequently: Meetups are great for this because I can get to know the regulars. If people blog or are active in social media, I can bump into them there and learn more about their interests.
  • Getting to know people one-on-one: Coffee, lunch, or Skype chats let me learn more about what makes people tick. I’ve gotten to the point of having a one-hour chat with someone without worrying too much about imposing or about wasting people’s time. It feels a little awkward sometimes, but I figure that will go away with practice. Scheduling these is much better now that my assistant handles the details. For remote friends, e-mails and letters tend to be a great fit.
  • More conversations: Did we click? More conversations/letters/etc. can help us bounce ideas around or find out what’s going on in people’s lives. Most people don’t post as frequently as I do, so if I want to find out what they’re thinking about, I have to ask them. I’m decent at this and tend to be the one to reach out. Sharing things about myself and asking questions are good ways to encourage other people to share parts of their life too.
  • Mixing with other friends: I really like mixing friends because I get to know other aspects of people – things we’d probably have never gotten around to talking about on our own. Besides, it means I don’t have to worry about carrying half the conversation. I can mostly ask questions and share the occasional story or two. I’d like to get into the habit of hosting tea parties every other month or every quarter. I’d also like to have a clique of close friends who are close friends with each other, but I’m not sure how to establish that without the built-in affiliations of college, company, or accommodations (like the way housemates often become good friends). Anyway!

One thing I’m working on is creating more space to spend with people or working towards their welfare. I prefer spending my weekends with W-, so I rarely make it out to weekend things. I keep Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays generally free of consulting, so I can schedule lunches or coffees then. Weekday evenings are the best for getting together with people whose schedules aren’t as flexible. Weekends are great for writing letters. I’d like to grow into a wonderfully thoughtful sort of person, and thoughtfulness requires thought and time.

I’m pretty comfortable where I am, socially. I’m no longer as worried about losing touch with my friends from the Philippines (yay Facebook and letters and blogging), and I have frequent non-work conversations with people here as well as around the world. I think it’ll be fascinating to get even better at deepening friendships, learning more about other people’s lives, and being there for people. I’ve got a long way yet to go, but there’s time enough for friends.

Related:

Hacking my way around networking

I like some events but not others. I like events with interesting presentations, particularly if they’re short; I take notes. I don’t like parties that mostly have strangers. I don’t like events that are all about networking. Dinners are a bit of a gamble. I don’t like loud music or low light. I like nametags and wish more people would add keywords to them.

I’ll volunteer to prepare a presentation if asked, although I’ll get stressed out about it the day before and the day of the event, and I’ll wonder why I let myself get talked into these things. I prefer to go to an event as a speaker or organizer or volunteer instead of as an attendee. Public speaking is actually easier than one-on-one conversations: you can prepare for it, and it efficiently gives lots of other people reasons to start conversations with you instead of the other way around.

I don’t like being out of the house for three evenings in a row. If I need to, I duck into the bathroom for some quiet time, or I leave an event early. I drink water; if I feel the need to contribute to the venue’s proceeds, I order tea or a meal. I get wiped out after intense social events like conferences and late-night events.

I prefer to have an excuse to e-mail people instead of just sending a generic event follow-up. My notes are usually a good excuse to reach out. Sketchnotes are a great excuse to connect with speakers, actually – ask them to autograph the sketchnote or post a link to Twitter with their Twitter handle in it, and speakers are almost always amazed and delighted. =)

My blog has helped keep many conversations going. I keep my ears open for how I can help. I need to get better at asking people for advice or otherwise engaging them in my life.

I like Skype chats more than coffee chats. Global reach, no timing awkwardness, no commuting, and the occasional cat. (Usually Luke, who purrs so loud that other people can hear him halfway around the world!) What’s not to like?

I could probably spend the rest of my life with a combination of:

  • in-bound networking through my blog posts and notes; possibly presentations
  • cultivating relationships through Internet interactions, conversations, and shared activities
  • introductions through friends, especially those who are also connectors, and
  • the occasional random connection through HackLab and other co-working places

and still get a decent mix of conversations and opportunities. I don’t have to worry about missing out on too much. Yes, I might meet people who are totally awesome at some event or another, but I could also bump into fascinating people commenting on my blog posts. (Hi!)

Hmm. This might work. If I focus on the stuff that fits me well, I think I’ll actually have a lot of fun. Yes, there’s something to be said for occasionally wandering outside your comfort zone (although if you’re hearing that from someone else, watch out for vested interests). It also helps to know where that comfort zone is and think about how you can get even better within it. =)

Networking with notes – and sketchnotes, in particular

Incredibly powerful technique. I don’t know why more people don’t use it. So I’m going to give this “secret” away, even if it means that I might have to come up with different ideas once Toronto folks catch on and start mobbing speakers for autographs. It’ll be a good problem to have, because I’ll learn from more talks.

Most people are lazy when it comes to taking notes. That’s because we think we understand things when we listen to them. Everything makes sense. We’re sure we’re going to remember everything, or at least the important parts. Besides, if we take notes, then we’re looking away from the speaker, and we might miss something on the slides, and what’s the point of coming to a presentation instead of listening to the podcast or reading an article if we can’t watch the speaker’s eyebrows go up and down? It’s hard to listen and take notes at the same time, and it reminds us too much of school. (I totally hear you. I hardly took notes in university. I wish I did. I wouldn’t have fallen asleep in lectures if I were taking proper notes, and I would’ve made better use of that time.)

Taking notes gives you an instant follow-up excuse. I am such a lazy networker. Small talk and regular networking is hard. You’ve got to come up with a way to do enough of a “deep bump” (as Keith Ferrazzi puts it in Never Eat Alone) that you’re memorable and you’ve found something valuable for your follow-up. Notes? Notes are awesome. They work for practically everyone. Talking to someone who didn’t take notes? Offer to send them yours. Talking to someone who took notes? Offer to swap notes. That gets your e-mail conversation going, and you can take things from there.

Sketchnotes are even more awesome. Simple notes with stick figures, colour, whatever else. Nothing fancy. But  they resonate with people, they’re easy to review, and they’re fun to share.

Here’s how you can really take advantage of sketchnotes in a way that you can’t do with text notes or live-tweeting:

Walk up to the speaker after the talk and ask for their autograph. You’re there. The speaker’s there. You might as well. While waiting for your turn, you might get to eavesdrop on interesting conversations. And when that turn comes and you bring out your sketchnotes and ask for their autograph, you’ll most likely get this reaction:

“Wow! That’s so cool! Send me that!”

… cue the speaker’s business card, and often a deluge of business cards from other people around you. Send them all a link to your notes once you’ve posted them. Voila! You’re memorable, you’ve created something of value, you’re on people’s radars, and you can ask them questions in that e-mail in order to continue the conversation – maybe even set up a phone call or coffee get-together.

Most people have never been asked for their autographs, and are delighted to oblige once they see you’re not asking them to sign a contract or a blank cheque. It’s a little weird to autograph someone’s text notes. Visual notes, though, especially with a little sketch of them? Excellent excuse to make contact. It doesn’t matter if you have a signed sketchnote or not (this isn’t like a signed first edition or anything), but it gets you that human contact with the speaker and with other people who’ve stuck around for questions.

(Lenovo tablet PC tips: you can disable the buttons on your stylus. I just figured out how to do this, and it will save me so much explaining to speakers.)