Category Archives: connecting

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.


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.)

Figuring out how to get better at following up with people in person

Networking is all about following up. I’m much better now at email follow-ups, thanks to a few tools I’ve found. A Gmail extension called Boomerang allows me to mark a discussion for following up if no one has replied by a certain date. I’m trying out services like Contactually (affiliate link; free plan seems decent) and ConnectedHQ (free!) to track when the time I interacted with someone was, so that I can get in touch with people whom I want to connect with regularly.

I’d like to get better at calling people and meeting them in person, too. I’ve been practicing calling by keeping in touch with friends, especially friends who are looking for the next opportunity. I’m keeping Tuesday to Thursday for consulting, so I’m working on booking Monday and Friday lunches. I want to hear more about what they’re interested in and what can help them. It’s important to do this because most people don’t blog or tweet nearly as much as I do. If I want to find out what’s on their mind, I have to ask them.

I could probably have more flexibility if I also scheduled lunches during my consulting time. It’s easy enough to clock out of work, head someplace for a conversation, and then return to work. However, I feel more comfortable keeping it separate from my consulting time. Mental task switching robs me of some time and focus, and I never want people to feel rushed while were having a conversation. I’ve had lunches stretch to two hours or more simply because there were so many good things to talk about.

I’ve updated my Google Calendar to account for travel time, consulting, and regular commitments until February. I’ve been experimenting with services like ScheduleOnce and Doodle to give people a sense of my availability and allow them to pick dates that work for them. Doodle is more visual, but ScheduleOnce is less frustrating when it comes to busy schedules. It seems like this is a bit of a challenge for people, though, so I might just suggest possibilities, book far enough in advance, and use those services as a back-up. Alternatively, Google Calendar supports appointment slots, and AgreeADate does so too. I can give those interfaces a try, and I can also ask a virtual assistant to help in scheduling so that I don’t have to worry about the back-and-forth.

I really like ConnectedHQ’s daily summary of my upcoming calendar events and the social updates for people who are going to the event. It’s a handy way to get a sense of what people have been recently interested in, and to remember to check out their social profiles. Good stuff. I need to figure out a good process for getting my post-lunch notes into the system, too – notes afterwards, then copy them into ConnectedHQ?

When I get more of my meeting-people processes hammered out, I’ll start working on a list of people who might be able to help me validate my business ideas, such as adding value by sketchnoting business presentations and conferences.

If you’re in Toronto, maybe you can help me practise meeting people and getting to know them – by reaching out and having lunch with me! Kinda like a small-scale =)

Do you know anyone who does in-person follow-ups really well? What do they do differently?

Business card kaizen

I’m nearly out of business cards, so it’s time to think about how I want to redesign them. Business cards are nowhere near the heart of a business (sales! service!), but I like paying attention to the little things that can help me connect better with other people.

What do I use my business cards for? What do I want my business cards to do? Business cards are ostensibly so that people can get in touch with you. Many people tell me they’re terrible at following up with people after events. The only ones who seem to do so are the ones who collect business cards so that they can add you to their mailing list! I find it helpful to completely ignore the original purpose of business cards and take the initiative of following up with people myself. This works out much better than trusting that people will e-mail me or call me afterwards.

If I’m not giving people business cards in order for them to follow up with me, what benefit do I get from carrying around and giving out these little pieces of paper?

People usually exchange business cards in the middle or towards the end of a conversation. My business cards are good at adding an extra "bump" to the conversation – an additional spark of interest. People often remark on my picture and the keywords I use ("Tell me more about what an Enterprise 2.0 consultant does…" "Oh, what have you written?" "Ooh, storyteller. What’s with that?" "Oh, look, geek! Me too!"). Here’s where those conversations go:

  • Picture: This helps me communicate that I care about helping people remember. I usually commiserate about the post-conference blur of going through a stack of business cards and not remembering who’s who. Some people recognize me better from the picture, because it’s the same avatar I use on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I sometimes point out that one of the reasons I cropped that picture so tightly is that the picture will always be current even if I change hairstyles, which makes people laugh — and communicates that I think about little details like that. Because most people see photos only on business cards for real estate agents, I also joke about that. (Hmm, maybe I should play with that some more – a real estate agent, but for the brain!)
  • Keywords: This is excellent for helping people remember and for expanding the conversation topics. The keywords trigger memories of the conversation. Because I’m interested in diverse things, keywords also help me find other topics of common interest. My current card reads "Enterprise 2.0 consultant, author, storyteller, geek." I’m thinking of changing this to "Entrepreneurial experimenter, sketchnote artist, tech geek." Or maybe "Experimental entrepreneur, sketchnote communicator, tech geek"? Visual communicator? What do you think?
    Hmm – if I leave it blank and use a matte surface, or use a carefully-positioned sticker instead of printing the title, I can change the title easily as I try things out. Maybe I can even ask for feedback!

I want my next set of business cards to continue sending those messages: I care about helping you remember me and continue the conversation, and I’m sure that conversation will be interesting.

Elements for the business card:

Possible additions: 2D barcode? Maybe – handy way to encode e-mail address, maybe vCard information. Takes up space, not sure if people use them.

I’d like to add a sketchnote similar to the one I have on my Twitter profile, but with a white background and more colours. This might be a good use of the back of the business card. It’ll be pretty sparse, so people can still use the back of the business card to write notes. My goal there would be to have an instant, portable demonstration of what I do, instead of fiddling with my smartphone or waiting for people to check out my website. Hmm, even maybe Moo’s Printfinity – I think that having unique designs on each card would make it even more fun to give out cards. I should try converting my sketchnotes to 1039×697 and printing them at 300dpi to see what they look like at that scale.

Frills: Raised print? Foil accents? Don’t need them. A heavier card stock would be nice. Rounded corners are tempting – they feel more modern, and the business card doesn’t get as worn in the pocket. It does break some people’s hack of dog-earing various corners of the business cards in order to remember to follow-up, though. Still possible, just harder.

Layout: I’ll continue with the horizontal layout, standard US business card size. I noticed that when I’m scanning business cards, vertical ones make me frown a little. Since I can’t stash oversized business cards and postcards in my business card holder, they’re harder to keep track of, and I don’t want other people to deal with the same issues. I’m definitely going with my own design. Like stock photography, template business cards are obviously template business cards, and I want to hack my cards so much more. =)

Number: I ordered 500 cards on March 25, 2008, which was around 4 years ago. I’d been using them more than IBM business cards even when I was at IBM, so it’s not like they were sitting in drawers. I’ve also used print-your-own business cards in order to test different concepts, such as putting networking tips on the back of the card or recommending favourite networking-related books for cards to give out after a presentation.

I’d like to replace my business cards in one year, because I’ll learn even more about business card design by then. I might even know more about what kind of business I’d like to explore! I should probably order 100 or 250 cards. I’ll be paying slightly more per card and more in shipping, so I should make sure that I’m learning a lot of things that I can fold into a my next design.

Slowly growing!

Pub nights and thinking about networking at events

One of the lessons we took home from the Quantified Self Conference in September was the importance of a pub night for turning a meetup into a community. We tried it last Friday at our first post-conference meetup, squeezing twelve people around a long table at the Firkin on Yonge. I sprung for appetizers for the table and dinner for one of our attendees, who had driven for five hours from Detroit in order to join us. It turns out that three appetizers is too much for 12 people (some ordering food); next time, I’ll get one plate for every six people.

It was good to continue the conversation in a non-meetup context. I got to hear about people’s lives and even offer some help. I think it would be fun to get to know folks more. I wonder what ENT101 would be like with an informal pub night afterwards!

I really like the Quantified Self meetup. People are geeky in all sorts of different ways. I’ve taken on more of a hosting role, greeting people as they come in and checking with them after the event. It’s a good stretch, and I don’t feel as strong a need for introvert recharging after the meetup than, say, after parties or conferences.

I wonder what it is, and maybe if I can shift my experience at the other events I go to. I think part of it is the ease of introductions. With regulars, I don’t have to introduce myself, and I can ask about things we talked about before. With newcomers, I can quickly introduce myself as one of the organizers and ask them what got them interested in the group. At other events, I think I can take on the quasiofficial role of a sketchnote recorder.

Social get-togethers are still a little awkward, but that’s just more incentive to host them myself, so I can skip the introductions. Come to think of it, my tea parties are usually more about group conversations than about pairwise introductions… Hmm.

I liked supporting conversations with food. I should bring people together more often. I’m planning to have lunches and coffees more often, but I should also look into organizing communal get-togethers for coffee or dinner. We had 12 people in the coffee shop and I think that might be as large as I want to make it so that I can still listen to everyone. Maybe even six for dinner parties? We’ll see.