Category Archives: connecting

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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.

Learning how to bring people together

Many people I know are looking for their next opportunity – freelancing, consulting, full-time or part-time jobs. One of my friends asked me if I could recommend any meetups that weren’t specifically about tech, but more like support groups for independent people. I couldn’t think of any close by, so I set up a get-together at a nearby cafe and invited a few people whom I knew were looking for stuff.

That was today at Red Bean Espresso, and it worked out wonderfully. I was a little worried about the politeness of holding space during the coffee rush hour of 4:30 or so, but things worked out decently, and we squeezed quite a few people around the large communal table there. I tipped the server extra; I think she was the only one running the whole show!

After we settled in, I confessed that I’m still learning how to bring people together and asked people for help figuring this out. We did a round of introductions where everyone shared what they needed help with and what they could help others with. It turns out that people sometimes have oddly synchronous needs and capabilities, things that I might never have found out about in one-on-one conversations or even mingling in groups of three or four at networking events. Things flowed from large conversations into smaller ones, people moved around, conversations reconfigured. It was awesome!

I’ve got another get-together to go to this evening — another friend’s housewarming — but I’m looking forward to following up on this event. I want to practise bringing people together and helping them. I want to learn how to connect the dots. =)

Process: Keeping notes of conversations

Process - keeping notes of conversations

I’m starting to use Evernote for more of my little notes, such as the follow-up notes after conversations. I like the way it can auto-title notes based on the current calendar event, and the search can pull in business card images as well as text snippets.

“So, what do you do?”

I still have the hardest time with introductions, even more so now that I’m doing something… different. I’m not a chirpy entrepreneur who’ll dash off an elevator pitch for a technology startup as soon as someone so much as provides an opening. I’m not a consultant angling for a lead or a job. I’m on a medium-term experiment with business and interestingness.

Helping people makes introductions much easier, and that’s what I talked about in The Shy Connector – turning it into a connect-the-dots game, looking for ways to help people. Sometimes it works out decently, and I can shape the conversations with questions. Other times, people fall back to old habits, perhaps uncomfortable with the focus on them. They ask, “So, what do you do?” or “So, where do you work?”

I’ve been testing different replies to this. Consultant? Web developer? Writer and developer is probably closest to what I’d like to focus on this next little while – or maybe something related to experiments… I’d rather talk about how I might be able to help instead of what label I fit neatly into, but I appreciate that many people need these mental hooks to be able to remember people or to quickly evaluate how much time a conversation is worth.

I like a different style of connecting, I guess. I connect slowly online through conversations that unfold over months, longer. In person, I like stacking the deck. It’s easier when I can offer something of value – hence, notes – and even easier when I’ve already helped someone. We skip the “So, what do you do?” aspect and jump straight into the middle of a conversation.

Three events next week, so I can play around with these ideas. =) We’ll see!