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Static friction and socializing

When it comes to socializing, I have a high coefficient of static friction. I tend to stay in place. If I let too long go between get-togethers, I fall out of the habit of hosting them, the identity of someone who brings people together. I rarely ever want to go out. I drag my feet. I look for excuses to stay at home. I resist when invited, and only manage to make myself go because of social expectations.

When I’m there, though, sometimes it’s all right. Sometimes it’s awkward. But sometimes it’s fun and almost frictionless, and the time speeds by.

I should remember those times so that it’s easier to push myself to go out. The risks are small, anyway.

What makes some get-togethers feel okay? I like board games and card games. They create new situations for us to interact in and result in new in-jokes. They give my hands something to fiddle with. At the same time, there’s still space for conversation between rounds and during breaks. I find background conversations too distracting when I’m trying to work on something, so I prefer to work at home. Pair-hacking might be interesting, though. I like talking through complex things much more than conversations just about catching up. I like having a sense of accomplishment or learning.

The weather’s warming up, so maybe I’ll have a get-together sometime. Gotta ramp up to it again. Maybe I’ll check out Gamfternoon at HackLab.to. Maybe I’ll try going to more HackLab open houses. Maybe I’ll invite people over for a casual get-together. Daylight Savings Time kicked in, so I guess introvert hibernation mode is winding down… We’ll see!

Experience report/invitation: Pick my brain through Google Helpouts

Quick note: You can book free help sessions with me through sach.ac/help. There’s a listing focused on note-taking/visual thinking, and I have two other listings focused on Emacs and introversion going through the review process. Feel free to talk to me about other topics, too!)

UPDATE 2013/11/07: More notes at the end!

I’ve been looking for ways to make it easier to help people online. ScheduleOnce + Skype/Google Hangout was great, but scheduling was a bit cumbersome, and sometimes one-hour chats felt a little awkward. When Google announced their new Helpouts service, I signed up to be one of the early providers. I started with note-taking and visual thinking because those are useful skills that a lot of people need help with, compared to digital sketchnoting workflows which would be a tiny tiny niche.

2013-10-24 Google Helpout

Although Google Helpouts lets you charge for your sessions, I decided to focus on giving help for free instead. I wanted to see what it was like and what I could help people with, and I didn’t want people to worry about the cost. I also didn’t want to worry about expectations! So I set up my Helpout listing, practised with a few people, and set aside some available slots in my calendar.

My first few Helpouts were surprisingly fun. I talked to a number of people who were either Helpout providers or people who had received invitation codes to try it out. One session turned into an awesome Emacs geeking around thing, which I need to post at some point. =)

2013-11-02 Google Helpouts Experience Report

And then it was the official launch day. Google Helpouts was open! I woke up to more than a dozen sign-ups, and my phone kept buzzing with notifications throughout the day. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

Many of the other Helpout providers said they were seeing a lot of no-shows. I didn’t mind because that meant I could get a bit of a breather in between the 15-minute sessions. I had some time to e-mail people and ask them some questions before starting, which really helped.

2013-11-05 Additional Helpout observations

I talked to students about study skills, teachers about teaching, and professionals about mindmaps and other thinking tools. I was nervous going in, but I was delighted to find that the conversations flowed well. I could think of questions for people to clarify what they needed and I shared tips that they could try. Afterwards, I felt a little buzzy, but not as much as I do from presentations (very very buzzed!) or hour-long chats.

Since the service has just launched and I’m offering a free Helpout, many people who signed up probably won’t make it to the sessions. Coding is terrible when it comes to interruptions, but drawing seems to be just fine.

2013-11-05 How does Google Helpout fit in with my goals

I really like the way answering people’s quick questions helps me validate that people want and need what I can share, and it gives me a better sense of who’s out there.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to experiment with how this fits into my flow. Where do I want to put it in my schedule, and how does it interact with the other work I want to do? Because Helpouts can break my time into lots of little segments, I want to make sure I still have blocks of focused time for deep work. I also want to avoid introvert overwhelm, and I want to focus on proactive content instead of letting Helpouts swing me too much towards being reactive. That’s why I’ve been setting aside blocks of 1-2 hours for Helpout scheduling instead of letting it take over my day. Now that we’re off Daylight Savings Time, the sun sets pretty early too, so I’m experimenting with another change to my consulting schedule. I want to make sure that I do right by my consulting client, too, and I don’t want to drop my personal projects.

Hardware-wise, I like my current setup. I handled all the calls from my newly-re-set-up desk downstairs, with a webcam, lights, and external monitor. I don’t want the sessions to interfere with W-‘s concentration, though. If he’s at home instead of at the gym, I can work in the kitchen with my extended battery. I’ll keep an Ethernet cable there as well. The kitchen isn’t as well-lit, but it will do.

So it looks like this month’s experiment will be connecting through Google Helpouts – reaching out and helping random(ish) strangers. I’m making surprisingly good progress towards my goals of modulating my pace. I’m getting better at matching people. I’m also working on articulating my thoughts without repeating words or phrases, since a stutter tends to shows up when I’m excited. If I can get the hang of harvesting questions from these Helpouts and turning them into blog posts, that would be even better. =)

UPDATE 2013/11/07:

This is working out really well! Most people respond to my intro messages, so I have a sense of what they’re interested in before we start. I’ve talked to lots of people in school who want to improve their study skills, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I can offer tips that they hadn’t considered. Enthusiasm carries across well in video chats too – it’s great to be able to bounce ideas or cheer people on. Best of all, I’ve been able to connect with people who read my blog or chat with me on Twitter – it’s just like jumping into the middle of a good conversation. I’m turning the tips into more drawings, which I’ll post on my blog. (Hmm, I should set up a mailing list…) I’ve set up AutoHotkey shortcuts for my welcome message and various URLs I find myself often sharing. There are occasional no-shows, but I don’t mind because I draw and reflect during the gaps. I just leave the Helpout window open in the background as I draw on paper. In fact, sometimes I wish people will miss their appointment so that I can keep on going. And the gradual accumulation of positive reviews is ego-gratifying – it means the stuff I learned along the way is useful, and I’m glad I can share it. =)

All of my slots are booked at the moment, which is a little mind-boggling. I’ll probably open up more after December, or maybe even during December once I figure out what my schedule is going to be like. I’m not going to open up a ton more for this month because 1-2 hours a day of intense talking to people is probably a good limit. Some days have slightly more because I got carried away with setting up my availability in the beginning, and I didn’t want to cancel any. =) Maybe I’ll settle down to ~1-2 hours every other day, and possibly have a mailing list for tips and new availability. It’s an awesome feeling helping other people out, although I also want to make sure I keep making progress on my other (quieter) projects! <laugh>

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Want to give Helpouts a try? You can schedule a session with me at sach.ac/help or browse through the other sessions at helpouts.google.com. I think you can sign up there to offer your own, too. Have fun!

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.)

Getting ready for my “The Shy Entrepreneur” talk at the Toronto Reference Library tomorrow (Apr 10 Tue, 6 PM)

Here are my notes (click on the image for a larger version):

shy entrepreneur

I’ll tell stories along the way. =) Looking forward to it! (I may even remember to record it if I don’t get too flustered…)

Gardening: Horticultural investments, social dividends

It started when we peeked through the bedroom blinds and saw our next-door neighbour cross the street to the house of the neighbour opposite us. He waved to them and took a wheelbarrow of triple-mix soil from the cubic yard bag sitting in front of the house, rolling it back down the curb, across the street, and up the other curb to his house. “They must’ve gone in together on a yard bag of soil,” W- said. It probably didn’t require much neighbourly coordination – a casual conversation, an offer of help – but we envied the ease and connection it implied. We knew our neighbours on either side of our house, but not so much the ones across the street. How could we get to know more people in the neighbourhood?

Gardening, apparently, is an excellent way to meet people over here. Investing in perennials and annuals turns out to pay social dividends. We dug up and gave our front-yard irises to one of our neighbours – we made space for new plants, and he added some more colour to his garden. We replanted the front yard as a herbal tea garden, with the sidewalk box planted as rows of colourful annuals (including one row of edible flowers, the petunias). We dug up the boxwood and juniper shrubs, placed the new plants, and chatted with neighbours and passers-by who complimented us on our garden. We even had an extended conversation with Awesome Garden Lady Down the Street, who as it turns out is Mrs. Wong, and who gave us extra vegetable seeds and plenty of advice.

Here’s what we planted today:

  • stevia
  • lemongrass
  • bergamot
  • spearmint (in a pot, of course)
  • peppermint (in the same pot)
  • garlic chives
  • curry
  • tricolor sage
  • lemon thyme
  • chamomile
  • lots of basil
  • lots of lavender
  • miscellaneous flowers

Weeding and cultivating the front yard will no doubt keep us busy throughout the season, and familiarity leads to conversations. I hope to get quite a few herbal infusions out of it too, and perhaps even a garden party. Our back yard garden is growing well, but is understandably limited as a conversation starter.

If you’re an introvert with a front yard, you might want to give gardening a try too. It’s easier for both W- and me to talk to people when there’s an excuse to do so, instead of just chatting with people out of the blue. Gardening provides an excellent excuse – people talk to us, or we can ask about other people’s gardens as we walk around. Lawns might draw remarks if they’re well-kept, but a more diverse and colourful garden will probably be easier. Have fun!

2011-05-23 Mon 17:35