One of the key lessons I have learnt from PASS conference is the art of networking. I am not a shy person, but I normally need time to get to know people – given a setting with a lot of strangers I usually keep to myself and wait for someone else to break the ice or prefer to say nothing and get done. To be pro active and introduce myself is itself a big step forward for me, as it may be for several other people. My do’s, don’ts and icebreakers are as below -
Some of the ‘Do’s -
1 Always use meal times and coffee breaks as opportunites for conversation. In other words don’t try to dig hard into the schedule or read something else at this time.
2 Carry business card at all times..you never know when the opportunity may arise.
3 Visit vendor pavilions, talk to vendors if you have liked something they had, even a free tool.
4 Go to as many before and after events as possible. The schedule book you get upon registration has a list of them that happen during the conference..and more are available by following the right people on Twitter (@sqlpass for PASS, @sqlandy – Andy Warren).
5 Respect how you feel and don’t try too hard – some of us are introverts by nature and feel drained after some degree of socialising..if you feel the need to withdraw respect that and retire to the room or elsewhere, don’t force any conversation – networking is the last thing that works better with ‘harder’ effort, it has to be natural and simple, with some effort but not forced or difficult effort.
Lines to use..
1 Easiest one – ‘My name is …’
Follow this with an open question as much as possible – a question that leads to conversation, not a yes or no answer -
1 ‘How do you find the conference’
2 ‘Been great (or lousy) weather…’
3 ‘I like the fruit at breakfast…’
4 ‘I am looking forward to …..session today’
5 ‘I see you are from…(usually readable on person’s badge’)..
Some of the don’ts -
1 Being un intuitive - look if the person looks approachable or the situation suits a conversation.If someone is pre occupied,talking to other people,working on their laptop or just does not look approachable – respect how you feel and do not approach them. There are times when appearances are deceptive, but it always pays to respect how you feel first.
2 Interrupting -One of my favorite books on networking is Don Gabor’s ‘How to start conversation and make friends’ – I met Don at the conference last year and learnt a lot from his book and session. One of the things he says is about how to join a group. Stand at a noticeable distance but not too intrusively, for a few minutes - if the key speaker is open to including others he will automatically make eye contact and include you, if not it is probably a private conversation or the speaker is not interesting in expanding it.But avoid just getting into group conversations uninvited, especially if you do not know the key speaker and participants.
3 Avoid lame lines – this is my favorite and has been a repeated lesson to me..if there is something substantial to tell someone about their book, blog or talk then it very much helps to do so. Many people like simple compliments also that you liked their book or their talk, but that is not something one should over do..when you say you like a book people like to know on what you liked and why. Otherwise this can sometimes results in an embarassing silence with the speaker expecting you to say more and you not knowing what to say.