What is Your Favorite Conversation Starter?

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There’s nothing worse than wanting to talk to someone and having no idea how to get started. They need to invent another word because “awkward” isn’t quite awkward enough to capture the feeling of discomfort.

Some people will tell you to keep it safe and with a neutral opener and then go from there.

Others said will advise you to say something the other person wants to hear. Or to talk about something they want to talk about - usually themselves.

Another option is to say something that the person will care about.

What is your best can opener for starting a conversation with a complete stranger?

How to Network Better

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Have you ever noticed that sometimes your attempts at networking eventually fall flat? They start out with a spark, but at some unforeseen point they just fizzle. If this happens too often you may be discouraged from continuing your networking efforts.

The other day we bought one of those mini table tennis kits on a whim. It comes with a small net, two paddles and a ping pong ball. As a warm up, we decided to see if we could volley the ball back and forth up to 50 consecutive times. The ball could hit the ground, but you could only hit the ball once before the other person's turn.

What I noticed on our journey to 50 is things went a lot better if we kept the ball in the air. You develop a sort of rhythm and start to move a little faster towards your goal. A few days later I noticed an email that a friend had sent me that I hadn’t responded to, yet. It was at least a few weeks old. I felt terrible, but responded to try to pick up where we left off.

The goal of networking is to strengthen your relationship with people in your network. You get there a lot faster if you don’t let the ball drop. While there’s no magic number of days that is always right for getting back to a person, there is a point that is later than idea. That’s like letting the ball hit the ground. It doesn’t end the game, but it does make it take longer to get to your goal.

What can we do to network better?

Better Networking Tips:

  1. Understand that there is a natural rhythm with each different person you are keeping in touch with. For some, more regular contact makes sense and for others, more periodic contact is better.

  2. Regardless of the appropriate amount of time between contacts between you and a given person, there is a period that is too long and breaks the connection. This is not fatal, but weakens the relationship and makes it take longer to reach the same level of strength in the relationship vs. if you had responded earlier.

  3. Keep in mind that everyone has a limited ability to respond. Imagine playing the volleying game, but instead of 1 partner you have 5 or 10 or 100. So don’t take it personally if you don’t always get a response. All you can do is hold up your end for as long as makes sense.

  4. Keep the level of interaction appropriate. A networking contact need not be a novel. As stated in point #3 above, people are keeping in touch with many more people than you. It’s okay to send short, light messages that show your good will and intention to stay connected. None of us can fully engage on every contact and it’s onerous when people expect that too much.

If you use these tips, you will reach your networking goals more often and with less attempts fizzling out prematurely.

Your Move: What has worked best for you in terms of networking?

A Chocolate Chip Cookie Brought Us Here

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I've recently begun confiding with close friends, colleagues and family my desire to do more in the training and coaching area. The reaction has been predictably polarizing. There is the "what about your law degree, stop messing around" camp and the "I could totally see you being great at that" camp. No surprises there and I assume they are all looking out for my best interests in their own way. 

What I've found more surprising is how once I gave myself permission to speak out loud about making my desire a reality, the way opportunities began to manifest themselves. I don't think I've done anything too different, it's more a result of being focused on a goal and letting people know what I want so they are aware.

The most surprising turn of events is how a chocolate chip cookie helped me get a meeting with a helpful connection. A mentor of mine was on a plane in First class coming back from Europe when they started serving warm chocolate chip cookies. As the smell wafted through the cabin and she looked down at hers she smiled and laughed out loud. "What's so funny?" her husband inquired. She said remember the story about my colleague Joe and the Seinfeld episode? 

Rewind five or six years when we both traveled to Amsterdam for a business meeting. For some wacky reason, she had to fly coach, while I was in business class. Earlier in the trip, we joked about how this was like the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is in First class and Elaine is in coach and there's a thing with the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. As it turns out, we were on the same flight back to NJ. When they served the chocolate chip cookies, I grabbed an extra and brought one back to my mentor. She was appreciative and we had a good-natured laugh about it.

A few weeks ago she emailed me to tell her about how she was reminded of this episode on her recent flight back from vacation. As it happened, I was going to be near her office the following week, which is rare, so we decided to grab lunch. During lunch I mentioned my thoughts about doing more training. Along with many other helpful suggestions, she offered to introduce me via email to a colleague who worked in the training area. And not just any colleague, but a fairly senior colleague who would know a lot about how I might approach things. Long story short, this intro led to an in person meeting I otherwise would never had.

Moral of the story: It's not about WHO you know. It's about the memorable experiences and conversations you have with people and how they feel about you. It's about letting people know what you want so they can know how they can help you. And it's about being considerate and helpful for no other reason than wanting to connect and help another human being. The rest takes care of itself.