“Hello, who inspires you?”

Picture of people raising hands to ask a question.Have you got that ‘wow’ question up your sleeve? How many times have you attended a conference or group session where the underlying purpose is to network; share experiences and listen to others to learn more about them and the amazing work they may be delivering in their organization?

How many times do you walk into that room full of strangers only to find that you are struck with fear as you try to catch someone’s eye and wonder if anyone will talk to you? How much does your brain twist and turn as you think about initiating that first encounter? How often do you hope that once you do open your mouth you will be able to produce something of interest to other people in the room?

Does any of this run true with you?

Well it does with me! I consider myself to be a fairly confident person. I class myself as being knowledgeable in my field and I think I lead a pretty normal life where socially I have things I can talk about and share. As an L&D professional for almost 20 years I’m never short of being able to strike up a conversation in the “training” environment as I have a captive audience and a good understanding of why they are there BUT put me in a room full of strangers or even colleagues for whom I have had no previous or little interaction and my brain starts to buzz with “how am I going to start a conversation, how do I start to build this relationship and how do I do this without making myself sound like a rambling fool?” The biggest relief for me comes when someone else takes that first step and breaks the ice BUT why should they have to take that responsibility?

Yesterday (3 November 2011), I attended a workshop excellently facilitated by Deena Gornick. The session was hosted by ITLeaders, a leadership development firm that develops future IT leaders and CIOs. Could that be me? That might be a whole new other blog! I attended the session expecting to find some techniques I could use to overcome my fears and work towards achieving a lot more from networking opportunities. I wasn’t disappointed.

Deena helped the group to recognize that we all have fears, that there will be other people in the room that share my concerns. She showed us how to use ‘appropriate’ eye contact in getting that initial non verbal connection. She demonstrated the value in time bound small talk to break the ice; mirroring others body language and voice; she asked us to think about “wow” questions, those that you can have up your sleeve to open up any conversation. She also made us more aware of the importance of listening and how to recognize when you might be drifting off and need to bring yourself ‘back in the room’.

The day absolutely flew by as a result of Deena making it inspiring and fun. I met several people at this event (including a colleague that I wasn’t expecting!) and I’m already putting the skills into practice and increasing my network of contacts. 

So, the next time I see you at a networking event or in a meeting and I catch your eye before spilling out “Hello, who inspires you?” just go with the flow! I’m trying to make a connection and build a rapport because I am genuinely interested in learning more about you and the things that you do!

If any of this resonates with you and you get an opportunity to participate in a workshop with Deena then I would highly recommend it. If you want to try this out for yourself, be brave, don’t look away if someone tries to catch your eye, seize the moment and use open questions “who, where, why, what, when, how” to initiate the conversation, don’t be afraid of small talk, and think of a couple of “wow” questions that you can use to strike up that initial conversation. It doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be fun!! (So she says, I’ll try it next week at the e-learning awards 2011!!)

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