Friday, September 26, 2008

Conversation Techniques

We've all heard networking is important!

But what if I'm shy, awkward, feel insecure about my language skills...

I've heard chatty people give advice like: "find someone in the room that isn't talking with anyone else". Shy people like me know that is bogus! We will be both standing there looking at each other, not knowing what to say. Not fun!

There are some easy things you can do without becoming someone else, or spending a lot of time learning new skills to improve your connection ability and confidence.

A conference provides the perfect opportunity to pre-plan some conversations. You can create very useful questions that fit the context of the conference and get a conversation started.

I think about what I'm interested in, and some of the issues I face so that the conversations I start are useful for me, and the other person.

  • I'm interested in what inspires and motivates others
  • Interdisciplinary technologies

Then I think up some conversations I would be interested in having:

  • You work at X. Do you like it? What do you work on? Have you always worked in that area?/What other things have you worked on? Is this a good area for someone like me to consider entering? Do you have a graduate degree? Why/why not? Do you think it would be to your advantage to have more schooling in this area?
  • I see you are a PhD student. Wow. How did you decide that you really wanted to get a PhD? What is your research area? What about your research do you find the most interesting? What about the program is different than you thought before you started? How did you pick your school/program/adviser?
  • Did you go to the talk on Bioinformatics? I missed it - I had volunteer duties. Do you know anyone that went to the talk? What did you do instead for the morning session slot? How was that? What did you come away from the other talk with? OR What can you remember about the talk? which of the speakers was the most interesting? If I wanted to work in this area, who do you think I should send e-mail to? Do you think it would be ok to just e-mail her?

Assume that conversation might get derailed, and let it go to new places. You can come back to some of those conversations if you need to.

Getting back to what you were saying about X....

Assume that many of your questions will be reflected back at you. Don't be surprised if you are asked "So what about you?"Conversations often go that way. It is generally a good thing.

TRY to answer more than is asked of you. It gives others something to be genuinely interested in.

How long have you been at U of X?

I've been there 3 years, and I really like it. My classes are
all really small.... And the computing program is closely linked with
the biology department. The winters are cold, which is good for

Turn any piece of information or answer into a broader question: how, why, do you know if that relates to Y, who else works on this, etc?

It is OK to open with something very generic and simple!
Have a line, and a general response that shares something about you. You can give them your response if they don't give you much to go on.

Hi, having fun at the conference?

I think it is great, but I'm kind of overwhelmed. I'm the only one from my
school and I don't really know anyone yet. What about you?

As the conference progresses you will feel more comfortable with your conversations and be able to modify your question set based on what you have gotten out of the conference or really want to gain from the conference.

Good Luck!


Aakriti said...

Hey Kathy,

Great post! You have very clearly answered the issue most of us face during networking - How to start? The ideas presented are really nice starting points and your tips about making the conversation interesting are great! I am sure your advice will enable me to do better networking next week at GHC and in the future too :)

Looking forward to meeting you next week!

Kathy Richardson said...

Someone just pointed out that the
past GHC conference evaluations are very clear: women come to Hopper to share their interests with other *technical* women, not just any women.

So starting up conversations
like "so what's your favorite class in computer science so far?" or "what is your research area? research question?" "what kinds of products are you developing?" should be easier to talk about.

Lecia Barker, National Center for Women & IT said...

Are half of GHC attendees shy??

I was looking around for statistics on shyness and was surprised to find that as many as 50% of all Americans consider themselves to be shy. That is the finding of large-scale research conducted by Philip Zimbardo of Indiana University over the past 37 years (there are also differences across national cultures and within-nation subcultures). This suggests that half the people you encounter this year at Hopper are likely to be shy. I was excruciatingly shy until I was about 22 (people who know me don’t believe that), so I really know how difficult it can be to even open your mouth in situations. Thank you, Kathy, for your very helpful suggestions for overcoming one's own shyness and helping others with theirs.

Kate said...

This is such a good topic to post on, because few people ever discuss it. At the last GHC, at the 'newcomer's meeting', they gave us some examples of strategies for networking. One person said she pre-planned all her topics of conversation too. Her topics were: what interesting research did I do this year, what research am I working on now and what are the future directions I plan to take it in, what conferences did I attend, how are my grad students doing, etc. Now, she was obviously a professor, but if you have a different role you can adapt these topics to your own position. A student might have: what interesting courses did I take, what do I plan to take, what projects did I work on that were interesting, internships, when will I graduate and what plans am I making for that. A professional may have: what products were released that I worked on, what are my career goals for the coming year, etc. Maybe having a list of these topics and your answers helps too?

Great post!

Jo Miller said...

A nice summary of some very practical techniques Kathy.

For anyone one who wants ample opportunity to practice.... come the GHC session "Recession-proof your career by enhancing your networking savvy" starting Wednesday afternoon 1pm.

Make an instant impact on your network by leveraging your Grace Hopper attendance!

Martha Cisneros said...

I really like your post!! Thanks for the advice!

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