How to small talk with the industry big fish

26 11 2008

You’ve finally nailed it and were invited to the most recognized, interesting event in your industry. As the D day approaches you cannot easily fall sleep for thinking about the vast quantities of new ideas, war stories and people you will meet. Wait a second: meet new people? Now you will definitely suffer insomnia. 

Most of us, geeky fellows and related species, once exposed to a social situation suffer from either social stammering or acronym over user; and, even if we are on a BOF* gathering we still have problems on performing the first maneuvers to engage in conversation. Definitely loss situations if you are trying to make a dent in the universe, since without good communication skills you will not be able to pitch your ideas, learn from others and eventually share with the world.

Guibert @ Globant photograph provided by Missi...

Guibert @ Globant photograph provided by Missi...

Regrettably, I believe there are no rules that will help you communicate better with everyone you will meet. An interesting topic for some can also be a muscular relaxant for others. Some of us love to laugh and keep on betting on the healthiness of using jokes in mid conversation while others just face the world with general seriousness. You get the picture: what once worked and produced a lifetime discussion my also fail in the future. Don’t fluster, this is life after all.  The years of seeing the game from the line and yearning to exchange ideas with others at events, some therapy (not joking here), bed talk with my lovely wife and hours of communicating (either face to face, email or via twitter) with mentors (Guibert Englebienne, Christian Boelhke) and industry big fish have helped me work on my social weaknesses-

Golden rule: don’t over act the moment. As life changing as it might seem small talk is just small, you won’t get hired or rejected by a chat. It is just another opportunity to open a path to a new relationship or a chance to clear something we were ruminating about. Over expecting will only increase your anxiety hence augmenting your nervousness and breaking havoc.

These are the tips I follow when on small talk mode, especially when chatting with big fishes. 

Ask thyself about the motives why you are approaching someone. This will help you asses if you are either just playing along with the sheep around you or really expecting to receive a benefit after the chat. These are the questions I usually ask myself: Are you an admirer? Do you want to discuss something she is an expert in? You feel she missed something in her talk? Frequently enough, the answers to the questions elicit the hook I will use in the upcoming conversation.

Don’t over expect on staying on a single subject. So you were right on the middle of the conversation, almost approaching the point at which your interlocutor will share with you the secret to her success and out of the blue the subject changed. Don’t fall on your knees and cry, a subject change is usually a good sign, it commonly means the conversation is so engaging your interlocutor wants to share other subjects. Who cares if you didn’t learn her secret recipe for success? You had the opportunity to listen to someone you respect and chances are if you play it right you might get in touch in the future.

Listen. You were the one who approached her didn’t you? Well, to listen also works the other way around when you were the one being approached. Part of having a delightful conversation is to know when to stop chatting and start listening. To listen is the first step needed to take in order to understand.

KISS (Keep it simple and short). Keep the talk small, if you play your cards right you will have the chance to further communicate with companion in the future. If you are talking with a big fish, on a social gathering, chances are she is expected to engage in other conversations and her ability to focus on the subject being discussed will diminish with the time elapsed. 

Closure. If you’ve felt rapport was built or you need to dive deeper on the topic, thank your companion for the time being, state your intention to keep the conversation going and politely ask to swap credentials so you could get in touch in the future. Truth most be told, not all times you will be able to go home with personal card and sometimes even getting a personal contact won’t bring forth future conversations; it all depends on how the talk went. If you are part of the lucky ones don’t over play it, use it carefully since you have just earned one level up on the social scale; and who knows, you might even end building a relationship.

An interesting way of practicing these tips is to start using twitter, which  I believe is an interesting small talk medium. Follow some peers and leaders of your industry or subject matter and form time to time converse with them. This is a fragment of the people I follow via twitter to help you get the idea or eventually get you started down the road:

Hjörtur Smárason. Mastermind behind “If the world could vote” and author of “The Marketer’s Magic Chest. Marketing tips, tricks and tools to unlock the chains of recession”. 

Guy Kawasaki.  Founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures and co-founder of Nononina (the owner of and, he used to be an Apple Fellow at  Apple Computer and have authored eight amazing books. He is an overly admirable and kind Guy. 

Kathy Sierra. She used to be master trainer for Sun Microsystems, teaching Sun’s Java instructors how to teach the latest technologies to customers, and a lead developer of several Sun certification exams. Along with her partner Bert Bates, Kathy created the outstanding O’reilly’s Head First series. She’s also the original founder of the Software Development/Jolt Productivity Award-winning I am a die hard fan of hers.

Tim O’reilly.He is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc. His “Internet meets world” talk on the web 2.0 2008 expo is one of my constant sources of inspiration . 

Pd: To those of you who have asked about my coach, you can contact Alicia de la Fuente thru her website.


*BOF: Birds of a Feather




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