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Work the Room: 5 Conversation Starters

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After 32 years in the information profession, countless conferences, more “networking events” than any pair of heels can recall, and taking Ken Haycock’s sessions on networking & influencing at least once/year (plus reading his favourite book, Work the Pond), I confess that, depending on the day, my knees quake at walking into a room of people I don’t know. Some days networking is the hardest work I do.

Note that this is Rebecca, not Jane; Jane, like Ken Haycock, is a brilliant networker. If you get a chance, watch her and, better yet, talk with her at an event. She has trained me over the years, and I came to realize that the foremost competency for information professionals is also the best competency for networking. Curiousity. You’ve heard me go on about it before. Here it is again. Curiousity. It is curiousity that drives us to be the best at matching information solutions with client problems, and it is curiousity that drives us to ably engage in conversations. Networking is about finding out about people.

FastCompany has a wonderful short article “Hate Small Talk? 5 Questions to Ably Work Any Room.” Check it out — it is terrific. I’ve used some of these questions, but not all — and I certainly will.

“What’s your connection to the event?”This question can uncover mutual contacts and usually leads to a more robust answer than if you asked the typical “Have you been to this event before?” Excellent “What’s keeping you busy when

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Who have you encouraged today?

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Learning is what humans do, whether it’s early learning from family, school learning from teachers and professors, self development or personal and lifelong learning through reading, viewing, listening, or watching. But we all need encouragement on the learning journey. I am blessed that my mother, a former elementary school teacher, instilled in me a curiosity and courage to learn and ask questions . Who else would go up to a nun in formal attire when they were 3 and ask, “Are you a penguin?” I have encouraged, I think, many people in my career. One close friend who was a one time was afraid to cold call people on the telephone and today is a worldwide thought leader and sought-after speaker. The other day, I was a conference, and during a table discussion heard a great process described. When it came time for the tables to share with the larger group, the person who shared this process hung back, and I encouraged her to speak up. She did and the whole audience was interested and conference leaders connected her with another attendee who really wanted to know more about her process. It takes so little to encourage others and give them the courage to speak up, share, and achieve. That’s what networking, mentoring, and caring are all about. Who have you encouraged today?