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Q&A with Don Gabor

Trouble Breaking the Ice? You're Not Alone

Would you rather get the midnight call that your database is down than start a conversation with someone you don’t know? You’re in good company—check out Andy Warren’s PASS blog and Grant Fritchey, Thomas LaRock, and Kendal Van Dyke’s tongue-in-cheek takes on the often painful topic.

But having clear goals of who you’d like to meet at PASS Summit and what you’d like to learn from them can help you strike up profitable conversations that will pay off well after the conference is over, says best-selling author, business networking expert, and special PASS Summit Unite 2009 speaker Don Gabor. In this preview of his 2-hour “Networking to Build Business Contacts” pre-Welcome Reception workshop, Don shares ice-breaker tips and networking strategies for connecting with colleagues and making the most of your time with the industry’s top SQL Server and BI experts.

Q: What’s your definition of business networking, and why should a database administrator or developer care about it?
A: Business networking is about making professional connections and relationships that help you and others achieve specific goals. Database administrators and developers are wise to include networking into their skill sets for three simple reasons—to be competitive, informed, and influential in their industry.

Q: If you’re already a highly skilled, knowledgeable IT pro, what value does business networking bring you? Do you network differently if you’re just starting out?
A: There’s no question that for seasoned IT pros, networking is a must to keep you on the cutting edge, not only for technology’s sake but also for building and maintaining professional relationships. In addition, it gives you a direct conduit as a thought leader and influencer to others inside and outside your industry. For those just starting out, networking offers career-boosting learning opportunities and enables you to establish professional contacts that will pay off in years to come.

Q: Just the word “networking” can strike fear in the hearts of many professionals, including information technologists. How do you get past the phobia to a point where people are willing to try your strategies?
A: Many people feel a little uncomfortable starting conversations with strangers at networking events. While I can't say where this reaction comes from, I can tell you that my PASS Summit 2009 pre-conference workshop will show attendees quick and easy ways to put networking skills and strategies into practice at the conference breakfasts, lunches, between sessions, and at the evening reception.

Q: Many people believe that you’re either born with the “gift of gab” or you’re not. If you're not a natural conversationalist, how can this workshop help?
A: I believe people have their natural conversation and networking style—some peoples’ styles are competitive, some are outgoing, some are amiable, and some are analytical. There is no good or bad style, and each style has its strengths and weaknesses. In the workshop, we'll touch on the different styles and help participants understand their own personal style and how they can use it to improve their networking skills. For example, my conversation style is outgoing, so it’s always been easy for me to talk to people. However, I’ve needed to learn how to talk less and listen more.

Q: Suppose I tell you, “I’m just too shy.” What would your response be? If you’re a quieter, more passive person, do you have to make yourself over to be successful at networking or can you be yourself and still practice strategies that help you connect with colleagues?
A: For shy people to be more successful at networking, they need to be more engaging in conversation. Here are a few suggestions about how to be a more active conversationalist. Try asking others for a specific example, sharing a related experience, or paraphrasing what others tell you or asking about implied statements. Ask for clarification about something that is unclear or that you don’t understand, and ask open-ended questions to get more details. Also, briefly answer questions, and gently offer suggestions.

The goal is to be conversational and exchange information and knowledge with others at about the same rate. Once you do, you'll be surprised how your confidence, enjoyment, and productivity at networking events will increase.

Q: Your seminar is very interactive, asking attendees to participate in demonstrations, role-playing activities, and other small-group exercises. What are your goals with these different activities?
A: The conversation and networking strategies, skills, and tips I present in the workshop are easy to understand, but to become comfortable with them, they take some practice. That's why I incorporate different kinds of exercises into the workshop—so that everyone has several opportunities to practice and implement what they’ve learned. That way, they can network with confidence throughout the entire conference because they’ve already practiced some of the skills in the workshop.

Q: You stress how important body language is to creating instant rapport before we even open our mouths. What are some postures we might not think about as being either welcoming or off-putting?
A: Studies have shown that more than 70% of our communication is nonverbal, so body language plays a huge role in networking. Have the right body language, and you send a “green light” to others; have the wrong body language, the light is “red” and says," Stay away." The four biggest body language mistakes people make at networking events are crossing their arms, avoiding eye contact, not smiling, and standing or sitting alone. To send a green light to others, do the opposite: Keep your arms uncrossed, make eye contact, smile, and stand or sit near others who look friendly or are already engaged in conversation.

Q: What would you say is key to successful business networking? How about the biggest roadblock?
A: One key to successful networking at an event such as PASS Summit is preparation, and one of the most effective, easy, and interesting ways to prepare is to get the list of speakers. [Ed. Note: See the PASS Summit 2009 Speakers list at http://summit2009.sqlpass.org/Speakers.aspx.] Once you have that list, I recommend using it to identify and prioritize the industry leaders you want to meet. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to these folks—they love to meet others who share their professional interests. Then, review their names so that when you meet, you'll be more likely to remember them, and conduct online research about their position and companies so that you know what to talk about to particular individuals.

The biggest roadblock to successful networking is only thinking, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, the most successful networkers go to events with this frame of mind: "How can I help others achieve their goals?”

Q: What are some networking goals you’d like to see attendees at PASS Summit 2009 strive for during the conference?
A: Here are some networking goals that attendees can achieve during PASS Summit 2009:

  • Meet industry and organization leaders
  • Learn about industry trends
  • Build a network of relationships
  • Prospect for new customers, find leads, and get referrals
  • Find strategic partners
  • Find new vendors, products, and services
  • Meet your competitors
  • Explore career paths and possibilities
  • Find and recruit staff

Q: Not everyone you reach out to and try to start a conversation with will be receptive – maybe they’re having a bad day or need networking help themselves. What are strategies for not being discouraged or feeling rejected when this happens?
A: Keep in mind that most people attending a conference such as PASS Summit do so with the hope of meeting others who share their professional interests. However, sometimes a person may be a little shy and need some extra time to feel comfortable enough with you to open up. Therefore, it's a mistake to give up on him or her too quickly and end up making both of you feel discouraged or rejected. Hang in there and make conversation about the program, seminars, food, or anything else related to the event. You might be surprised how thankful both of you will be for the rest of the conference.

Hear more from Don as well as from the top SQL Server and BI experts in the industry at PASS Summit Unite 2009 in Seattle, WA. See the lineup of pre/post-conference seminars, review the full conference agenda, and register today.

Don Gabor—business-networking coach and author of the best-selling How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends (Fireside/Simon & Schuster) and 10 other books and tapes on interpersonal communication skills—is the founder of Conversation Arts Media. Don also trains executives, managers, and staff on how to work more effectively with coworkers and clients. His new book, Turn Small Talk into Big Deals: Using 4 Key Conversation Styles to Customize Your Networking Approach, Build Relationships and Win More Clients (McGraw-Hill Professional), came out in April.

Meet The Speakers


PASS Summit 2009 Dates

Pre-Conference Seminars:
Mon, Nov 2

Welcome Reception:
Mon, Nov 2

Summit Sessions:
Tues, Nov 3-Thurs, Nov 5

Post-Conference Seminars:
Fri, Nov 6

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