Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Soft Skills: Be Present

On the heels of an industry conference, there are so many emotions running through me. Excitement - to apply new techniques and tools to my work. Frustration - that I didn’t get over my shyness to engage with others that also looked shy. Happiness - that I got to see friends from around the world that would otherwise be logistically difficult. Pride - that I didn’t screw up too badly while talking in my sessions. Exhaustion - that I didn’t get enough sleep because there are only 24 hours in a day. This time for me, it was Enfuse 2017.

In reflection, there was one trend that I noticed quite a lot during the conference. Many people were not being present in their conversations with others. I saw this in hallways between sessions, during mealtimes, and at the various parties. I wasn’t immune either, as I caught myself a couple times as well. There is always a lot going on at conferences, and that makes it especially hard to stay focused on the current engagement. This is one of the best times to either start building or further reinforce a connection with other like-minded folks in the industry. Some call it networking, although I prefer the word connecting because I feel that ‘networking’ doesn’t convey the right meaning.

Networking is when you go to an evening mixer party with a stack of business cards hoping that the numbers will work for you. The larger the number of people that have you card, the more likely you are to get contacted about something. That something might be a sales lead, a job opportunity, or even a free meal. This is not a bad thing.

Connecting is when you spend time to get to know a person. The key difference is how you engage. You focus on the one or few people in the circle and you pay attention to those people. You listen to the conversation and interact.

Some focus points to be present:
  1. Keep your phone in your pocket, purse or bag
  2. Turn your phone alerts off if you are too easily distracted
  3. Look at the person talking, not behind or beside
  4. Point your feet at the person (or group) to help keep your body engaged

Some points to help others be present:
  1. In a networking/connecting event, don’t latch onto one person and prevent them from being able to make other connections
  2. If you notice another person drifting away from you, politely bring it into conversation to either lock in attention or give the opportunity to disengage
  3. Pay attention to your own behavior to ensure you aren’t causing someone to drift
  4. Respect other people’s conversations - don’t barge in and take over

Any other tips you have to be present?

There is nothing more frustrating to a person than to feel like the other person doesn’t value the discussion. Although some people do love to talk for hours regardless of anyone actually listening, I will hold off that discussion for another time. If you don’t want to be there, respectfully disengage. If you want to be there, be there.

James Habben
@JamesHabben

2 comments:

  1. James,

    Interesting perspective. I try to watch body language a lot, my own and others, and one thing I notice at conferences time and again is how there will be one person who monopolizes a conversation, and seems to be completely oblivious to other around them. For example, I've had people approach me after I've given a talk, and had one person just completely take over the conversation...while I'm trying to figure out what the person is talking about, I also notice that others who stopped by to share something or to ask a question have gotten impatient, grown bored of waiting, and left.

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    1. I have noticed a lot of that as well. Some of the personalities are innocent though, in that they are a more awkward person that has found others don't typically enjoy talking to them. This type approaches speakers because its a semi-obligation. I feel others are more self serving in the sense that they just like to try to display how smart they are and listen to their own voice. Either way, it is frustrating to those waiting their turn, and I have also seen frustration causing others to walk away. I have made it a point to try to politely shut down the time monopolizers to give everyone a fair chance. It's tough though. Not unlike shutting down someone trying to monopolize time *during* a talk.

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