At my Toastmasters club, I gave a talk on how to make a conversation that is meaningful and will make a positive impact on your life. I encourage you to apply the lessons at your next conference and networking event!
Today, I'm going to talk about why conversation is important, how to make different kinds of conversation, and how you can use what you learned today, right after this meeting.
Conversation is an important part of our lives. We converse to get to know someone and let them get to know us in return. We converse to share ideas and clear up misunderstandings. We converse because we crave human contact. Every friendship that matters to us began with a conversation.
Conversation can also be intimidating, especially when we are meeting new people, at a new place. If you are a guest who has never been to this club, you might have been dreading when you came in, wondering, would I have to talk to anyone? The answer is yes, you should, and here is why.
In March, I was in Portland for a tech conference. It was my first time attending and there were over 1,000 people, from all over the world. I made it my mission to talk to as many people as I could and hang out with them as much as I could. As a result of my effort, I made over 30 professional contacts, I joined one of the official teams behind this technology, and I simply had a lot of fun and left the conference wanting to come back next year. Had I not made conversation, I wouldn't have reaped any of these benefits.
The secret to my success was knowing how to make different kinds of conversation. At the basic level, I can make small talks. At the next level, I can talk about facts about myself. And at the last level, I can talk about what I think and what I feel. For each level, let me tell you what I did at the conference.
At level one—small talks—I began by introducing myself. Hi, I'm Isaac! It's nice to meet you. Once the other person introduced themself, I tried to find something that we can both relate to. This is my first conference and I'm excited to be here. How about you? Is this your first time too?
If it is their first time, that's great! I just found something that we have in common. If it isn't their first time, that's great too because, now, I have someone who knows Portland, whom I can ask for recommendations for food (everybody eats), for coffee (every developer drinks it), and other favorite local spots (everybody has one).
These are small talks that we can easily make, yet can help us learn something about the other person. This second half is important. No matter how small, talk about something that will help us learn about the other person. Weather is not small talk. Unless both you and the other person are meteorologists, you should heed the words of Oscar Wilde: "Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative."
At level two—facts—I talked about what I do and asked what they do. I got into development because I wanted to work as a part of a team. That's a fact. Can I ask how you became a developer?
That simple word—how?—can be very powerful. It not only shows that we are interested in them, but it also opens many doors for follow-up questions. We can easily make our conversation longer and more meaningful.
I also liked to ask, what do you like to do outside of work?, because I know there's so much more to them than just being a developer. It's okay if what they like to do and what you like to do don't overlap. Take it as an opportunity to learn more about them and their hobbies.
Again, ask why. Make your conversation open-ended.
Finally, at level three—feelings and thoughts—I opened up as a sign of trust and interest in getting to know the other person more. Listening becomes a crucial skill at this level. Lately, I've been feeling like I'm stuck at work. I've reached a point where I can't learn further. Do you have advice for what I can do?
Developers—they will come as surprise to you. There's no other profession where people love to help each other out. They love to contribute to open source. They love to mentor in their free time. They even share knowledge and experience with developers who may work for their competitors.
This question, can you give me advice?, is how I got to join the official team. The person that I talked to, Kenneth, happened to be a member of this team. Even though Kenneth was from a different country with a different background, he could relate to what I was going through as a developer and provide a solution—join my team to learn more about the technology outside of work.
Have you had a chance encounter like that? I bet it started with a conversation.
In summary, it's easy to make a conversation that is meaningful and will make a positive impact on your life. The key is knowing how to make different kinds of conversation. There is level one, small talks; level two, facts; and level three, feelings and thoughts.
After our meeting, I challenge you to make a conversation with your neighbor, especially if you've never met them before. We'll also be meeting for dinner after this meeting. See how you can use three levels of conversation to get to know them better tonight.