Trust your audience

I wanted to share with you a eureka moment I had recently while running a workshop with a group of speech and drama PhD researchers.  It was a full day workshop on career planning and we were reaching the dreaded dead zone (after lunch but before afternoon coffee) and moving into the discussion on networking.

Networking seems to invoke fear in the hearts of many, the idea of self-promotion really does go against all things English (and most other English-based cultures).  I got the conversation going by running the following clip:

This clip always leads to great conversations (and usually a lot of laughing) about awkward networking situations that people have experienced.

Going back to this particular group. They had been really interested in discussing general career development theories when we were exploring issues around careers planning earlier in the day, so I attempted to present networking using planned happenstance. This is based on the principle of preparing yourself to take advantage of unexpected learning opportunities.

I presented them with the idea that networking is about putting yourself in a physical location where opportunities may (or may not) exist.  Talking to people was how you found out about opportunities.  It’s a bit like hunting for crabs at the beach – you have to lift the rock to see if there is something under it, sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t but you’ll never know unless you try!  Even if you’re not discussing specific jobs/projects, just talking to different people can spark off new ideas or opportunities.

Putting this into the context of a conference I posed the question: if viewing networking in this way would affect their individual approach to it.  There was dead silence.  Then one participant spoke up to say that this reasoning really did take all of the fear out of a networking for them.  In the past she had always seen networking as selling yourself (being a big load show-off where her exact words) which she never felt comfortable doing.  Looking at networking as an exchange, or an information interview put it into a framework that she uses in her current research and made it seem much more practical.  Eureka!

We then moved on to the practicalities of networking and it was the best group discussion around this topic I’ve had the privilege to facilitate.

This experience got me thinking, I wonder if sometimes I need to give my audience more of a chance to decipher careers theories for themselves.  I often tend to present interpretations of theories (such as models, pictures, diagrams) that I feel will be easier for the audience to understand.  Maybe I need to give my audience a little more credit and let them create their own interpretations of theory?

  • Have you presented a careers theory within a workshop situation to great success (or failure)?
  • Do you think more theories could be explained to clients in their raw form as opposed to the contextual form we often use them in?  If so, which ones?
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  1. #1 by Lorna Dargan on 4 August 2010 - 11:09

    What an excellent clip! I feel that I’ve learned something myself – the thought of networking makes me want to hide under my desk! PhD students seem to get particularly anxious about this, perhaps because networking is unavoidable if they ever want to attend conferences. I also tend to refer to networking as ‘information gathering’, which somehow seems to make them feel a bit better.

    However, when it comes to networking, clients most often want really practical tips: opening lines; how to end etc. I wondered if your group came up with any tips worth sharing?

    • #2 by David Winter on 4 August 2010 - 11:17

      Here’s one opening line that I like:

      ‘So, what are you hoping to get out of this event?’

      – The focus is on the other person initially
      – You learn what they are interested in
      – It invites a reciprocal question or gives you the excuse of saying what you want

  2. #3 by Katie Dallison on 4 August 2010 - 13:55

    Thanks Lorna! I really like that clip too but I’m also a fan quite a few cheesy American programmes so possibly no judge of these things.

    With this particular group we’d explored what they needed/wanted out of their career earlier in the day. I’d asked them to transpose these ideas into questions they would ask if they found themselves speaking to someone they perceived as having their ‘perfect’ job. So during this discussion on networking, they made the link back to this as a set of personalised questions they could use which was great!

    What they did struggle with was the idea of follow up, which is the bit that always tends to scare me as well. What do you say in an email to someone you spoke to for five minutes at a conference??! Plus so situational – you can’t write hard rules for it so it’s really is more of a confidence thing.
    They did come up with a couple of ideas however – one was to try and find a research area you may have in common and offer to send them any interesting information you have on that. The other was to note down on the back of their card what your conversation was about and simply send them a thank you, good to meet you email (although many students felt this was a bit contrived and weren’t sure they would do it). Mostly we talked about why people want to stay in touch with them (as lowly students) to help them to feel more confident about getting in touch in the first place.

    Sorry Lorna, that’s possibly not all that practical… Anyone else got some pearls of wisdom to share?

    • #4 by David Winter on 4 August 2010 - 17:49

      I agree that specific, personalised questions are the most effective networking tool there is. I occasionally get ex-clients who are interested in becoming a careers adviser and I encourage them to contact me with questions. The really generic questions such as ‘What are the most enjoyable aspects of the work?’ are hard to answer and I tend to put them off.

      However, questions such as ‘How often do you get to see the end of the story with the client and how frustrating is it when you don’t?’ show a greater level of existing understanding and are quite interesting to respond to.

  3. #5 by David Winter on 4 August 2010 - 17:45

    Another approach for dealing with more important people you want to talk to:

    ‘I was really interested in what you were saying back there and I have a number of questions I would like to ask you about that. I don’t want to monopolise your time. Is there any way I can get in touch with you?’

    It’s always worth having at least one question to ask right now, just in case.

    – flattering without being too sychophantic
    – showing interest (but also gives you time to think of more questions later)
    – shows consideration (you’re not a limpet or a stalker)
    – encourages further contact

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