Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged networking
How to Never Learn Anything

We must never mistake education for school. While school usually teaches us something, education can happen anywhere at the hands of anyone. I've found that learning from other people is a very valuable experience. What others have accomplished, what they have learned, what they know, and what they suggest are all lessons I lap up when meeting someone new, bumping into an old friend, or hearing someone else's stories.

But we can't learn these lessons if we're unwilling to attend the impromptu school known as conversation. When we shut ourselves off and only participate in the planned dialogues (phone calls, emails, meetings) with those we already know, wisdom is left sitting on the table and we are the lesser for it.

Most of this wisdom never reaches us because of our unwillingness to engage. And often times, all it takes is a set of white headphones.

You'll never learn anything if you're marked as unapproachable. And I know of no better way to do that than to turn on your iPod, wear a frown, or look busy. Show the world that you're occupied and it will leave you alone. And if you never get to engage with others or open yourself up to the spontaneous learning that comes from meeting someone new, you may never get the knowledge you need to accomplish something important.

Just for a day, let's open ourselves to learning something new by putting away our headphones, extending our hand for an introduction, and asking those we meet, "What's your story?"

Remember when your teacher used to call roll in school? You'd raise your hand or say, "Present."

When you become approachable to others, you're telling the world you're here, you're present, and you're ready to learn, to become someone smarter, wiser, and better than you are right now.

The conversations we don't have are the books we never open, the classes we never take, and the lessons we never learn.

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The Internet is Making Us Dumber

As you may well know, I'm struggling of late to come to grips with our fascinating and messy world of social media. What once seem so cut and dried to me as I worked with nonprofit and corporate groups to teach why they needed to update and tweet and tag is now a confusing minefield of statuses and likes. For me, this is amplified in my attempts to be a great parent and a good friend. It seems as though I'm not alone. This past Sunday, a lengthier analysis of what Facebook may being doing to us appeared in the New York Times. We may be coming for a digital reckoning, it seems. I don't care what these do for the profits of a now-public company. But I do care more than ever what our picture posting and online commenting is doing for us humans as we try in our fallible ways to build real community in our messy lives.

These aren't the gripes of an old curmudgeon, mind you. These are the concerns of someone who wants authentic friendship and meaningful relationships with those who help me feel significant and like I belong. I'm merely searching for the same things my ancestors needed while painting on cave walls and packing up camp when the seasons changed.

And maybe a season is changing for those of us who have grown accostomed to what all this newfangled technology was once able to do. 

There was a delightful novelty to the way Facebook once helped you find an old summer camp buddy or peer into what your old high school classmates were up to. Half a decade ago, it was neat to get a friend request from your old teammate, use your lunch break to scan through some pictures of his family, read about where he works and what movies he likes, and then mention it in conversation with your wife over dinner. And now? Now he's hidden from your newsfeed and you kind of hate him because he really loves posting misleading information about the President or how he can't wait for the new Nickelback album.

We wrongly assumed that we wanted thousands of connections that lacked real depth. As another reporter put it:

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

A world without conversation is a world without give and take. It's a world where learning takes a backseat to broadcasting. And we're all a little dumber because of it.

Compare our lack of conversation to the lack of relationship depth we have, magnified by our logging in (over and over again) to view the constant stream of updates and tweets. If you think you can get deep in 140 characters, I'm sorry, but you're badly mistaken.

What's another way to say lack of depth?

Shallow.

Assuming that online connection points are a valid substitute for offline relationships means we're shallow. Another word for shallow?

Dumb.

Our relationship IQ is shrinking right before our eyes.

I'm undertaking some steps over the next few weeks to better get a handle on what these tools can do for us - and what they need to stop doing for us. Balancing the private world of Dad with the public world of speaker and author is getting harder. Tools that promised convenience seem to fall silent in the face of moral or ethical ambiguity. Then again, they should - they're just tools. Faceless, soulless tools that do a job. They don't make judgements, wrestle with dynamic notions of what's best, or feel regret when a connection is missed (or even destroyed).

That's my job.

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Melons or Berries? and 25 Other First Date Questions

Getting to know someone can be hard, awkward, and even boring. First dates, orientations, staff retreats - they all usually include some version of icebreakers or get-to-know-you questions that are tired. The "What's your favorite color?" train has left the station. So, in an effort to get to know someone better, whether you're sharing your first latte or embarking on saving the world together, here are 26 questions you can ask that should spark a story.

And when you're getting to know someone, you need a story, not an answer. Stories let us shine; they showcase a passion and give us context (not just content). You can tell what's important to someone when they tell a story - what they include, what they omit, when their eyes light up.

Here's to all of us telling better stories.

26 Great First Date Questions

  1. Do you prefer melons or berries when it comes to fruit?
  2. If you could be a background character on any TV show, which would you choose?
  3. Who do you admire that I've never heard of?
  4. If your plans for Friday night were suddenly canceled, how would you spend those hours?
  5. Would you rather shop for the ingredients or bake the cake?
  6. What routine in your life - if skipped or missed - knocks you out of whack?
  7. If you had the means to live in two cities at once, which would they be?
  8. If you found $100 on the sidewalk tonight, how would you spend it?
  9. Who - in your opinion - has the perfect relationship?
  10. What do you think about when you don't think about anything?
  11. What song are you embarrassed to have on your iPod?
  12. How old were you when you got your first cell phone?
  13. Who do you call or write first when you need advice?
  14. Who is the oldest person you know?
  15. Who is the youngest person you know?
  16. Was your high school prom unforgettable or very forgettable?
  17. What's the hardest thing you've ever done?
  18. What did you dream about last night?
  19. If you're going to a potluck, do you make something or buy something?
  20. What is the best meal you've ever had?
  21. If your house was on fire, what one photograph do you grab on the way out?
  22. Why is your house on fire?
  23. If you're in a new city, do you wander or stick to the itinerary?
  24. Where - or who - is "home"?
  25. What is one thing you own that you would never sell?
  26. What do you wish I would have asked you?

Of course, some of these questions may still fall flat. But, you at least won't have to bore yourself with "Boxers or briefs?" and who knows? If the person across the table likes to bring deviled eggs to the cookout, then you can go ahead and plan your exit speech for why you have to get up early the next morning.

Got any to add?

What new, better, fun, and story-giving questions do you like to ask someone you meet?

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Don't Rely on Your Natural Resources

Passion is a valuable thing. Many people want to build a career around it, but putting all your eggs in this basket may not be a good move. Passion is rarely learned. You become passionate about something naturally, usually. It's a gut feeling, something visceral and emotional. You need this kind of fire in the core of your being to keep going when the going gets very, very tough.

But, you need more than this. You need to learn and hone skills. You need to get smart. You need to try new things, build new networks, and develop new relationships. You need to try hard things, to challenge and push yourself. Otherwise, you'll just rely on what you're naturally good at or what gets you excited. Sadly, these things may fade one day.

Here's a parallel from the world of geopolitics. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about what makes Taiwan so great:

Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off of — it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction — yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women.

While many other countries rely on what comes naturally - minerals in the ground - Taiwan has had to rely on education and intelligence. As a country, it didn't take what was given; it went and earned what couldn't be bought.

We must do the same with our careers. If you're lucky to have an innate skill or talent, then milk it for all its worth and earn as much as you can. But, along the way, be sure to combine that gift with real knowledge, new opportunities, and worthwhile challenges. Leverage your passion and your talents, but be sure to grow beyond that so that you can have a bevy of options when you need them most.

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Three Things to Do at Every Conference

When it's time to go to your next business conference, convention, meeting, or event, don't just roll your eyes and suck it up. Whether you get to go to Honolulu or Harrisburg for the occasion, you'll be surprised at how much you can get done during the event. Sure - you'll attend some workshops and listen to a keynote speech or two, but there's a lot more to get done besides absorbing some bullet points. Here are three things I do at each conference I attend in order to meet as many people as possible, whether I'm speaking or not:

Connect with Someone New in Each Session

If you're nervous about introducing yourself to people and meeting folks for the first time, take heart: they're probably uneasy too. Instead of listening to your fear, carry on with confidence, extend your hand, and share your name and where you're from. Sit at a table full of people you don't know. Trade business cards. Just walk up to someone and meet them. If a conference lasts two days, has four breakouts a day (plus meals and breaks), you can easily walk away with upwards of 50+ new connections. Be bold.

Maximize the Unstructured Time

All conferences have breaks, cocktail hours, dinners, and nights on the town. Instead of checking email or making phone calls to the office during these times, grab a coffee, cookie, or cocktail and continue to network. Ask people questions about what they do. Listen to stories. Some of the best conference memories aren't general sessions or workshops; they're the time you went out with the group from Birmingham and ended up eating the best sushi ever.

Meet a Speaker

Don't just listen to someone spout info from the stage; meet them in person. I personally know that most speakers enjoy speaking with attendees and we're always eager to trade business cards, share some quick ideas, and even follow up with more info after the event. No matter how intimidated you feel or how long a post-workshop line may be, if you really want to meet someone, go for it. You may never have a chance to speak with this person face-to-face again, so use your time wisely. The cookies will still be there after you chat.

What ideas do you have for maximizing your time at business events or conferences?

Do you hit the trade show floor? Buy drinks for new friends? Take detailed notes? Share your ideas in the comments.