Monday, October 03, 2011

FirstTimers Cheat Sheet

FirstTimers Cheat Sheet

Let me start by saying that I have been there. Standing in a room or strangers, wanting to reach out to them, add them to my network, but unable to do so. Why? Why couldn’t I? Well, that would take way too long to blog about. So let’s just skip to the how.

Let’s start over. Why do you go to PASS Summit? To Learn and To Network. Learning is easy. Attend at least 1 session while at the summit and I guarantee that you will learn something. It’s the second part that causes some of us to stumble.

Let’s break down networking. My own definition is to add individuals to my network of individuals that can help me in my day job, my tasks. Notice that I said add individual(s). This entails more than one. Multiples. Many. You get the picture. People. Humans like you.

How can we do this quickly and easily? I’ll show you 3 easy steps with several ground rules associated with these steps. First, back to the definition. Adding individuals to your network. These will be bonds that you create with another human, adding them to your toolbox of skills to accomplish your tasks. This is a selfish goal. But to accomplish this, you must be unselfish. You must reach out to them and be interested in them. Some people you may have very little in common, while you will find others that you have many points of interest connected. This is ok. They all go into your networking bucket. All. Stick them all in there.

Ground rules

For the next 3 steps, I want the following rules to apply. Do not talk about yourself, unless asked. Do not dismiss the individual during any of the steps. In between steps you may have to break the contact. This is OK. Contact can be reestablished later. Learn how to be genuinely interested in their responses to your 3 steps. I didn’t say pretend. Actually become interested. This is part of the unselfishness on your part. If all that happens is that you learn about them, then the goal has been accomplished. You may say to yourself that they know nothing about you. That’s ok. The goal here is for you to add them to ‘your’ network. Selfish goal, but accomplished by unselfish means. Become interested in each response. Become enthralled in what makes them human and a database professional and everything in between.


What I want you to do here is to memorize these steps. If you cannot do that, then write them down on a cheat sheet. I want you to ask the other humans the following questions.

  • · Who
  • · Where
  • · What

When do you ask the other humans these questions? Whenever you find yourself near an individual for more than 10 seconds, turn to them, look them in the eye and ask them these questions. Realize that there are 3 and that a break in contact may occur in between any of these questions, and that is ok. Let it happen organically. But these are the questions to ask. Remember to be interested in their responses, and do not simply wait for a break to talk about yourself. In fact, do not talk about yourself, unless asked.


Look them in the eye and ask them ‘Who are you’? Do not look at their name badge. This only tell them their name. You may forget this anyway. Try not to. But this is not what you are asking. You want to know who this person is. Let them tell you, in their own words. This is a nice simple ice breaker. It’s like asking a date out for a drink instead of dinner. Thus allowing an out if it’s not working out and they are trapped in a longer event than planned for (dinner). This is short and sweet. ‘Who are you’? It may sound brusk and you may alter it as needed to fit your personality. Point is that you are engaging them, and asking about them. DO NOT TALK ABOUT YOURSELF, unless asked. Remember that you are adding them to your network. They may not be adding you back. That’s ok. It may happen, it may not. It’s OK. Remember to be interested in them. ‘Who’ they are. Learn from them. Let them go on and on about themselves. I bet you will find that they are experts in talking about themselves. It’s one of my favorite topics.


This digs a little deeper and can be several questions, depending on how it’s going. Where do you live? Where are you from? Where do you work? Each of these questions opens up a plethora of responses and follow up questions. As organically as possible, let these happen on their own. This section of steps can become rather large. Be ready to take the time and be interested. Remember that you are still forbidden from adding your own information at this point, unless asked. (I bet you will be asked and this will allow the other individual a chance to find out the same things as you are finding out, and thus add you to their network as you are adding them to your own). As you find out another piece of info, try to dig a little deeper, or make a connection.

Before I go on to the last step, realize that we have said nothing really about databases, our skills, our goals, our talents, our favorite or least favorite piece of the database world. We are getting to know the human. Remember that they are 1st a human like you, second an IT professional, and third a database professional. There are many things you can have in common before you actually reach the database professional stage of information gathering. Hopefully before this stage even occurs you have forged enough bonds with this person, built up a relationship of trust and added them to your network, regardless of whether they are in BI, DBA, Development, Contracting, etc.


This question gets more into the nitty gritty and you start seeing where you overlap in skills and talents. Some sample questions for this stage are ‘What do you do?’, ‘What brings you to the Summit?’, ‘What do you hope to gain out of this Summit?’, ‘What is your favorite part of SQL Server?’, ‘What are you good at?’, ‘What are you not so good at?’, ‘What do you hope to be better at?’, and so on. Add here as you see fit. But the point of this section is to learn more about them. As I have said before, you are here to learn about them. Where possible, refrain from telling your own tales and wowing them. Let them ask you. It will happen. It’s human nature. But by you showing a genuine interest in their skills, in them, you forge that bond that will elevate this person into your upper echelon of helpful networked individuals.

Once you have exhausted these initial questions, realize that that may be the end of this interaction. You may or may not have made a friend for life. Time will tell. But it is important that you break away before it becomes awkward. Let this happen organically, naturally. Remember to not monopolize their time. Selfishly, you are here to form bonds with as many people as possible; adding each one to your network. Sticking it out beyond usefulness does neither of you any good.

Let’s Pretend

You find yourself standing next to me in a hall. You turn to me, without looking at my badge, and ask me ‘Who are you?’ I will probably grab my badge to double check the name, and then tell you my name. I will then probably do the same to you, asking your name, while still looking you in the eye. My eye will then wonder to your name badge to see it visually, as I attempt to burn your name and face into my memory. Sometimes this burning succeeds, other times it does not. But I will always remember this interaction with you.

Next you ask me ‘Where do you come from?’ For me, this answer requires a bit of time. I come from California. That’s where I was born and raised. It’s part of who I am so I will answer with this bit of information. But I will also tell you that I am from Utah, as this is there I live now. With this information you have a plethora of follow up questions. You can ask me about where in California I grew up, why I left, if I know Fresno, where your uncle lives and you visited once. I will tell you that I do know Fresno, and have visited friends of our family many times. In fact, they live in Clovis, nearby to Fresno. Since I opened up more information about Fresno, feel free to dig into this. At this point you realize that you know someone that lives in Clovis, and ask me if I knew them. Why not? I may know them. You’d be surprised. Next you may ask me about my living in Utah. Here you can be adventurous and ask me if I am ‘Mormon’, or even more adventurous and ask me how many wives I have. This will lead to some interesting discussions. Maybe you only want to ask me if I have visited Lake Powell or Zion National Park, or if I snow ski? Realize that you have not said you do any of these things. You are asking me about me. You may want to ask ‘Where do you work?’ This too will open up a plethora of follow up questions. See the pattern here? You are not talking about you. You are asking about me. Letting me go on and on about me. It’s one of my favorite topics.

You get the idea. Start small. Grow organically. Let the networking happen easily and efficiently. Stick to these simple questions and branch out when you feel comfortable. Learn about them. Add them to your network. Remember this interaction. Make as many of these as you can.

When you find yourself having 10 seconds near another human, lean over, look them in the eye, and then ask them Who, Where and What. You may have just found a friend for life. At the least, you may forge a bond with another human that can be added to your network. Goal accomplished.

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