The first words are the hardest


I like to talk to people. For me, talking to people is rewarding, and in most cases I learn a lot from each conversation that I have. If I know the interlocutor, starting a conversation is not a problem for me. But when I meet new people it is quite hard to begin chatting. Lately I’ve been attending a lot of project meetings, business dinners, and other types of business meetings, so I’ve had to come up with a strategy for starting conversations. If you have a similar challenge with speaking to new people, I have a few tips for you.

Please remember that what I am going to list below are just some ways to get chatting. Usually after starting a conversation you come up with so many interesting subjects to discuss that it isn’t a problem to continue. But it’s not about making small talk – it’s about starting a more meaningful conversation.

What do I do to prepare for a meeting with new people? Below you can find a few tips.

  • Prepare for the meeting – If I’m going to a business dinner, I read about the place we will eat before I go. I research the type of cuisine there and find some recommended dishes. I read about my partner’s company and their recent projects. I know what country/town that person comes from. All of these things are great conversation starters because you can tell your guest what is interesting about the place where you’re meeting, ask about their latest project, etc. You can also ask what place is the most interesting to see or visit in the city your guest comes from. Ask for tips on what to do if you go there. You may know that the person you’re meeting with shares your passion, like running – talk about the best routes to run in each others’ cities.
  • Use what you’ve learned recently – Trivia you’ve learned recently can be a great conversation starter. I am sure you read a lot, watch movies, listen to podcasts, browse the internet, etc. While doing that you learn a lot. Use this to start a chat! You read an article about a bank in Germany that has negative interest rates and asks customers to pay for keeping their money? Talk about this. It’s something that influences everyone – they will be interested! (I talked about it with a customer I had dinner with recently. This started a 30 minute long and very interesting discussion about banking systems).
  • Talk about your last project/activity – You are working on something interesting? You were part of a challenging project? You are preparing for a marathon? You are learning to dance? Share this with the people you’re talking to. It may be interesting to them, and it will help them learn more about you. Just observe how they react to what you say and see if you should carry on speaking about these topics.
  • Know what is happening in the industry – If you meet with people that work in a similar company as you, talk with them about what is happening in your industry. What are the trends? What are some emerging technologies? Are they embracing those new things?
  • Learn new things about your guest’s job – If you meet someone for the first time, you can ask some questions about their occupation. What do they do? How do they do it? What is interesting about their job? What are their challenges? People generally like to share this information.
  • Weather/location/travel/language – This is the last resort :) If you don’t know how to start a conversation, just talk about the weather (how warm it is for this time of year, or how the weather is where your guest lives) or how your guest traveled to your location. Ask questions about your guest’s language – you always can use this as an opportunity to learn new words :)

These are just a few ideas for what to do if you don’t know how to start a conversation (like myself). Remember, they’re just ideas to get the ball rolling. From my experience, I’ve learned that after a few sentences you learn so much about the person you’re talking to that you can easily continue and enjoy the conversation. As I wrote in the beginning, the most important thing is to start. Everything that follows is much easier.

What do you do when you meet new people? How do you start a conversation? Are you the type of person that can just talk to everyone immediately? Or maybe you wait for someone else to start? I am very interested to hear your stories. Please comment here or on Facebook – or, like you often do, just talk to me :)

Photo by  JakeandLindsay Sherbert/ CC BY

Start the morning with closing your e-mail app


Today I’m writing about the latest productivity technique I have implemented in my everyday work – checking my inbox 2-3 hours after the beginning of the work day.

Plenty of techniques exist to increase one’s productivity. While reading books, magazines (like Productivity Magazine), listening to talks, and reading blogs, I am overwhelmed with a number of new ideas on how to be more productive.

I’ve tried many of them, and checked how they work in practice. Some are very good and I’ve incorporated them into my productivity system (I will describe it soon). Many of those ideas do not work for me but they are still worth discussing. Maybe they will work for you.

My work is a mix of conceptual and operational tasks (strategic vs tactical). By conceptual, I mean defining new services, optimizing the way my team works, and creating reports. Operational tasks are all of those that I need to do every day to allow my team to work smoothly – e.g. task assignment, communication, and meetings.

I receive a lot of e-mails every day – several dozens. I bet you do too. Till now, checking my inbox was the second thing I was doing in the morning, just after planning my day. I am in the office at 7AM, which means that I used to process the first e-mails around 7:30AM. By processing emails, I mean applying David Allen’s GTD methodology (Delete, Defer, Delegate or Do – this I will cover in a separate post). Very often “Do” means answering the e-mail.

Now you’re probably thinking – what is so bad about answering e-mail?

What would you do if I answered your e-mail? You would probably answer me back. This is what happens in most cases. One processed e-mail results in a new e-mail to process. Because of this, I end up processing e-mails for the first 2 hours of my day.

I’ve decided to change my approach to e-mail. For the last few weeks I’ve had a new rule – no Outlook till 9AM. What do I do instead? I work :) Now each morning is the most productive part of my day. This is the time when I do the most important tasks scheduled for the day. And after two hours, I can start working on other ongoing tasks. This simple change revolutionized my productivity. I’ve noticed that I have moved forward in many of the projects that I was stuck on because I had no time to focus on them. You may ask – but what do others think about your new approach? Aren’t they impatient because you don’t answer their e-mail immediately? No! In most cases it is more than enough to answer them after 9AM. If there is anything that is very urgent, I will find out about it in a way other than e-mail.

In a separate post I will write about how I choose what to work on during those two precious hours.

Question: what do you think about planning your day in this way?

Photo by Lauren Hammond / CC BY

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