Friday, March 29, 2013

IT Pros: How Can You Avoid Putting Your Foot in Your Mouth?

Don Gabor, How to Avoid Foot in Mouth DiseaseLet's face it--as a rule, IT pros are not known for their conversation prowess or tact. Techies like to say what's on their mind no matter who they are talking to or what situation they are in.

Chances are, you probably know a techie or two who have made big verbal blunders that left the people they were talking to--and everyone in the room--cringing.

Of course, there are the savvy IT Pros (the motivated ones who want to get ahead in their careers) who know that one way to avoid putting their foot in their mouth is to not bring up "taboo topics."

The most common taboo topics in polite conversation are:

  • Politics, Religion, or Sex (The big three!)
  • Gory news events
  • Unfortunate personal issues or gossip
  • Business Intelligence or Proprietary Information 

Yes, these topics are important and interesting. But they are best to avoid discussing in business and social situations simply because they can lead to arguments, bring conversation to a halt, make people uncomfortable, or all the aforementioned. 

What if you say the wrong thing?

If you are the one who has asked an uncomfortable question or brings up a taboo topic and you realize it, do everyone a favor and don’t press the issue. For example, if you made the mistake of asking about a job the person no longer has, don’t ask why. All that is needed is a simple “I’m sorry to hear that,” or “Are you looking for something else? What are you up to now?” 
If you find yourself embarrassed by a fleeting, tactless comment you have made off the cuff, don’t dig the hole deeper by ignoring the fact that you’ve just put your foot in your mouth. The best response is, “I’m really sorry, that was a thoughtless thing to say, I apologize,” and then change the subject. The idea is to acknowledge you said it and then move the topic of conversation to something more positive.

What if somebody asks you a question that makes you feel uncomfortable?

There are a couple of ways to handle uncomfortable questions. One is to be ready. If something unfortunate has happened in your life that you can anticipate people will ask about--losing your job, a divorce or a death in the family--be ready with some kind of response. Often it will suffice to
give a short answer, and then move off the subject.

For example, "Yes, that was unfortunate, but I've moved on. So what have you been up to lately?"

Pumping a Competitor for Business Intelligence is a No-No!

Some IT Pros can be tactless especially when it comes to asking their colleagues about business intelligence. For example, if you are attending IT conference and someone from another company or competing business asks you some BI questions about your company's new server or proprietary software you can say, "Sorry but I really can't discuss that with you. It's confidential." If the person persists by saying, "Come on, you can tell me," you can respond with, "No, I can't. Like I said, it's confidential."

Saying “No” is an important assertive action when dealing with taboo topics because certain information is no one else’s business. You can feel good about being polite, yet firm.

Awkward conversations pop up in many social and business situations for IT Pros. To show your ability to navigate business and social situations, avoid bringing up taboo topics, and when uncomfortable exchanges do occur, gracefully redirect them to more positive and appropriate topics.

For more information about having Don speak to your IT department, meet-up group or at your upcoming event please contact him at:

Don Gabor
Conversation Arts Media

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Do You Say After “Hello” at a Networking Event or Even on an Airplane?

Don Gabor, What Do You Say After Hello at a Networking Event?

The room is packed and the business cards are flying. Before you stands a potential client who fits perfectly into all of your target demographics. Knowing what to say after “Hello” to this person might make the difference between earning some valuable business and merely accumulating another business card.

The good news is that there are potential conversations all around you--if you are willing to take the risk and start the conversation. For example, if you are at a business networking event and happen to be near the food table you can ask “How’s that guacamole?” Or, if you are looking at the speaker’s promo materials you can ask, “What brought you to the event?” Working your way out from the food to the speaker to anything in the room is fair game for conversation.

Another useful technique for keeping a conversation interesting and fresh is the smart use of ritual questions. A ritual question is a commonly-asked question that is typically easy to answer like “Where do you live?” They are handy for a couple of reasons:

  • They allow for other topics to be introduced into the conversation.
  • They reveal supporting information about yourself to the other person.
  • Answering ritual questions shows that you are willing to open up to the other person.

When it is your turn to answer a ritual question, consider it an opportunity to show you have a genuine interest in the other person by revealing some information that was not specifically asked about. This extra information is called free information and encourages follow-up questions and additional comments. 

For example, in response to the question “Did you grow up here?” which of the following two responses suggests that the speaker wants to engage with you?

A) “No.” or “Yes. ” or “Why do you want to know?”
B) “No, I grew up in ______________, but I’ve been living and working here for years and loving every minute of it.”

A good conversationalist will choose option B because it not only seems friendlier, but adding free information will give the other person multiple avenues to continue the conversation.

Body language is also a powerful ally to help keep a person engaged after you say hello. In the phrase book of body language, the most important is “eye contact.” If you do not make eye contact with a new acquaintance, it gives off the impression that you are distracted or have something to hide. People also relate to a person’s smile. It doesn’t have to be a big, Hollywood smile, but what I call a gentle smile. Combining a gentle smile with eye contact and a simple nod of the head sends out a signal of approval that what you are hearing is resonating in you in some way--and will keep a conversation going and opportunities flowing.

The chance to make a new connection can come and go in the blink of an eye.

What if a random stranger within earshot of you starts talking about something you are passionate about? Knowing what to say after you say hello will give you the confidence to start conversations with strangers anywhere--even on an airplane! For example, not long ago I was on a flight when I heard two people chatting about a “TED-Talk” they were on their way to see. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) After they finished their conversation I followed one of the gentleman back to his seat, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hello. Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation a moment ago. Do you mind if I ask you a question about something I heard you say?”

After chatting for about 10 minutes, we exchanged business cards and we both had a new business contact. Knowing what to say after “Hello” gave me the opportunity and confidence to “network at 30,000 feet.” Imagine what your potential could be using these small talk techniques over the course of a few hours at a networking event on terra firma.

Don Gabor
Conversation Arts Media

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do You Remember the Names of the People You Meet at Networking Events?

5 Seconds to Success: The Art of Remembering Names

"The sweetest sound in any language is a person’s name."
-- Dale Carnegie

9 out of 10 people admit they could use some help remembering people’s names. If you are one of them, the good news is you can master the art of remembering names if you learn a few easy techniques. I’ve taught this method at workshops where people ended up remembering 10, 15, even 20 names -- and the good news is all it takes is five seconds:

00:01 - 00:02 The number one reason people don’t remember names is that they don’t focus on the moment of introduction. When you are being introduced to someone, that person should be the most important person in the room. Don’t let thinking about what you’re going to say next drown out the person you are going to say it to.
00:03 Repeat the person’s name.

  • It shows that you actually heard the person’s name and that makes a person feel good.
  • Repeating the name helps you remember simply through repetition.
  • It confirms that you understood the name correctly.

00:04 Think of somebody you know with the same name. This works 7 out of 10 times because in a room full of people, at least 70% of the names are going to be familiar. It could be a celebrity, a neighbor, member of the family or anyone. For greater success, try to reuse use the same association whenever you meet somebody with a particular name.

00:05  Make an extra effort to focus on the first letter of the person’s name. When meeting several people at once, the first initial is often a good way to hook names together because of the various acronyms and abbreviations in our language. For example, if I meet Dan and Robin, I’ve got D and R. If I simply remember that familiar abbreviation for “doctor,” I will be able to remember Dan and Robin.

Another helpful technique is to make a mental image of the first letter of the person’s name.

Golden Time Remember what Dale Carnegie said and use your new acquaintance's name throughout the conversation - and at the end of the conversation.

Use these tips and you'll see first-hand there is no faster or easier way to make a great first impression than to remember someone’s name. And all it takes is five seconds. 

For more information about having Don speak to your group or at your event please contact him at:

Don Gabor
Conversation Arts Media