Has this ever happened to you? I has a having a conversation with a new business contact and for the first few minutes we had a reasonable interchange. He said something and I understood the point he was trying to convey. Beautiful.
However, within in few minutes, he started to describe his work in greater detail and familiar nouns and verbs disappeared from the dialogue. The conversation evolved into a one-sided monologue littered with buzz words and abbreviations. He picked up the pace, and soon unfamiliar terms were coming at me like baseballs in a batting cage. I tried to decipher what some of the abbreviations meant, but before I could test my theory, five more unknown entities were foisted at me in rapid secession. I knew that these terms meant something to the speaker, because he was leaning forward in his chair and his face was animated.
He was thrilled to be talking about his work, but he had failed to notice that my face had changed expressions. My smile was now frozen and my eyebrows were raised and my forehead was twitching as my brain tried to process the onslaught of information. I felt trapped and my inner voice was muttering “Huh?”
There was no indication that the litany was going to subside soon and I had given up trying to understand the content. I was now listening intently for any sign of an inhalation, so I could stop him and interject some questions. My only thought was “This conversation needs subtitles, because we are no longer speaking the same language.”
Part of me wanted to cut my losses and end the conversation, because my inner voice was also saying, “Why do you need to know this stuff? You only have so much available memory.” Or, “How will you look when you tell him that haven’t understood the conversation?” Then I thought about “the cost” of not being authentic, and that neither of us would benefit from this conversation if I didn’t share my experience. I might be dazed and confused, but we still have a chance to obtain some value. We must be having this conversation for a reason.
So I thought about it for a few seconds and realized that we are all guilty of “losing” people in conversation at one time or another. This person was just suffering from a really bad case of “The Insider Talk Syndrome.” This person was so entrenched in his “professional speak” that he had forgotten to remember that I was a visitor in his world. He had neglected to check in with me, or use symbols or analogies to help
me “connect the dots.” He was going to miss an opportunity to educate me and have me leave our conversation informed and smarter, if I didn’t speak up.
You see, most of us are well-intentioned students. We study the networking articles that tell us to “talk like an industry insider so people will know that you know your stuff.” We are so intent in relaying our expertise, we can sometime forget that networking is really about having a conversation. In order to have a good conversation, you have “to start where people are.”*
*Pema Chödrön’s Helpful Words
So here are some things we can do to “self- check” our dialogues so we don’t miss out on the opportunity to connect with our listeners.
- Record yourself. Find a quiet space and record yourself giving your networking overviews. Take notes. Record the number of buzz words or abbreviations you use.
- Think about your audience. Think about your audiences. Do they work in the same industry and use the same terminology or do they belong to a different tribe?
- Plan comments, phrases or analogies. Develop phrases that will help you bridge the “comprehension gap” without you appearing to “talk down to the listener.” Keep your example simple. For example, if you are a geek about psychometrics and big data, you may want to say that “I use data to solve puzzles” and “I give a picture about how I think people will behave and the reasons why.” Do that and your audience will be ready for you to wow them some engaging statistics.
- Limit the number of abbreviations you use. Explain the abbreviations you do use matter-of-factly using vocal variety. For example: “When I think about SEO (strong voice), or search engine optimization (lower voice and measured tone), I ask myself the question, “What three words best represent us?” and “How do I ensure that they are used consistently and effectively?” In this example, you’ve explained something to your listener without announcing “Here comes the big, important definition!” You’ve engaged your listener’s attention without putting them on the spot and asking them “So, do you know anything about this stuff?” If your listener realizes that you are willing to explain your area of expertise, they’ll be more likely to be more comfortable asking questions.
So think about these exercises as “technical sound checks.” Help yourself eliminate glazed looks and frozen smiles. Review your monologues and then solicit some guidance. Ask a coach or trusted colleague to tell you which part of your delivery requires translations or “subtitles.” Tailor your delivery to your target audience. Do this and you’ll be able to expand your network productively.