At a recent presentation, an audience member asked me the following question:
I was sitting at a table with people who were all major Philadelphia Phillies fans. Not only do I know nothing about the Phillies, but I know nothing about baseball as well. I felt so awkward because I couldn’t participate in their conversation. What should I have done?
Been there, my friend. In my industry, topics that could erupt into a bubbling conversation at any point include tax reform, cyber security, robotic automation, and cryptocurrency. I know enough about these topics to have a 3-5 minute basic conversation, but that’s where it ends.
(I mean, I am advanced enough to have a Coinbase account with a few ethereum in it worth $378… no wait $1,708.
::Stretches and takes a sip of coffee::
ah, it’s back down to $643.)
Take a moment right now and imagine yourself in a small circle with strangers, submerged in a conversation topic you know nothing about. What’s your battle plan?
Many people hide in the trenches, waiting for the firing to stop, praying no one tosses a “…and what do you think?” grenade in their lap.
Others believe the battle is not worth fighting, and immediately retreat to the bar or the bathroom or an ally waiting in the wings.
Still others are a bit more brave, using a clever distraction to divert the enemy to a more familiar battleground such as “isn’t this weather crazy?” Valley or the Fields of “how are your kids?”
Try this maneuver instead.
Be transparent about your ignorance on the topic, and stoke the group’s burning desire to teach you everything you need to know.
It could be as easy as:
“OK, So how does that work? What are the basics I should know?
…I read a few things before, but no has ever explained it to me well
… No one can get me excited about it.”
No one? No one?!? Challenge accepted!
The enlightened members of the group will immediately battle each other for lecture time, as each fact-checked declaration and data-soaked conclusion fuels the group’s desire to prove who among them is the real master, and who is just pretending.
The ensuing battle for knowledge and experiential supremacy will, in mere seconds, supplant you back in the center of attention, while simultaneously transferring all the pressure off your shoulders and onto the shoulders of the rest of the group.
Using honesty, transparency, and vulnerability to turn your perceived liability into a networking asset. Now that’s a veteran Awkward Networker battle plan!