"How do I connect with other MCPs in person? Where do I go? Do you have tips for getting conversations started if I'm an... introvert?" Our MCP community members have been asking. In this installment of Ask an MCT, Christopher Harrison shares five tried-and-true ways to break the ice and connect with other geeks for professional and personal growth.
Ask an MCT: How do I connect with other Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCP) in person?
I will always remember my first TechEd in 2004. It was in San Diego. I’d been an Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) at that point for about 5 years, but I’d been rather insulated from the outside world. I knew there was a community of MCTs out there, but I’d never met any of them outside of communication on the newsgroups. I didn’t know what to expect. And then, upon showing up at the preconference day, I realized there was this whole new world of people I could connect with. That experience was one of the events in my life that I can point to that changed the direction of my career, and my life.
I settled into the preconference event for MCTs. Before I knew it I was inundated by people walking up to me, introducing themselves, and wanting to finally “put the face to the name”. I was also mesmerized by the interaction between the MCT there. This was not merely a normal gathering of peers. This was a reunion. These were people that truly enjoyed each others’ company and relished the opportunity to reconnect.
I didn’t quite know what was going on, but I knew I wanted in. So while internally I’m a bit of an introvert I pushed that to the side to throw myself right into the mix. Years later I’m still connected with most everyone there. And I’m extremely fortunate to call a fair number of them friends – and that’s not a word I use very lightly.
The MCT community is rather large and rather active. It may be one of my favorite things about being an MCT.
However, community isn’t the sole providence of MCTs. As a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) you’re a member of a community that numbers into the hundreds of thousands. Each year at TechEd, MMS, SharePoint Conference, SQL PASS, ..., hundreds of MCPs descend upon a convention center for a week of learning and fun. Every event features numerous opportunities to visit and connect with other attendees and MCPs.
You never know who it is you’re going to meet at events like that - at mixers, at social functions, etc. - or just in passing. Over the course of many conferences over the last several years I’ve met literally hundreds of people. I’ve met some of the most fascinating, interesting people through conferences. My life is much richer for having made those connections.
While I love meeting people on a personal level, on a professional level it’s critical. I’m an independent contractor. I need to work to find work. I need to market myself. The best way to do that is through in person, face to face contacts. These days all of my business is direct through training centers or other organizations. And it’s all because of people that I’ve met and come in contact with. I’m always armed with a handful of business cards, a firm handshake, a warm smile and a quirky laugh. Those little things allow for quick connections, which leads to the next conversation, which leads to a business conversation, which leads to more work. As I type this I’m struggling to remember the last time I had to fill out an application or hand someone a resume.
Introducing yourself to someone you don’t know can certainly be intimidating if you’re a bit introverted. I know – as I mentioned before, despite my extroverted exterior, inside I’m a bit of an introvert myself. On my personal blog I used to do a feature on Friday called my Friday Five. In that vain, here are 5 things that help me connect with people.
1. Take a deep breath and remember they’re probably just as nervous as you. It’s true. Everyone has some level of nervousness when it comes to talking with strangers. They’re no different than you.
2. Get the other person talking about themselves. Everyone loves talking about themselves. Everyone has an inner narcissist. Some of us don’t hide it as well as others. Not only does that allow the person you’re trying to meet to do something they love to do, you’re likely to hear some amazing stories.
3. Take up a hobby. Hobbies give you a common bond with someone even if you know nothing else about them. Personally, I’m a runner. So meeting another runner gives us an instant kinship. It can be almost anything – cooking, knitting, Settlers of Catan. And, if you’re looking to set up a “geek play date” if you will, a hobby gives you something you can do together.
4. Compliment someone’s funny t-shirt. As someone with a pretty good collection of geek shirts, I can tell you the biggest reason I wear them is for the reaction. And it can be a great conversation starter. Other: Hey – great shirt! Where did you get that? Me: Thanks! It’s one of my favorites. I got it at Think Geek. Other: Really? That’s awesome! I love that site. Me: Me too! I always have to resist the urge to just buy one of everything there.
5. Maintain “cultural literacy”. Know what’s going on in the world, both real news wise and pop culture wise. Depth isn’t important here, breadth is. Having a wide variety of subjects you can talk about, even at a very shallow level, can be very helpful in keeping a conversation flowing. For example, if you’ve never watched Breaking Bad, knowing the basic premise will allow you to talk with someone about the show.
Being a geek doesn’t have to be about living in a silo. There’s a whole community of geeks to connect with out there. And that community is one of my favorite parts of being an MCT and MCP. So next time you’re at a conference, stop by and introduce yourself. I’d love to meet you.
 Bring back, oh, nevermind… (Closed circuit joke) Trading cards, actually. They’re really cool. :-) When I used to maintain a personal blog For example, someone who would put together a blog at blog.geektrainer.com, for example One of the greatest shows on television, BTW
About Christopher Harrison:
Christopher Harrison is a Microsoft Certified Trainer, focusing on SharePoint and SQL Server. He's the owner and Head Geek at GeekTrainer, Inc. He's been training for the last 12+ years, with a couple breaks in the middle to take on full time developer jobs. These days he focuses mostly on training, presenting at conferences and consulting.
Connect with Christopher via his blog or on Twitter at @geektrainer.
Nice info, and also kudos for the last meeting.