Sparking interest

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Talking less and asking more will make you more interesting

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

Every person in the world is filled with his or her own experiences, problems, and knowledge; therefore, everyone in the world is interesting. However, in a social environment we are often put on the spot and are required to present ourselves in the most “interesting” way possible. That’s a lot of pressure. After all, we are all so interesting, and life is but a competition.

It’s natural to list off the most unique things about yourself—things other people wouldn’t have done—in an effort to appear interesting. You’ll talk about the places you’ve traveled, all the cool hobbies you have, and even the accomplishments you’ve made. While it’s important to be entertaining, you must also remember that your interests are one-dimensional. In a conversation, it’s not something you can truly share.

It’s reflex to talk about yourself when you are in a crowd, because that is what you know best. You may feel like the celebrity of the party, but in reality, you are probably dominating the conversation. You’re keeping everybody hostage, and that may taint their engagement with you.

The best way to appear interesting is not to stand centre stage, but rather to sit in the audience. Yes, your backpacking trip to South America is interesting. But learning about your friend’s new computer program may be as interesting, at least to him.

An interesting person is not one that goes off on a tangent, but rather connects interesting topics together, so search for ways to segue into your topics from theirs. While there may not seem to be a link between your vacation and your friend’s computer program, there is, because we are all part of this planet, we all follow human customs, and we all kill boredom with interests. “How does he work on his computer program when he is on vacation?” you may wonder, and therefore, you should ask.

A great way to be interesting is by being around people who are different from you. It may feel like you are on the verge of an argument sometimes, but that is perhaps just a passionate discussion. So you are not religious, but you want to learn. Find someone willing to share his or her faith with you and don’t just talk about how you don’t believe it.

Life is full of little mysteries and each person is a clue. The more people you meet, the more you learn, and the more interesting you become. Being interesting is not the experience that you have alone, but rather what you can learn from other people. Appear open minded, with the capacity to acknowledge other people’s interests. That is more interesting than dressing funny, buying expensive items, and surrounding yourself with people who agree that you are awesome.

When networking isn’t working

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Why your networking opportunities are a waste of time

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 11, 2015

Remember the last school day in high school when you, your classmates, and everybody else gathered in the foyer to sign yearbooks? Remember how you tried to accumulate as many signatures and H.A.G.S. (have a great summer) as possible? Remember how empty that feeling was after? That is how I often feel when I go to networking events.

Ask any working professional and they will tell you that networking, at some point, contributed to their success. But where and how they network? That they seldom share. I’m far from a successful professional, but I think I know when my time is being wasted. My time is being wasted when I’m not making any genuine connections. Like those speed-dating events that people do to find romance, I feel that same way with attending networking events in search for employment. If there is no connection in five minutes, I slowly start sneaking away.

If you approach a networking event for your sole benefit, i.e. employment opportunities, you’ll ultimately fail. Rarely are employers hiring at these events, and if they are, you entering their lives spontaneously and then disappearing a few minutes later will not go far in influencing them to hire you. Instead, approach a networking event with an additional purpose. Ask yourself: What would I like to learn at this event? Product development? Marketing strategies? Sales tactics? Whatever. Rather than showing off your smarts and woefully impressing people who don’t care, gain knowledge by communicating with those who have more experience than you.

One thing I found really useful at a networking event was to have a project going in. If I had to report on the event, what where the topic be? What can I wrap my story around? Let’s say I was at a tech-startup event (I’ve been to a lot of those), I could write about the hardest aspect of building or working at a startup company. Then I probe, I interview, I meet people who work at those companies, and I asked them the question: “What’s the hardest thing about working at a startup company?” I’m gaining knowledge. I’m getting results. At the end of it all, I have a collection of interviews and maybe even an article with knowledgeable insights. What I decide to do with that post is up to me. I can share it via my own network and up my Klout score, I can keep it for myself, or heck, I can send it to those who I have interviewed and see if they would be interested in the content. I have done more than network; I have made a connection. I’ve gone the extra distance and shown my spunk.

Networking events are a waste of time if you are collecting business cards. Business cards are worth less than Pokémon cards if you don’t reengage with the person. They’ll forget about you as quickly as you’ll forget about them.