Strangers & Sparks at Stecchino Bistro
“One idea or one person can change your life forever.” - Tom Hill
You have an opportunity to learn, grow, teach, discover or connect – every day. It’s up to you. The poster child for this philosophy is author / storyteller George Davis, from Essex, NY. I met George last winter at a Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. I sat in the hotel bar at the end of a session and made small talk, but my brain was in hyperdrive (Am I wasting my time here? Are the people at this conference as bizarre as they seem, or am I starting to channel my inner Hunter S. Thompson? What am I going to do for dinner? How far away from the hotel can I walk before I freeze my butt off? ). My thoughts were interrupted when a young man pulled up a chair across from me. George. After a five minute conversation, I was one of eight people he’d invited out into the Arctic cold in search of dinner. If he had stopped eight random people on the street, he couldn’t have come up with a more diverse, eclectic group (age, geography, personality, political bent, etc.). We piled into Stecchino Bistro on 9th Avenue and we had a great time. I made some lifelong friends that night. Our common thread? George. He had that Bill Clinton-esque ability to make you think you were the most important person in his world – even though the conversation might have lasted no more than a few minutes.
Watching George in action reminded me of sparks flying from striking flint on steel. Sparks come from small bits of unoxidized iron dislodged from the steel. Iron is a pyrophoric, which means that it will ignite spontaneously in the presence of oxygen. It sounds bizarre, but it’s true. The blow from the flint sends small particles of iron into the air that are red hot. If they land on tinder (lint, dry grass, etc.) a fire can ignite.
With a friendly word and a sincere vibe, George is constantly striking blows with his flint. Sometimes it leads nowhere. No harm, no foul. Sometimes a spark is created that dies before it hits the ground. But occasionally, a solitary spark starts a flame.
Five hundred people attended that writing conference in New York. Some will rave about the meals they ate, or the professional contacts they made. I suspect…no, I know … that George thoroughly enjoyed himself. Understand that George is not an over- the- top extrovert. I didn’t detect that he was working off a Dale Carnegie script. He simply invited some new friends to dinner. He laughed. He learned. He connected. He lived. And for several hours, he pulled a motley group of strangers into his universe. It felt like home.
I observed George employing the following strategies (George-isms). I highly recommend them:
- Eliminate the interruptions and distractions - Stop glancing at Twitter, checking Facebook, and responding to emails. Put the cell phone away, where you can’t see it, hear it – or feel it. You may think that you’re the most subtle smart phone skimmer on the planet and that no one is offended when you do it. You’re wrong.
- Ask ‘em where they’re from – It leads to potential geographic or personal connections. Even if it doesn’t, it lets people talk about themselves (Dale Carnegie strikes again), and makes follow-up questions easy.
- Introduce new acquaintances to other people – It validates their value, and suggests that you believe they’re worth the effort.
- Tell people what you’re passionate about – It lets them know what makes you tick. It’s either going to accelerate the conversation or end it – but if it creates a spark, it can be magical.
- Don’t whine. A certain amount of bitching can be funny, but you can’t cross the line. Your laughs should exceed your complaints – or they’ll think they’re hanging out with Eeyore.
- Don’t waste your time. If it’s not clicking, move on. Not everyone will appreciate your genius or your fascination factor. You will run into dull, delusional or downright scary people out there. The interesting, life-changing contact may be the next one you make.
What about you? This list is hardly exhaustive. How do you connect? What recommendations do you have?
*If you want to connect with George, you can follow him at @VirtualDavis on Twitter or read about his adventures in renovation, discovery, and history on the shores of Lake Champlain at www.rosslynredux.com