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Strangers & Sparks at Stecchino Bistro

“One idea or one person can change your life forever.”  -  Tom Hill

Stecchino BistroYou 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

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karl,

    You have captured the essence of George and our experience at wdc12 so beautifully here. Such a pleasure to have tapped into all that creative energy. Sparks were flying,indeed!

    Thanks for a great post that puts into words what I was feeling.

    Write on!


    January 24, 2012
    • admin #

      Kathy, this let’s me know that George wasn’t faking it – either time. The post was written based on watching George last year at WDC11. The fact that you saw the same things this year tells me the guy is for real. It was fun to follow in the wake, wasn’t it? – Karl

      January 24, 2012
  2. Yes, Karl. I knew you were writing about wdc11 but it felt like you were writing about what I experienced this year with my own eyes. It’s confirmed~Georg is the real deal!

    January 24, 2012
  3. Karl,

    Great blog entry! Congratulations on getting your site up and running.

    In response to your question “how do you connect”, I must say that I always start the conversation with a question around who a person is as opposed to what they do.

    Sometimes people are taken off guard that I am NOT asking them about their title or profession, especially if it is a networking event or conference. It is delightful and refreshing and I feel it’s good to take people out of their comfort zone every once in while. :)

    Connection is about understanding a person wholeheartedly. Not to worry for those who have a desire to network. Without question, what they “do” for a living will eventually come up!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    January 25, 2012
    • admin #

      Laura, you really get it. So many people start with the same, “Who are you with? What do you do?,” like they’re reading from a script. You expect it come with a Seinfeld “yada, yada, yada.” The fact that you attempt to focus on “the person” sets you apart – and helps explain why you’re so successful! – Karl

      January 25, 2012
  4. Peter Poillon #

    Hi Karl,
    Great blog – good “nuggets” to live and learn by. I look forward to more good stuff. Thanks brother!


    January 28, 2012
    • admin #

      Pete, thanks for the kind words. Look for an upcoming blog on someone you knew way back when.
      – Karl

      January 28, 2012
  5. Well, I knew you were talking about last year at Stecchino’s – a magical night, to be sure – but it could easily have been this year, too. I remember walking over to 9th Avenue last year and saying to someone – you? – “why are we just following George?” He’s a Pied Piper, no doubt about it, though I prefer to think we’re happy children and not rats on their way to their demise. ;)
    Great insights, Karl, as usual! Looking forward to our 3rd Annual Stecchino’s night out next January!

    February 15, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Viki, yes, that was me you were walking with last year. We seemed content to follow George – block after block. At least we found Stecchino’s before frostbite took a few appendages. It has made for a heck of an annual tradition – and having Porter, Dan and Kathy join us was an added bonus this year. Maybe you can get Hugh Jackman come with us next year. – Karl

      February 15, 2012
    • Rats? Demise? Yikes! I better review my instruction manual… ;-)

      Thanks, Karl. As I told you this winter in NYC, you made my day, week, month, year with this gracious post. Without a doubt you’ve exaggerated your complements; without a doubt I’ll save them for a rainy day. In words as in person, Karl, you invite the world to smile along with you. Thank you.

      May 15, 2012

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