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Archive for December, 2008

Even if you’re an extrovert, meeting new people takes energy. To reduce the required energy, whenever I’m networking or at a business meeting, I like to come equipped with at least one conversational hook – a detail about me that make people curious and give them something to talk about when they approach me.

The term is borrowed from the writer’s idea of a hook, or first sentence that makes people want to read more. For example, when Charles Dickens started A Christmas Carol with, “Marley was dead to begin with,” he hoped that readers would be intrigued about why he would mention the fact. More subtly, when Jane Austen began Pride and Prejudice with “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” she is announcing that her subject is courtship, hoping that it will interest them (and also, as you soon find out, being ironic, since the last thing that either Bingley or Darcy are thinking of at the start of the novel is getting married).

A conversational hook works the same way. Just as a literary hook lures you into reading, a conversational hook is designed to make others think that you are worth spending time with. It’s not as extreme as an eccentricity. Nor is it a pose, because, to be successful, a conversational hook needs to be backed up by the ability to talk about it. Rather, it is an expression of your individuality that attracts attention.

A conversational hook can be as simple as a T-shirt. When I am at a developers’ conference – and, sometimes, just on the street – My Linux Journal T-shirt, with the slogan, “In a world without fences, who needs gates?” (a reference, of course, to Bill Gates and Windows) is sure to evoke a laugh. And, once you have shared a laugh, talking with each other becomes easier.

More recently, I have found my three inch copper bracelet by Tsimshian artist Henry Green to be another conversational hook. Larger than usual, made of a metal that you rarely seen in jewelry, and featuring a stunning design, the bracelet offers all sorts of topics that people can use to approach me. First Nations people, especially artists, are especially interested in it, but the interest cuts across all sorts of demographics. One friendly acquaintance who has watched too much Doctor Who calls it my chronoplate, while others ask if I am wearing it because I believe that copper helps relieve arthritis. It helps that the bracelet is more suitable for formal occasions than a T-shirt, too.

You can use the same idea to make yourself stand out on a resume. Although I maintain several different resumes, I always include two or three lines under the heading of “Interests.” Currently, the section reads, “Running; parrots; punk folk music; Northwest Coast art; history, science fiction, and 19th century novels; Linux.” This summary not only says a lot about me and positions me – I hope – as a well-rounded individual who is worth interviewing.

In addition, when I am called into a job interview or consulting session, it gives other people a starting point. I have lost track of the number of times people have begun by asking me what punk folk music is, and many other meetings begin with an exchange of stories about running or science fiction. And I still remember the forty-five minute interview that consisted of five minutes of talk about the contract, and forty exchanging cute stories about our parrots.

Conversational hooks work because most people are nervous meeting new people. By giving them something to talk about, you set them at ease. In doing so, you generally create a favorable first impression – and first impressions, as you probably know, are frequently the basis for the impression that people take away from a meeting. Not only can you help yourself by creating hooks that draw other people in, but you can be on the lookout for hooks that others may be consciously or unconsciously offering.

Either way, you’ll find that conversational hooks are a great way to take the nervousness out of meeting people for everyone.

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Not too many years ago, you only had to walk down Government Street in Victoria to find more shops selling Northwest Coast art than you could properly absorb in a day. Looking back, I’m not sure of the quality of some of the shops, but they were there. But times are harder, with many store fronts along Government empty, and now you have to search for galleries.

Descending on Victoria yesterday, these are the galleries we managed to find:

  • Art of Man: Located in the mall in the basis of the Empress Hotel, the Art of Man specializes in Inuit and First Nations masks and sculpture. The pieces for sale included four or five from Ron Telek, including a meter high blue shaman (this from an artist who rarely uses color), and a shaman marionette fending off a spirit attacking his foot with other spirits resting in his hand. Daryl Baker, the nephew of the LaFortune brothers Doug, Perry, and Aubrey, is also represented by highly-detailed designs that border on the surreal, and that are all marked by a close attention to finishing details. The Art of Man also seems to get first pick of Tim Paul’s work – so much so that I realize that only his lesser pieces reach Vancouver. Other artists whose work is available at this gallery are John and Luke Marston, whose work shows an awareness of history that I had never realized before that it possessed. In general, the quality of the work at the Art of Man is extremely high, making it by far the premier gallery of Northwest Coast art in downtown Victoria.
  • Hill’s Native Art: Like the Vancouver store, the Victoria Hills is mainly a tourist shop. However, the Victoria store seems to have a slightly better ratio of art to high-end tourist pieces, as though it gets first choice of all the locations. But perhaps this impression is due partly to the fact that it is less crowded and better lit.
  • Alcheringa Gallery: From the web site, I had the impression that this gallery was huge. The reality, though, is that this is a gallery with only a few of its pieces on display – and about half of those are given to works from Papua New Guinea, which is worth seeing, but doesn’t engage my interest the way that the Northwest Coast tradition does. Still, you can see some works by Tim Paul and John Marston there. I was also interested in seeing two works I had seen on the Internet, one by Ron Telek and another by Dean Heron.
  • Pacific Editions: Unfortunately, this story is closed on Mondays, which meant that we walked six blocks out of our way for nothing. But what we could see through the window confirmed the impression I had from the web site: Pacific Prints has a huge collection of limited editions prints. I look forward to spending a happy few hours there the next time I’m in Victoria.
  • Eagle Feather Gallery: A mixture of art and tourist pieces, this gallery is only a block from the Empress Hotel – but on a side street that you may have trouble finding. It specializes in the work of Doug, Perry, and Aubrey LaFortune, especially Doug (in fact, he was due to drop by the day that we visited, although we missed him). Daryl Baker and Pat Amos also have a couple of pieces, while Francis Dick has at least a dozen 2-D works from throughout his career at the gallery. Whether the gallery is worth a visit probably depends on your opinions of these artists, although its stock gives you a good opportunity of evaluating Doug LaFortune thoroughly.
  • Out of the Mist Gallery: This gallery specializes in antiques. Its modern selection is devoted largely to the Hunt family, and includes a few curios like a mask carved by Richard Hunt when he was a teenager, a formal, somewhat stiff print from the start of Beau Dick’s career, and a two meter-long eagle by Roy Henry Vickers. The quality of the antiques is completely indiscriminate, and includes some pieces from across North America. If your taste runs to antiques in Northwest Coast art, you could probably find something to your taste, but the somewhat dim lightning and the bored staff makes the effort hardly seem worthwhile.

As with previous lists I’ve made of galleries, this one makes no effort to be comprehensive. We did not, for instance, have to visit the Provincial Museum’s gift shop, which I seem to remember as having a few art pieces. So if you know of any other galleries in the Victoria area that might be worth a visit, please add a comment and let me know.

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