I was on a business trip last week and the gentleman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. He was aware that I worked in sports media and so we spent most of the flight talking about local Northwest teams.
At one point I mentioned that one of my big goals right now is to help business professionals understand how to leverage sports conversations at work. He thought for a moment before saying, “I think you’re on to something.”
“Tell me why.” I replied. “Can you give me an example of a time that a sports conversation or event made a difference in business?”
“Sure” he said. “Just this summer, I was attending a conference in Seattle. I work in 401K planning so you can image how dry the subject matter can be. The night before the conference started one of the vendors – a woman – arranged for a suite at the Mariners game and entertained about 20 of us during a Mariners-Angels game. You could tell that she wasn’t a huge sports fan, but she was engaged throughout the game. She cheered on occasion in between chatting with us.
“The fact that she was even there, the only female in the group, elevated her status with us. I hate to say that because I’m sure she was talented and smart in her own right, but the next day all of us wanted to talk to her because we knew she could talk about the game. We were dying to talk about something other than the boring conference materials so we talked her ear off instead of trying to strike up a conversation with someone we knew wasn’t at the game.”
After telling me the story, the gentleman made sure to reiterate that he wasn’t trying to be sexist in describing how the game changed his view of this woman, but there was no denying it made an impact.
Here are a few things I want to point out to you in this story.
- This woman was not a huge sports fan, but she didn’t need to be. She just needed to be willing to participate in the event.
- As a vendor, she is always trying to get new clients and the number of conversations people where willing to have with her at the game and after the game greatly increased her chances of offering a sales pitch.
- More importantly, those conversations open the door for future conversations that build a business relationship.
This story feels a little bit like men vs. women when it comes to sports conversations. And like it or not, that’s often the way it’s perceived in business. There’s an assumption that men know more about sports than women or are more interested in sports than women. While that’s not the case for many women (myself included) it’s still a perception to fight.
If you’re a woman who likes sports, use it to your advantage at work. The story above shows how a baseball game elevated the status of the female vendor. You can do the same.
If you’re not a huge fan, it’s okay, you don’t have to be. Use our weekly Conversation Starters blog as a cheat sheet to get you caught up.
Questions? Comments? Stories of your own? I’d love to hear about them. Share them in the comments section