What evaluators could learn from Southerners


I am pretty shy, which is not how most people who have met me would describe me. But those people who really know me (I mean they knew me way back when I was called “Annie” – ya, you know who you are) understand that I am really an introvert at heart. But despite this character trait, one thing I apparently do well is connect with my clients and my fellow evaluators. Because I am an introvert, it is not always easy to connect with people I don’t know so I have developed some coping strategies that work for me. So in this blog I want to share:

• Five tips for connecting with others at conferences and meetings, and
• Three tips for connecting with clients

American Evaluation Association conferences have grown exponentially since I started attending way back in graduate school. Like many such meetings there are so many people it’s often hard to connect with fellow participants. Attending large conferences can be pretty intimidating, especially if you attend alone like I do (I am an army of 2 ½). So at large meetings I do these five things:

Before you leave your home, reach out to your colleagues and schedule meetings over the course of the week. I try to set up meetings over breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee or happy hour. I use these meetings to reconnect with friends/colleagues and get to know other evaluators better.

When you walk into a room smile and say hello to everyone you see. Look folks in the eye and have a good handshake. No one likes a wimpy handshake.

Introduce yourself. When you are traveling on the shuttle bus from or to the airport, or sitting in a session at the conference, turn to the people on your right and left and find out who they are and where they are from. Ask them if they are going/have been to AEA before. Inquire about what they are looking forward to or about their favorite session.

Exchange business cards and when you have the chance note something about the person you’ve met on the back of the card. Jot down where you met them so you will remember in a few months when your memory fades. Send an email when you get home and let them know you enjoyed meeting them.

Is there an evaluator you really want to meet? Think about what you want to say to them ahead of time and either seek them out or hang out in the bar – you’re likely to bump into many interesting evaluators. At AEA 2103, I found myself sitting next to Stephanie Evergreen in the bar and took the opportunity to tell her my “when all hell breaks loose” story. I had just taken her class at the AEA/CDC Summer institute and she asked attendees to share when their presentations had gone wrong. I had a recent when-all-hell-breaks-loose-story and shared that with her.

I have lived in the South my whole life and there are a few things we southerners know that really help build good relationships with clients.

When meeting with clients or potential clients, don’t get down to business until you get to know who you are talking to. This means you shouldn’t immediately jump into designing a logic model or an evaluation plan. Make a connection; find out who you are speaking to and what they are all about. I have a friend, a sociologist, who upon meeting someone, always asks how they got their job and if they like it. He does this with complete strangers. Similarly, I am always interested in the road that led people to their work in prevention. Then I share mine.

Find something in common. In getting to know your client or colleague, you will likely find things you have in common. Connect on those commonalities. You may both have kids, or enjoy cooking or traveling…..but find that connection. It’s a great feeling when you do. Ultimately, the work we do is all about making connections.

But above all, if your client tells you, “Well, Bless your heart!” start looking for your next contract because it’s over. Bless your heart is the southern way of insulting someone in the nicest of ways. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK4iGY7DmD0

What are your tips for connecting with colleagues and clients?


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