On the 24th of December, I wrote a post "Happy holidays. Let's have a Skype chat."
It's something I'd thought about doing for a while. Hey, why don't I take open hours to chat with people, and offer my take on anything a person is interested in. I've had a few other bloggers and website runners express curiosity with how it went, hence, this post -
The Good -
I connected with a lot of interesting people. In the guidelines to that post, I wrote "I blocked out 20 minutes for each call, so it might be a good idea to pick one or two things you’re working on or curious about before we get on the phone, because it could go fast" - most people did, in fact, have a couple items when they called, and we wound up covering a lot of interesting ground.
I wasn't sure how 20 minutes would work, but it worked surprisingly well. There was minimal chit-chat and how-are-ya's at the start, which is cool. I've never been a fan of smalltalk, and have always made an effort to move past it into interesting things as quickly as possible in real life.
I think with 30 minute calls, there'd likely be more chit-chat and pleasantries in the beginning, and not necessarily more ground covered. Honestly, the lack of that wasn't a downside at all. Occasionally things felt a little rushed, but each call got into a groove pretty quickly, and the chats went well.
I originally blocked out 20 slots over 5 days. Each was 20 minutes, with a 5 minute break in between. The format worked, though a few times we were mid-interesting-point when 20 minutes was up, maybe went a minute or two over, and then I had to immediately jump on the next call. Overall it was fine, but I think if I did the same format again I'd buy some large bottles of water or fruit or something in case I don't have a real break between calls.
A few people reached out and said those times didn't work, but could another time work? I said, yes indeed, and I've done 23 Skype calls since scheduling. I didn't take extremely detailed notes unfortunately, but the breakdown would be something like this - around half of the people who called either had specific business or tactical questions. I was really impressed with that, I expected the number to be lower, but that was very cool.
Another 30-40% were general "got any thoughts with what to do with my life?" questions... well, that's not entirely accurate. I spoke to a couple people just getting out of university, but also a couple people who want to generally advance more in the world but aren't sure exactly how.
I'd say the calls in the former category - very specific topics - seemed to me to be more productive than the general "what next?" questions, but the what next calls were pretty good too (though much more general). One or two calls were "what should I do?" but who I was chatting with had very clear goals, and those also went extremely well.
Then, there was a couple "hey just thought it'd be cool to connect" calls - these were also okay and it was a pleasure to connect, though it was kind of strange to be in the middle of go-go-go-go-go and then downshift into "hey how's it going" type stuff. Oh, it was still pleasant and I enjoyed those too, but my general advice - if you ever want to have a "hey how's it going" call with me, you still might want to skim the site a little and pick a topic to lead off with so we have momentum? Y'know, maybe a country you've traveled or I've traveled, or a book one or both of us have read, or a specific era of history, or strategy in business, or historical figure, or hobby, or topic? The regret that I had with a couple "how's it going" calls is that the person I was chatting with seemed really, really interesting, but we didn't get past superficial "hey how's it going" type stuff.
I mean, y'know, it's going good. Sure. I'm in Malaysia. It's a nice place. Food's good. It's warm. Oh, it's cold where you are? Well, how about that. Yeah, it's warm here. No, I haven't been to the beach much since I got here, but I did have a swimming pool at my apartment I rented last month, did lots of swimming.... I do like water, though. Oh you scubadive? Whoa cool, that's actually my favorite thing in the world. Where do you go diving?
So y'know, the diving topic is really interesting to me, but oftentimes we'd be like 10 minutes in when it came up, and then it's signoff time really soon.
I learned a lot about preparation before calls from this, from seeing what worked and what didn't. It seems like the people who had 2 important topics they wanted to cover and a couple minor points prepared were the most enjoyable calls for both of us. So for instance, a guy asks me about my opinion on a particular credential, mentions he's just started implementing a new time tracking and we discuss that, and then he recommends some reading on strategy or history to me.
All the calls went well and I enjoyed them - everyone was quite cool. The format of two major points and a couple minor ones seemed to produce the most interesting and fastest moving conversations, but they all went well.
The Bad and Ugly -
Surprisingly little of it, except I should've made a timezone warning. I'm in Malaysia right now, which is +13 hours from Eastern Standard Time. Thus, Monday 8AM for me is Sunday evening at 7PM in New York City.
3 or 4 times, a call was missed to the timezone error. I should've put up a warning, because this bit me a lot when I first got out here... it can be confusing. USA morning/SE Asia evening is the same day. USA evening/SE Asia morning means the USA is one day earlier. It's an easy error to make.
All those calls were either made up a bit later in the day they were scheduled, or the next day, so it was no big loss.
Only one complete cancellation with no reason given, which is also good. A lot of the people who signed on for calls were people who comment here or who I've connected with previously by email or Twitter or something, and I knew those people would very likely sign on. I wasn't sure what the rates would be for people I've never met and don't know at all, but it was actually surprisingly good - only one cancellation. That's a pleasant surprise.
Additionally, a really talented and cool mathematician who was traveling through Kuala Lumpur reached out to me, and we had coffee at that cool little Chinese restaurant filled with the antiques that I like here. He was a really fantastic and cool guy, so it was a pleasure to meet him as well.
I'm very pleased with how it went, and it's something I'd do again.
A couple bloggers and people who run websites or forums said, "huh, that's an interesting idea" and asked me to report back on how it went. It went really, really well and totally exceeded my expectations. I'd wholeheartedly recommend it.
The site I used for bookings - checkappointments.com - didn't take too long to set up, and worked okay. I don't think it'd scale very well if you wanted to do it on a larger scale, but it's totally adequate for the first time. I had a couple people recommend other solutions, and I'll report back if I try one of them.
20 minutes seemed to about right. I'd be open to trying 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 25 minutes as well, and maybe one of those would work as well or better depending on the circumstances, but 20 was about right to cover a lot of ground, but generally wipe out smalltalk and get into the heart of things quickly.
Things I'd do differently -
1. I'd post some timezone warnings, or maybe even spend the time to put up a reference timetable for everyone. I don't regret that I didn't do this, because I wanted to move quickly and just get it started, and it worked. There were only a few errors, and they all got corrected anyways, so it's not a huge deal. But next time I'd at least put a stronger warning on it.
2. I'd encourage even more strongly that someone pick a topic beforehand. Maybe I'd say, "Please pick at least one topic before our call" - I didn't do this last time because I wanted to connect with anyone even if there wasn't anything in particular to talk on, but calls with a few objectives seemed to produce much more interesting conversations overall. If I did it again, I'd probably stress to people that they should sign on even if they don't know why, but then skim the site and jot down a couple ideas to kick it off with so we don't burn time smalltalking. (Does smalltalk drive anyone else crazy? I get tired of having the same conversation I've already had 10,000 times before... I'd much rather cover new, interesting, nuanced, fascinating stuff, or work on building or improving in practical ways)
3. Maybe I'd have longer breaks between calls. Maybe not... 2-3 hours was fine, but sometimes at the end I was dragging. Twice I had to ask the last person I was scheduled to talk to that day to hold a couple minutes while I went and made a coffee or got a water from the kitchen before continuing so I'd have a couple minutes to recharge. I could probably mitigate this by having some cold water and fresh fruit on my hands, and then maybe I wouldn't need a break.
But really, those are all small things. I was impressed with how this went, had a fantastic time, and would recommend it to the other people. I met some interesting people that I hope I keep in touch with, and a few more that I could see being colleagues or quite friendly going forwards, which is amazing.
Final thought - everyone who signed on are pretty expansive and ambitious people with lots going on and lots of dreams, but I'd like to find a way to touch base with more people... I mean, I had 23 interesting and fascinating calls, but I've got 500+ people visting the site daily, and another 400+ people subscribed by RSS.
Who are you other people? There's 900 of you... what are you doing? You - yes YOU - what are you doing? C'mon, c'mon, stop just being a consumer and come play and have adventures and talk and connect and communicate. Yes, YOU, I'm sure you've got some fascinating stuff going on, right? Or at least a fainter idea that more is possible?
Please feel very welcome to reach out, drop a line, and let me know how it's going. I've got a variety of contact info all over the site.
email@example.com - email and Facebook. @sebastmarsh on Twitter. We could have a chat too, if you like. I'm really enjoying connecting with people. So, don't be a stranger, drop me a line and let's set up a time to have a short chat, etc.
Final verdict - a really cool experience. Thanks to all my readers for everything always, and cheers to the people who signed on that we got to share a cool time on Skype. For other bloggers, operators of websites or forums, etc. - yes, I highly recommend this.