Monday, July 20, 2009

How to Make Friends and Influence People

Miss Outlier has been camping in New Hampshire, thus the lack of updates. But I am back now, successfully having avoided a sunburn (although not an entire mosquito squadron worth of bites).

I'd like to tell a story from the prior weekend. Every week I have dinner and bible study with friends from church. This particular dinner, there were a lot of new faces, so we went around and did introductions. I explained that I am Miss Outlier, I am a PhD student (yee-ha!) in Mechanical Engineering, and I build cool stuff. Someone was brave enough to ask me what my research is on, and I gave my best two minute elevator pitch about what I do in layman's terms.

Polite smiles greeted me around the table. If I get bewildered stares, it usually means I was too technical. Polite smiles means they understand, they just can't fathom why it's interesting. Why in the world, they think, would someone spend two or three years heating and squashing little bits of plastic?

So I tacked onto the end the sentences that people usually find more interesting. "My specialty is machine design. I build machines that make nano (*technical buzzword*) sized plastic chips that can be used to test for malaria (*third world application buzzword*) or to study cancer (*save the world buzzword*). Also, I use a robot arm in my lab (*random coolness*)."

But man, this was a tough crowd. Nobody was impressed around the table. Oh well, I thought, can't win them all over.

But later during dessert, the girl across from me was complaining about her bike - it was not working properly for some reason. My ears perked up, and I asked "Is it possibly problem X?" No, she said. "Perhaps problem Y?" Well, now she hadn't though about that possibility. The girl asked me if I could take a took.

So after the meal, I went outside and poked a bit at her bike. Turns out the problem was simple, and I was able to fix it with a bit of whacking (always whack whatever is stuck, it looks official and hardly ever hurts) and an adjustable wrench from a sad-looking IKEA tool set (seriously, why even have a tool set if it only has three things in it?).

You've never seen a girl more excited than that bike owner to see her bike working again. The host, (who had donated his sad IKEA tool set to the operation), suddenly remembered that his bike needed help as well. So he wheeled out his bike, and I fixed his simple problem as well.


Suddenly everybody was excited. You can fix BIKES? was the refrain. How COOL! One girl said wonderingly, can you even fix *gasp* OTHER stuff?

Well, yes. (See my post on vacuum cleaners). In my head I was thinking, I really didn't do very much to those bikes, it only looks cool because you didn't know how. Similar to how a magician feels, I imagine?

You can't imagine the transformation that came over everybody. Suddenly there were ideas flying around the room for inventions or things people had always wanted to build, and there was such great conversation about everybody's interesting ideas.

So the moral is - if you want to impress people, get on the host's good side, and jump start the conversation, better table the technical whizz-bang explanations and just say: You know what? I can FIX stuff. Is there anything broken around here?

1 comment:

  1. hahaha yes you were instant hero :) though generally i think ppl are interested in whatever everyone else is doing but hard to get the conv going if ppl are shy and what not.. i thought you faired pretty well with this crowd though :) maybe they'll warm up towards the end of the summer!