Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Trains, Planes and ......... Sweet Chariots


I've never been a great believer in the principle of networking with absolutely everyone you come in touch with, irrespective of the situation and your state of mind. Some people talk about the value of networking at the airport, on planes, in the supermarket or in the bus queue. Maybe it's the Brit in me, but that's just not my style.

To be honest, very often when I'm travelling, for example, I treasure a bit of 'me' time. The chance to collect my thoughts, switch off or to read a book. In a business where I am constantly in meetings or at events, it is nice to get a breather every now and then.

I also feel that attempting to engage absolutely everybody you meet in conversation can come across as forced and unnatural. With the number of people travelling with their ipods, laptops and books, you can also risk interrupting people who are enjoying their own 'me' time. Far better to let conversation start naturally where both parties are open to it and develop as you identify something you have in common. There is a big difference between being open to new conversations and tasking yourself with starting them.

Sometimes, however, the conversations you enjoy with strangers when you travel can open doors for you, and not always the doors you would think.

Last weekend I travelled to Paris with a friend to enjoy the party for the Rugby World Cup Final. We didn't have any tickets, nor did we expect to be able to buy any. Certainly not at the prices the media were reporting, the day before the Final it was reported that two tickets had been sold for £25,000!

As we had booked our travel at the last minute, along with 60,000 other English supporters, we were taking one of the less glamorous and more arduous routes. The train to the South Coast, ferry to Dieppe and train to Paris via Rouen. Leaving Newhaven at 11pm on the Friday night, we were due to arrive in Paris at 10am the next day.

Only one obstacle lay in our path, the choice of the French railway unions to strike two days previously. Various rumours suggested that the service was not yet back up to standard. Conspiracy theorists among our number wondered whether the service would be worse on routes to Paris for the English-facing ports than from elsewhere!

Our first inkling that the rumours may be proved true was when we got to Dieppe station at 7am to check on our scheduled 7.44 train. It was cancelled! With the next train not due until 8.22, we went away to get some breakfast. Coming back to the station, we found that the 7.44 had miraculously appeared and carted off the rest of the England fans on time, leaving four of us (me, my friend and two others) to curse and wait for the next train.

The journey took another twist on arrival at Rouen at 9.30, the next train to Paris wasn't due to leave until 12.50, nearly 3 and a half hours later. As the whole point of our trip was to soak up the atmosphere of Paris on a World Cup Final day, spending the rest of the morning in Rouen didn't hold too much appeal! We got together with the other stranded couple and found a nearby car rental firm, where we hired a car between us to drive to Paris.

Leaving our new found friends on arrival, we made our way to our hotel to meet up with friends and then off to a restaurant they had previously found for some French Onion Soup, perfectly cooked steaks and, naturally, a couple of bottles of French Vin Rouge. While we were waiting for our starters, another England supporter came in and sat alone on the the next table. After a couple of minutes, when it was clear that nobody was coming to join him, we invited him over.

Nick (or let's call him Jonny Wilkinson, as that's his real name!) turned out to be a really nice guy, over from the US for work in the Hague, and a big sports fan like the rest of our group. We got on very well over lunch, mainly chatting about football and rugby tournaments each of us had been to. Halfway through the lunch Nick found out that I didn't have a ticket for the match. Nick had already bought a ticket before being invited as a corporate guest and he offered me his spare, at a personal loss and a substantially lower rate than other people were generally asking around Paris and elsewhere.

Nick stayed with us until just after the match and then joined us afterwards for a few commiseration drinks. We have also stayed in touch over the last few days.

The next morning we dragged ourselves up bright and early for the 13 hour marathon journey back home. We met up with Phil and Sharon, our car-hire buddies from the previous day, for breakfast and caught the train together.

The alarm bells started ringing when I got on the train. Due to take us all the way to Dieppe, the signs on the door simply said 'Rouen'. On investigation I confirmed that we simply had to change at Rouen and catch the connection to Dieppe. It later transpired that it wasn't that simple.

Half way to Rouen, the guard came through the carriages asking for people who were travelling onto Dieppe. It transpired that our train had been cancelled and our next connection would leave at 2.30pm. The only problem was that our ferry was due to leave at 3pm, and that was the last ferry of the day. A group of about 30 stranded English passengers gathered at Rouen to find out what could be done. The car hire companies were shut, the train company weren't willing to take on responsibility, and the next bus to Dieppe was due in at 2.30pm but couldn't be guaranteed. The rush for the taxi queues started!

Once more we found ourselves travelling by road instead of rail with Phil and Sharon. This time we were in a taxi to Dieppe rather than a hire car from Rouen. Making the ferry comfortably, we watched as taxi after taxi arrived from Rouen, and the bus turned up just in time!

After an uneventful ferry crossing, Phil and Sharon offered me a lift further up the train line, rather than relying on the local service from Newhaven. Yet another road trip saved incalculable time as it turned out that we had avoided a major part of the route where the rail line was closed and I would have had to catch a replacement bus service!

I arrived home exhausted after a marathon weekend where I had spent twice as much time travelling to and from Paris as actually there. As a result of speaking to people I hadn't met before, I had avoided long delays, confusion, major expense and missed ferries. I had also been able to afford a ticket to the World Cup Final, something that I hadn't expected at the start of the weekend given the prices people were quoting....and getting.

Oh, and Nick, Phil and Sharon could all turn out to be excellent business connections. We did talk about business but in each case the discussion came a long way into our conversations. Phil and I discussed each other's businesses during the taxi journey back to Dieppe and it looks as though there are a lot of synergies between us and many ways in which we could help each other. With Nick, we have touched on business and know what each other does and the opportunities are more likely to arise as the relationship develops. And if it doesn't, we made a good friend, naturally.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post Andy!

    And well done for getting a ticket for the world cup final, the only downer being the result.

    I think the key learning in what you say above is that business talk came a long way into your conversations. This is so key as often when I meet new people they start evangelising about what they do far too soon after meeting.

    At one recent event, one woman insisted on taking all my details and putting into her handheld gizmo, even before she had told me her name and what she did!

    Keep up the writing and spreading your expertise.

    Arvind

    http://www.arvinddevalia.com/blog

    ReplyDelete