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Business Observer Friday, May 28, 2010 10 years ago

Game of Coins

Steve Shenbaum, founder of Game On Media in Bradenton, helps people get more out of networking.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Issue: Networking.
For a large portion of Gulf Coast executives, networking is a necessary evil that is more have to than want to.

Making it even tougher, though, is the fact that the recession has forced more executives to hit the networking circuit to drum up business any way possible. The pressure to have a successful outing goes up with each event.

But Steve Shenbaum has come up with a few ways to turn networking from a chore to something tolerable, if not outright fun. Shenbaum founded Bradenton-based Game On Media, a consulting firm that trains people how to present themselves and talk in a variety of media settings.

Shenbaum's firm is based out of the IMG Academies in Bradenton, where it works with many of that facility's amateur and budding professional athletes. The firm was founded in 1997.

Shenbaum and his staff have also worked with a litany of professional athletes, including football player Eli Manning; hockey player Sidney Crosby; and basketball player Greg Oden. Current and past clients also includes the New York Yankees and the Manatee County School Board.

The camera and microphone are used to Shenbaum, who was named to the Business Review's 40 under 40 list of the top young business professionals in 2005. Shenbaum held supporting and small roles in several movies and TV shows before he founded the company.

Insight: Role-playing games
Shenbaum's forte is helping people learn the art of relating to others in uncomfortable settings. He has created two role-playing games that aid in that effort. While the games might not work on total strangers at a networking event, the concepts can be carried out in practice in various settings.

The games are:

• Coins: This game is designed to make someone feel more comfortable meeting someone else for the first time.

“Just as one would reach into a pocket and hand someone a coin, a player in this game hands over to others things about them that hold a value in their lives,” Shenbaum says. “Coins are what make the player feel happy and excited and show others the depth of their personality.”

The goal is to let people know you are more than the company CEO or head of sales. It allows you to show another side of yourself, says Shenbaum, such as what makes you smile or your favorite hobbies.

After collecting your own coins, step two is to collect other people's coins. That happens when you listen to other people's stories. Step three is to share the coins with others.

“Coins don't have to be exciting and adventurous,” Shenbaum says. “The key to this exercise is for the player to share coins that are not obvious and not associated with their everyday activity.”

Shenbaum adds that the game is a perfect way to leave a lasting first impression.

• Last Letter, First Letter: Shenbaum uses this game for two purposes: To teach listening skills and to teach how to be imaginative and creative in strange settings.

In the game, one person tells a short story in one or a few sentences to another participant. The second participant then says the next sentence for the free-flowing story by using a word that starts with the last letter of the last word he just heard. The game continues on that way.

“By telling a story together, it forces players to really listen to others, a skill beneficial in all walks of life,” says Shenbaum. “Hearing words spoken and listening to others speak are quite different and this game helps players practice the latter.”

• Trust: Shenbaum says it's no surprise that in tough times employees can grow distrustful of senior management. To fight that, Shenbaum says the old standby of leading by example is the first step.

“To establish trust in the workplace, you can't say trust me,” says Shenbaum. “Do it. Don't say it.”

Moreover, Shenbaum says the key to building trust is to listen, not speak. Says Shenbaum: “I've never had a light bulb or an a-ha moment when I was speaking. That only happens when I'm listening.”

• Compliments: Since bonuses and raises are tough to come by, Shenbaum says a CEO should amplify his compliments. The key, Shenbaum says, is to be specific instead of just saying 'good job.'

“A lot of companies aren't in a position to give out $10,000 bonuses,” says Shenbaum. “But you know what [CEOs] can give? A nice e-mail.”

— Mark Gordon

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