Conversations. Small talk. How good are you at conversing? Ever experience those awkward moments of silence when you desperately try to find something, anything, to fill the void and finally give up? Having the ability to engage people in conversation is not simply a social grace; it's a business essential. Every meeting, every encounter is an opportunity to make a business connection or a personal friend. And people do business with people they like. Creating and keeping positive connections gives you visibility within your organization and helps to close sales. It makes you a valuable asset.
The number one greatest social fear in the US is public speaking. The second greatest fear is meeting strangers. Chances are, you may not be afraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but the person you are speaking to is. The moment a person feels uncomfortable, they want to get away and remove themselves from the situation. The opportunity is lost. But, if you can help make the other person feel comfortable, assume the burden of keeping the conversation alive, your partner in communication will feel good about you and do business with you. How to do that?
Remember that people love to be listened to. The more you express an interest in others, the more interesting you will become. Remember the adage, 'Wise people listen more than they speak.' Ask questions. Avoid closed questions, questions that require 'yes' or 'no' answers (Do you have a family? Have you worked here long?) Instead, think about open-ended questions. What? How? Why? Describe that to me? What interested you about that? How did you set out to do that? Why this? When you get your answer, listen. Really listen. Try to avoid scanning the room for more interesting conversational partners or for your nearest exit.
Be approachable. Smile, smile, smile. Make eye contact. Keep your body language open. Try to avoid folding your arms across your chest or holding your hands behind your back. Avoid shifting every few seconds. If you are looking for people to talk with at an event, avoid interrupting groups already involved in conversations.
Instead, look for people who are alone and approach them. Take the initiative. If you are speaking with a group of people, try to include everyone in the conversation. Notice people who seem quiet or shy and direct questions or comments to them so that you include them.
Give something of yourself. When you introduce yourself, tell the other person something brief about yourself what you do, why you are here, what interests you. It will help to get the conversation moving. Think of communication as a game of catch. You need to throw the ball to the other person so that they can throw it back to you. If the ball is dropped, assume the responsibility for getting the game back on its feet. If the other person doesn't throw the ball back to you by asking you a question, ask them a question. Remember to use open-ended questions.
Stay current on current events. Scan the papers and periodicals for noteworthy topics. Avoid talking about politics, religion, sex and money. Stay away from personal questions and gossip. Focus intsead on topics such as sports, current business news, art, science, local civic news, best-selling books, theatre, films, interesting television shows. You may want to make a list of 'conversational topics' for yourself before an event.
Compliment the host or hostess. Find something nice to say about the food, wine, environment or event. Practice giving and accepting compliments gracefully.
Keep a file or journal. Collect amusing, thought-provoking stories to relate. Write your experiences down. Cut out magazine and newspaper articles, collect quotes. You never know when you may want to draw on these.
Remember names. People love to hear their name, so use a person's name in conversation.
Don't run if you turn a conversation into a disaster. It's a natural instinct to want to make for the door when you have committed a faux pas and said something stupid or horrible. We have all done it at least once. Take a deep breath, find a way to laugh at yourself, admit to the mistake (with a little self-deprecating humor) and stay where you are. You will be respected for your honesty, humility and yes, grace.
Begin and end with conversation. In business dealings don't just jump straight to the nitty gritty. Show an interest in the person you're doing business with. People do business with people they like.
There are few skills more appreciated than the ability to make people feel comfortable through easy, engaging conversation. It is a skill and an art that can be practiced and learned. Make the attempt to treat every person, every conversation with the hospitality you would show such a guest in your house. Remember: every connection, every conversation, is an opportunity.