It’s easy to make conversation – well isn’t it? Yes it can be easy to have a conversation with our best friend, with our family, with people we know. However, it doesn’t seem quite so easy when we are in a business situation, a dinner, or at a network meeting or at a conference or event when we don’t know most of the people.
So why is conversation important? Does it really matter if you don’t know how to start a conversation, how to conduct small talk, how to keep conversation going or even how to end a conversation. Well yes it does matter.
Conversation is part of communication and communication and speaking underpins everything you do in business. Mastering the art of conversation will give you the skills to connect with your clients, to grow your business, to enhance your staff and team skills, to be the success you want to be as an entrepreneur, in your career and in your personal life. If you want to get your message across about your product or service you need to add good conversation skills to your business strategies.
Conversation and small talk it the best way to start building relationships, to start building the knowing, liking and trusting that is a necessary ingredient to business.
The next time you are facing the daunting task of having a conversation think about these tips:
1. Remember if you are feeling unsure on how to start a conversation then it is very likely that the other person is having a similar problem. You are not alone.
2. Introduce yourself and ask questions. Simply say Hi and then ask a question.
3. Ask a question: prepare some topics before. It may be around the event, about the speakers, about their business, about them.
4. Use open questions where possible. If you use a closed question or are asked a closed question be prepared to expand on the answer.
5. Open questions allow them to talk – you talk less. They show you are interested in them and it gives you more information to continue the conversation.
6. Most importantly listen. The key to the art of conversation is not in the talking, but in the listening.
7. The conversation has patterns: speaking, switching and listening. Take your turn. A conversation is a group project, with each person weaving in their contribution here and there. It’s no time for monologues. If you notice that you have talked for a few minutes without any questions, comments, or general signs of life from other people, you are monopolising the conversation – give someone else a chance to speak.
8. If you want the other person to feel comfortable you need to send them positive messages – and not just verbally. Your face needs to reflect your interest in talking to this person – smiling indicates liking and an absence of threat – and looking into the other’s eyes shows you are genuinely interested; but be sensitive to cultural differences.
Supportive gestures like nodding when the other is speaking will demonstrate that you are listening and encourage their continued participation. When it is your turn to speak make sure that you speak clearly and slightly slower than normal. Nerves often make our voice shrill and our speech too fast.
9. Finish the conversation. Knowing how to end the conversation is a great skill to learn. Start by edging and turning very slightly away from the person. Break eye contact deliberately; if you have been called look to that person, if it is getting late look towards the door, if you just need to get away look to someone else. Follow this with holding out your hand for a final handshake and deliver your message. There are some other techniques you can use to finish that conversation which will be included in the next blog post.
Meanwhile enjoy your conversations – practice the techniques outlined in this post and remember to work on your confidence. Breathe and don’t forget you are not alone the other person is probably just as unsure and nervous as you are.
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