Friday, December 09, 2005

On Becoming a Better Conversationalist

Dave had an interesting comment to a recent post titled, "Key Networking Skill: Saying Goodbye" where he looked at the notion of saying goodbye from the perspective of someone being said goodbye to:

"The two problems with being socially inept," he wrote, "are (a) people are always using clever ways to stop talking to you and (b) you don't realize its happening until they've finished doing it."

To be clear, my post was not about using "clever ways" to stop talking to socially inept people. It was about taking care of your own needs to move on without being outrageously impolite.

But let's flip the coin. What if, as Dave implies, the goal is to become more "ept" at social interactions, that is, better at the whole small-talk thing. Well, one of the best books on the subject is How to Work a Room, by Susan Roane. Here's a few excerpts that may be of help:
  • Remedy #1: Redefine the Term "Stranger" - Look for what you have in common with people at an event. This is the planning that helps you feel more comfortable and more prepared. These common interests can be the basis for conversation.
  • Remedy #2: Practice a Self-Introduction - A good introduction simply includes your name and something about yourself so you can establish what you have in common with other people at the event. It only has to be 8-to-10 seconds long.
  • Remedy #3: Move from "Guest" Behavior to "Host" Behavior - "Hosts" are concerned with the comfort of others and actively contribute to that comfort. "Guests" wait for someone to take their coats, offer then a drink, and introduce them around the room.

Other tips:

  • Say something ... Anything - Don't wait; initiate. Take the risk. Listen with interest. Smile and make eye contact.
  • Try strategies that feel comfortable - Read nametags; Go with a buddy; Walk up to - and start talking with - people standing by themselves; Smile; Ask questions. Be genuinely curious about who people are and what they have to say.
  • Avoid common crutches - Do not arrive too late. Don't leave too early. Don't drink too much. Don't gorge at the buffet table. Don't misuse the buddy system by joining yourselves at the hip.

I think that just deciding that this is something you're going to learn to do - and become comfortable in doing - is 90% of the work. And all you need to do that is simply decide that it's important enough to you to learn how. From there, (1) start noticing what others say and do - and how it works; (2) practice doing some of what works yourself; (3) stay conscious and purposeful about your learning; (4) congratulate yourself for stepping up to the challenge!

Keep me posted as to your progress.

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Anonymous Erin Banister said...

You've got very valid points here, Barry - but I'd add humor to the list of tips.

Many people, when faced with a large group of people, get very introspective and fearful of the "what if's". ("What if they don't like me?" "What if I have broccoli in my teeth?" "What if everything that comes out of my mouth sounds like alien jibberish?")

The more lighthearted you are, the happier you'll be. The happier you are, the more people you'll attract. Etc.

Humor is my core strategy at a networking event - who doesn't like to laugh?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 10:10:00 PM CST  

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