By DEBRA FINE
Do you avoid talking to people in business settings? Do you dread receptions, banquets, and other business-related social events? Do you struggle to make meaningful, long-term connections with your front line managers or franchisors?
You’re not alone. Many of us are apprehensive about these situations, because most of us either hate entering rooms where we don’t know anyone or hate spending time with people we don’t know well.
With a little practice and use of these helpful tips, you’ll be conversing at the water cooler effortlessly.
1. Introduce and initiate
Go ahead and initiate with a hello! Even if you recognise, or slightly know someone, re-introduce yourself. Be aware of how he introduces himself (you may know him as Charles, but maybe he goes by Chuck) and use his name throughout your interaction. This will help you remember it in the long run and also establish a personal connection.
By taking ownership and initiating a conversation, you will feel more in control to drive the direction of the exchange.
2. Use an icebreaker
An icebreaker not only provides a way to meet new people, but also helps jumpstart conversations. For example, using an icebreaker such as “Tell me about the type of work your firm is involved in” instead of simply saying hello can lead to a fruitful conversation, rather than an uncomfortable silence.
Some other valuable icebreakers you might use are:
- “Bring me up to date on your latest project.”
- “What do you find to be the most enjoyable aspect of your job?”
- “Tell me about your history with ______.”
- “How did you come to find yourself in the healthcare field?”
3. Express interest and make an effort
You have to be interested if you want to be interesting.Part of your job as a ‘conversee’ is to get the other person to talk. Listen to what your conversational partner is saying and ask relevant follow-up questions. Take cues from them and make a mental list of questions you can ask to get them to elaborate.
If you’re talking to Mary from the marketing department, ask what she’s working on and what the new marketing strategies are. This is a great way to brainstorm about future projects, find out about potential clients or build a lasting business relationship.
That being said, be sure not to ask so many questions that you come off as an interrogator. There should be a flow and balance when communicating.
4. Find common ground
Whether you’re chatting with a new co-worker or a business function speaker, it’s important to stay on a related topic. As long as you stay on a subject you are both familiar with – like your specific field or the day’s event – you’ll be able to communicate easily.
Why are you in the setting you’re in? Did you find today’s seminar helpful? Wasn’t the memo this week interesting? Avoid controversial topics such as politics, religion, personal relationships and family issues, and stick to what you both know is applicable.
5. Overcome awkward pauses
It’s up to you to keep the conversation going if there are some uncomfortable pauses. Use your setting for ideas to reinvigorate the discussion. Say, “It’s great having our sales conference in a warm, tropical place. Have you been to Singapore before?”
Use pauses as an opportunity to compliment your international counterpart. Try, “I’m impressed with what you’re doing for our business. You’ve made some huge improvements in our technology department over there.” This is also a great time to interject with any material you’ve previously prepared.
6. Establish personal boundaries
It’s fine if you want to let someone know where you went to college or how many children you have, but be mindful of how much personal information you provide. Sure, your relationship could benefit if you find out both your wives are attorneys, but evaluate the value of the subject matter and its impact on the rapport.
If the dialogue gets too side-tracked into personal details, the business-networking angle can become lost. Revealing too many personal details in a business setting can be inappropriate. Use your best judgment to maximise the content of the conversation.
7. Exit thoughtfully
In many business situations, it’s important to make contact with several people and move around a room. And, sometimes there is just a good time to move on.
Find an appropriate point in the conversation to make an exit. Say, “I really enjoyed talking to you about today’s meeting. I have your card and I’ll be in touch with you this week so we can discuss it further.”
Make a plan that is actionable and give a specific time when you’ll follow up. Most importantly, if you say you’re going to do something, do it!
Debra Fine is a USA-based keynote speaker, trainer and bestselling author of The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills – and Leave a Positive Impression (Hachette). What are some of your tips for business networking? Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.