Richard Maun – How To Start A Conversation

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How To Start A Conversation

14 November 2011

This isn't a cup of tea... it's a conversation starter!

A client asked me how to start a conversation and it reminded me that it’s often easier to talk about networking than it is to go and do it. Starting conversations is easy, when you have prepared a couple of opening gambits. These can include:

A) You smile, profer your hand for a fellow networker to shake and introduce yourself. You can then ask them: Have you had a busy day? (Or do you have a busy day to look forward to?). These are closed questions and you can bet they’ll be answered with a ‘Yes’. Then you can follow up with an ‘open’ conversation starter such as: And what does a busy day look like for you?

B) Recognise that people like to begin a conversation with safe ‘Rituals’ such as organising drinks and asking how you are? Answer: Fine. (This is safe and predictable… if you want to scramble their brain then firmly clasp their arm and thank them for their concern, before talking wildly about your troubles). After a Ritual introduction people are happy to do some ‘Pastiming’. This is where we chat about safe subjects, such as the weather, the journey to the meeting, if they watched a popular TV programme and so on. Pastiming requires more thought than Ritual and there’s more risk involved (perhaps in disclosing you watch the Antiques Roadshow) and with a few easy questions you can soon find yourself in the flow of a productive conversation.

Ritual and Pastiming are two TA terms that relate to Time Structuring… which is a model that helps us to work out where we are in a conversation. It’s only once we’ve made a friend or built some rapport that we can move up to ‘Activity’ and get down to business.

And a tip that I often offer is simply to learn five good questions that are easy for people to answer. If you’re stressed then it’s simpler to just use rote learning to get a conversation started, rather than having the burden of thinking in the moment! Suggestions include:

1) How long have you done that?

2) How did you get started?

3) What trends are there in your industry?

4) What mistakes do people tend to make when they start out?

5) What do you look for in a client?

Preparation is the key and it’s okay to rehearse your questions on the journey, to make sure you have them up and running in your head. That’s what I do!

And remember… people like to be listened to, so if you’re doing more nodding and less talking, the other person will feel like it’s a really great conversation.

Happy chatting!

There are lots more tips to improve our people skills in the book How To Keep Your Job. Have you read it yet?

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