Do you dread receptions, banquets, and other business-related social events? Do you struggle to make meaningful, long-term connections at work? You’re not alone. Many of us are apprehensive about these situations, because most of us either loathe entering rooms where we don’t know anyone or dislike spending time with people we don’t know well. With a little practice and use of these helpful tips, you’ll be building relationships one conversation at a time.
- Introduce and initiate. Go ahead and initiate with a hello! Even if you recognize, or slightly know someone, re-introduce yourself. By taking ownership and initiating a conversation, you will feel more in control to drive the direction of the exchange.
- 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 health care field?”
- Express interest and make an effort. You have to be interested if you want to be interesting. Part of your job as a convers-ee 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 in the marketing department, ask what she’s working on, 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.
- Overcome pregnant 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 Mexico before?” Use pauses as an opportunity to compliment your international counterpart. Try, “I’m impressed with what you’re doing for our Asian 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.
- Establish personal boundaries. It is 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 husbands are attorneys, but evaluate the value of the subject matter and its impact on the rapport. If the dialogue gets too sidetracked 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 maximize the content of the conversation.
- 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!
About the Author:
Debra Fine is a former engineer who developed her programs to teach technically oriented professionals conversational skills and business networking techniques. Debra’s programs are held regularly for Fortune 500 firms as well as financial, legal, health care, real estate, government, engineering and entrepreneurial organizations. Her best selling book The Fine Art of Small Talk (Hyperion) was published to excellent reviews and feature stories in USA Today, Entrepreneur Magazine and The Chicago Tribune. Debra’s new book The Fine Art of the Big Talk focuses on winning clients, delivering great presentations and solving conflicts in the workplace. Her recent media appearances include the Today Show, the Early Show, CNN and NPR Morning Edition. Additional information about Debra can be viewed at www.DebraFine.com.
Debra Fine is the Keynote Speaker at WXW’s dynamic, all-day May Forum for women business leaders on Friday, May 20th. Register before Friday, May 6th to receive the early bird discount!