The Art of Being a Great Conversationalist

Do you attend networking events? How comfortable are you with making conversation with people you don’t know? It is definitely a skill that needs to be developed; easier for some than others.

When I have attended networking events, people seem to fall into a few categories: 

  • The celebrity. There are always a few people that everyone seems to know and they know everyone. Like Norm, from Cheers, they almost shout their name when the person walks in the room. They don’t have to work at conversation because people are clamoring to talk with them.
  • The eater. These people tend to be there for the free appetizers and never stray far from the food/drink areas. They might engage in conversation as others come up to the table, but they aren’t really actively seeking out people in the room.
  • The collector. They are walking around the room trying to gather an many business cards as possible. “Hi how are you. Here’s my card, do you have one?” Great. Nice to meet you.” They seem almost more interested in the business card than the person handing it to them and any conversation is very minimal and stays on the surface.
  • The worker. These tend to be shy people who offer to help the event planners even if they aren’t part of the committee so they can say they attended the event but don’t really feel comfortable interacting with others.
  • The wall flower. These are people who come late, enter the room and take the closest chair and avoid eye contact. They’ll speak when spoken to but truly have no interest in seeking out any conversation. They might be at the event because their boss required it but they are truly not comfortable with conversation.
  • The networker. This is a person who understands the value of making a few, purposeful connections. They take the time to learn about the person they are talking with and learn about their business and ideal prospect so they might help by referring a potential client later on.

Okay, so these are gross over simplified descriptions but you get the idea. There are people comfortable making conversation and those that aren’t.  So which are you?

Traits of a Great Conversationalist

There are a few simple things that most people comfortable with genuine conversation possess:

  • They make eye contact and smile.
  • They are great listeners.
  • They ask open ended questions.
  • They engage the other person in a conversation about what they do for their customers, not just what their title is.
  • They ask follow up questions which demonstrates interest and great listening skills.
  • They help to put the other person at ease.

In an article from PsychCentral entitled The Art of Conversation is a Skill not An Art, the author shares these thoughts:

  • Develop your sense of humor. Begin taking note of the things that make you laugh. Pay attention to what others find humorous. You don’t have to be particularly quick-witted or a great storyteller in order to make others laugh. In fact, some of the funniest (and safest) material is that which is self-deprecating. As a side benefit this approach lets your listener know that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Brush up on current events. Even with limited time, you can have a cursory knowledge of what’s happening in the world. Subscribe to a weekly news magazine or at least skim the headlines of a daily paper. You can even catch the news online these days! You don’t have to be an expert in order to casually refer to something that is newsworthy.
  • Be a bearer of good tidings. Keep your comments upbeat and enthusiastic. People are instinctively drawn to positive conversation. And notice how quickly they will excuse themselves if you begin discussing your current health problems!
  • Keep your own comments short and to the point. No one is interested in hearing you drone on about your own opinions or achievements. Brevity and humility go a long way in social situations.

Great advice. Being a good conversationalist will help you be remembered for next time. It is a skill and the more you practice the more comfortable it will become.

One final note from the article 7 Tips for Being Smooth, here are a few tips for ending a conversation:

  • Arrangements: Talk of the Next rings the knell for Now.
  • Any statement starting “Finally,” “Lastly”: Suggests an agenda is nigh complete.
  • Satisfied Customer: A labeling comment to convey a job has been ticked off the list, “Well, I just wanted to check everything was okay.”
  • Farewell by implication: Pre-goodbye goodbyes: passing regards to the wife, etc.
  • Past tense: To kill the Now without committing to future encounters, say “It was great seeing you again,” “This was fun.”
  • Time’s winged chariot hurrying near: That oh-so-pressing world you must be getting on with, or the missus will kill you, or the shops will have run out of Christmas trees, or the kids will be starving…
  • Mustn’t keep you: To suggest that you’re halting the other person’s day is polite…