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The Art of Conversation

Written by Ian Cooper

How To Get The Most Out Of Conferences; Events; Business And Social Situations.

A huge amount of money is spent every year by organisations all over the world, running or sending people to conferences and business events. Unfortunately, they don’t always get the return that they would like on their investment. Yes, people attend events to improve and maintain their professional know-how on various topics, but a major corporate desire that drives this sector is the opportunity to network, make valuable new contacts and build relationships.

With that in mind, let me share a short story.
A while back I was invited to attend an internal business development meeting for a company who wanted their people to attend conferences; seminars; trade shows; exhibitions and other social and professional events, in order to ‘drum up new business contacts for the organization.’. One director, who was sitting next to me whispered in my ear … “I find these events frustrating because when I get there, I don’t really know what to do, who to talk to, in order to network and build contacts”.

Over many years of talking to people and helping them with this subject, I have found that this feeling and attitude is actually the ‘norm’ and not the exception.

If you stop and think about it, it is quite bizarre that everyone is expected to be naturally good at mixing in these sort of situations. Rarely is any training given, yet with some simple strategies and techniques, confidence grows and results can massively improve.

For several years I have been providing anecdotal, entertaining and thought-provoking presentations on this topic to help oil the wheels of business conversation and I have even written about it in my various books. Here are just a few very brief tips to stimulate some initial thoughts:

At conferences and business events, most people feel like you
You should know that around 97% of people going to conferences, business and social events use words like ‘apprehensive’ or ‘nervous’ to describe how they feel, both before and during the event. Remember this when you’re looking around the room and everybody else seems to be having a wonderfully relaxed time.

Build rapport through small talk
I have often heard people say, “I hate small talk”. However, the key to a good conversation is the ability to ask good questions and be a good and interested listener. However trite and intangible this may seem, your aim is to find personal common ground with other people. This is, of course, achieved mainly through small talk. Remember, small talk is the foreplay of a conversational relationship! Keep it simple and focus your interest on the person you are talking to rather than just yourself.

Avoid hard sell in business networking situations
I’ve often seen people pushing their way through crowds at a business conference, or event handing out brochures and business cards like hungry predators treating other delegates and guests like commercial prey.

Not only is this not a good strategy, it is positively counterproductive. In the vast majority of situations, it is unlikely that anyone is going to do business with you, or even want to chat properly until they like and trust you first.

Play conversational tennis
When someone asks you a question, don’t just give one word or short answers. Give a proper response and always then ask an appropriately open mirrored question back, that gets them chatting. Good conversations usually involve turn taking. Each question and response leads to the likelihood of the two people establishing something in common.

Master the art of conversation … there is lots to learn ….

What if you or your teams knew:

• How to prepare for a conference or event
• How to spot and create business opportunities out of social conversations
• The conversational problems and traps to avoid
• How to focus on the social and let the business take care of itself!
• How to influence people to want to get to know you better
• The two golden rules of making conversation.
• The different types of listeners!
• Who should you talk to?
• How to break the ice
• How to ask questions
• How to remember names? How long does it take you to forget someone’s name?
• The aim of the conversation!
• Great topics for conversation.
• The topics to avoid.
• How to get others to ask you the questions you want.
• How to get away from time-wasting bores
• How to follow up and build on relationships.
• How to turn the social into business.

The bottom line is that these personal skills produce results, new valuable business connections and makes an event less stressful and much more enjoyable to attend. One of the oldest clichés in business development is that, people buy people first. It is a skill that can be improved.

Professor and speaker Ian Cooper has written 16 books and is published in 56 countries. He is well known for his entertaining and pragmatic style and for his down to earth, non-academic and anecdotal approach.


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