October has been a really good month for me. I learned quite a bit this month, I made some solid decisions and I went on a relaxing holiday! Part of the result of my learning is that I’m more confident about starting conversation with important people.
It’s rather embarrassing but when I have an opportunity to chat informally with important people e.g. a CEO or celebrity etc, I cannot for the life of me think of anything to say! I’m normally really chatty with people I know and even those I don’t know but if I was ever in an elevator with Bill Gates, I’d totally freeze up! What’s up with that? I’ve often heard people talk about the “elevator pitch” and how everyone has something like 10 seconds to describe themselves in a way that sells. I swallow when I hear that. There! My secret is out. I’ve heard one of my managers who noticed this describe me as “shy” – laughable, I know. Anyway, I think I’m on my way to overcoming this weakness of mine. I just need to breathe (in a non-obvious way, of course) and then think of something intelligent to say, right? Oh dear.
I once wrote an article on LinkedIn titled, “How to Befriend Almost Anyone At Work”. It’s more for building relationships with colleagues. For me, building rapport with people that I feel are on my level is pretty easy. Some executives can be easy to start a conversation with. They make it seamless and relaxed but more and more, executives- and indeed anyone in an important position in the corporate world – are getting inundated as pressure grows to improve business performance. They just don’t have the time or patience to make it easy. This is why I think I need to try harder (since I unfortunately care about this kind of thing!) even if the executive gives me little or nothing to go on. Gulp.The fortunate thing is that a guy called Bernard Marr recently wrote an article, “How to Start a Conversation with Absolutely Anyone”. It is a great guide and I felt a glimmer of hope after I read it. Unlike my article, it is more about what to SAY or bring up rather than how to befriend someone. Afterall, I’m unlikely to become Bill Gates’ best friend just because I impressed him with a interesting conversation in an elevator. Well, maybe.
Some of what Bernard mentions are (in my own wacky words):
- Looking for something in the environment to talk about e.g. the food, the guests, the venue
- Skipping small talk – don’t mention the weather for goodness sake, unless of course there’s a hurricane outside and you are under the table together. I’d imagine it would seem insensitive not to mention it!
- Ask open ended questions. If you ask yes or no questions then you’ll get a “yes” or a “no”. At this stage, the only way to get more is to ask “why?” There’s only so many times you can ask why before you sound like a 3-year old on speed.
And so on. The article is worth reading if this stuff is of interest to you.
Do you have any other tips for starting conversations? I’d love to hear them in the comments.