One of the main reasons people attend major conferences like WE19, is for the networking opportunities it provides with various people from the industry. There are multiple ways to build your network. However, a good skill to have when trying to build your network is starting and carrying a conversation. I like to call it “the art of conversation.” Here are some tips on how to master this art.
There are a lot of ways to effectively start a conversation depending on the scenario. Here are some ideas;
- Compliments. This is always a good way to start a conversation. However, you have to be genuine. People can usually tell when the other person is being dishonest.
- Thinking out loud. Say your thoughts out loud, odds are people are thinking the same thing. Here is an example, imagine you are standing in a line to walk in somewhere or sign up for something. One could easily say out loud “wow this line is longer than I thought it would be.” This would probably get the attention of the people behind and in front of you, and they might respond in agreement or disagreement.
- Next, we have the good old-fashioned way of simply saying “hello”, “how are you?”, “what is your name?”, “how is your day going?” You do this with a smile and high energy, and you are good to go.
Okay, so you mustered the courage to say hi or make the first move. What do you do next, so you avoid awkward silence?
- Listen. Listen. Listen. I cannot put more emphasis on this. Notice the conversation starters are not yes/no questions. Listen to the response they give and ask follow-up questions from that. When you ask for someone’s name, you listen for the response and remember it. A good way to do this, is to repeat it multiple times. For example
Person: “Oh, my name is Emma what’s yours?”
Me: “My name is Ozi. So how is your day going Emma?”
Person: “It’s going well, I am so excited for this talk.”
Me: “Emma me too! I’m looking forward to how they’re going to address….”
- It’s not about you. Most people love to talk about themselves, let them. You want to leave the conversation knowing more than what the persons LinkedIn profile says. However, don’t be scared to throw in a few of your accomplishments and aspirations. Here’s how it works. If you say a few but meaningful words about yourself, the person will remember those things. If you spent the entire conversation talking about yourself, the chances that person will sieve through all that you said, and actually remember what makes you unique, is very slim.
- It is not about what you can get from the person. As much as you want to work for XYZ company or get an internship or full-time position right now, remember that you are talking to a person. No one likes to feel used. Approach conversations in a kind and simple manner: who is this person? How do I build a professional relationship with this person?
- You can’t carry all the weight. I know it seems like the conversation depends all on you, but it really doesn’t. It takes two to make a conversation flow. Acknowledging this should relieve you of some of the weight.
- Silence does not have to be awkward. When the conversation goes silent, it’s alright; don’t freak out. Use that opportunity to digest all the person has been telling you and ask follow-up questions later on. Also, use that opportunity to actually eat, if food or snacks were available (hopefully you haven’t been talking with food in your mouth). When there is silence, do not pull out your phone in front of the person.
Just like every good date has to end right, so does your conversation.
- Asking for a Business card or if you can add her on LinkedIn is always a good move.
- Another way is to say a well thought out closing sentence. Here is an example, “Emma, it was so nice to speak to you about… I will….and get back to you on…” There are 4 key things to note here. First, you acknowledged the person by remembering her name. Second, you restated what the entire conversation was about showing that you listened. Third, the use of a future tense “will”, shows you will do something later and not right now in this conversation. Hence, the conversation is coming to an end. Lastly, by stating you will get back to the person on XYZ, you have already provided the conversation starter for the next time you meet the person.
Like most things in life, this too; “The Art of Conversation” will take practice. You don’t have to wait till another SWE conference to get your conversation game on. Look around you, there are a lot of people who could use a good conversation. Is it the person that sits next you in class, or the cashier at Walmart? Everyone could use a good conversation to lighten up their day. Be kind and simple. It’s not about what you can get out of the conversation, but who the person is.