The Art of Conversation

By Bart Graham

Can you imagine an ambivert providing conversation advice?

In my current occupation, I frequently meet with my customers for an average of 20 minutes. Silence during these meetings can be awkward, so I have made it a point to become comfortable around my customers. Fortunately, I have sales experience, which often comes in handy during these interactions.

I have learned over the course of my career what “buzzwords” to say, and I have spent time with my PRSA mentor, Sam, receiving additional guidance and advice on the art of conversation. Sam would say, “I would talk to a statue if it would answer me.” I have witnessed Sam walk up to strangers and talk to them as if he’s known them for years. It is amazing to see him “at work.” And I believe his influence has also rubbed off on me.

As professionals and members of PRSA, we are required to network and have everyday conversations with people we have never met. I would like to share a few of my tips with you.

 1) I mentioned that silence can be awkward. Not always though. Sometimes people just don’t want to talk (including me at times). Don’t force the issue. A “hi,” “bye,” and “how are you doing” may just suffice.

2) Conversations can be started with a question. Ask open ended questions. Good conversation starters for me involve discussing education, where they were born and where they live, and their occupation or hobbies. You can also never go wrong talking about the Florida weather and traffic.

3) I try to avoid politics and religion unless the subject is brought up by my customer. However, I never judge or commit as heated discussions can lead to arguments.

4) Keep asking questions. One question will bring on another question depending on the answer given. Remember, people like talking about themselves.

5) I like to say or do something showing that I am listening. I say “really” a lot.

6) Humor can be your best friend. Silly comments and harmless kidding goes a long way.

7) I talk to my customers as if they were my friends. I want them to feel comfortable talking with me.

8) I try to stay updated on current affairs as these frequently lead to conversation starters.

9) Be a “jack of all trades, master of none.” I know or have heard a little bit about a lot of different things which helps during the conversation.

10) Have a good life story or stories. These can come in handy during the conversation.

Now, I actually look forward to work knowing that I will meet new people.

PRSA Tampa Bay’s Professional Development Day is coming up on Aug. 16. Make it your goal to meet at least one new person at the event using one or more of these conversation tips.

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