Whether you love or hate networking, there’s no doubting the importance of face-to-face interactions. Even in our digital world, knowing the art of the conversation is key to building strong relationships. Being a good conversationalist can help you make a lasting impression. Whether you’re engaging in small talk at a networking event, or engaged in an intense negotiation, how you communicate with others will determine the outcome.
Follow these five tips to improve your conversations at your next event:
1. Change your mind-set going in
Going into a situation where you will need to speak with people can be nerve-racking. Mara Goldberg, a conflict management specialist and cofounder of Marigold Mediation, is no stranger to tense situations. She says setting an intention for your networking event can help you to become a better conversationalist. “Go into the event with the mind-set of, ‘I am curious and I want to learn more about other people,’ rather than going into it with the mind-set of, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to talk about myself a lot.'”
2. Listen with intent
It may seem counterintuitive, but the best conversationalists aren’t those who always have witty things to say, but are those who are genuine listeners. Communications specialist Sasha Quintana, cofounder of Chatter Republic, says good listeners don’t just listen with their ears, but with their whole body. They lean into the conversation, establish eye contact, and provide their undivided attention to the person they’re speaking with.
Being a good listener also means that you’re not crafting your response as the person is speaking. “Too often we find ourselves thinking ahead to what we want to say next, not what the person we’re speaking with is saying,” says Quintana. Stay in the moment, giving the other person your full attention, and you’ll be sure to have a more meaningful conversation.
3. Ask open-ended questions
“Great conversationalists know that communication is a dance,” says Quintana. Look for commonalities between you and the person you’re speaking with. Open-ended questions, those that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer, are the best type of questions to ask if you’re looking to establish common ground. Asking, “Where are you from?” “How long have you been in the industry?” and “What did you think of that speaker?” are great starting points. Just be careful not to overdo your questioning. You don’t want the other person to feel like they’re being interrogated.
4. Avoid oversharing about yourself
While it’s important to share information about yourself in the conversation, speaking less than the other person allows you to learn more about them and engages them more in the conversation. Keep your personal anecdotes short and sweet, focusing more on the other person’s stories than your own. To find out if you’re speaking too much, try leaving out some details of the story, teasing the other person to see if they’re really interested in hearing more. If they don’t respond, turn the focus of the conversation to something else that might engage them more.
5. Check in with yourself
Know where you stand on the introvert-extrovert spectrum and regularly check in with yourself during the conversation. Goldberg says while introverts tend to be great listeners but struggle to share information about themselves, extroverts tend to overshare and not listen as well. Knowing your tendencies will help you to know what to look for. If you’re an extrovert, ask yourself whether there’s an imbalance in the conversation. If you’re talking too much, try to shift the focus on asking more questions. If you’re an introvert, ask yourself whether you’re speaking enough and giving the other person enough information about yourself to help them feel connected to you. A good conversation should be a give-and-take of information, like a ping-pong game. If the ball stays on one side of the court for too long, both parties will soon lose interest in the game and move on.