published by the Nashville Business Journal
Knowing how to carry on an effective conversation is essential to building your business network. This can be very challenging for some leaders who tend to be shy in social situations. But the best way to overcome any fear is to face it, over and over. Eventually you will become desensitized to the anxiety.
So to become a good conversationalist, you’ve got to show up regularly and come prepared. You might be surprised at how quickly the respect you build by taking the initiative to learn to converse effectively can overcome what you thought was shyness. I had to learn this myself. I used to be very timid when speaking in front of a group, but I knew that I had to master this essential skill if I was to become a successful business leader. I had to force myself into those situations, and over time I developed confidence. Now I regularly speak in front of the public.
Here are some other tips to help you become a stronger communicator:
1. Develop a handful of questions—conversation starters—that you can use in any situation. “How is your business going?” is a good one since most people like to boast about successes. In more social situations, “How is your family?” will quickly elicit conversation—maybe more lengthy than you wanted. The point is to keep a few go-to questions in your pocket.
2. Listen carefully and ask good questions. Stay focused on what a person is saying—don’t let your eyes or your mind wander. If you’re engaged in a real conversation it’s easy to drill down further on the subject by asking follow-up questions. Plus, it’s always better to spend more time on one topic than bounce from one topic to another. One more reminder that may sound counterintuitive: People like to talk about themselves; so the better your questioning skills are the more people will remember you.
3. Show up prepared. When you are going to a meeting or event, make sure you study up on the subject so you can speak with confidence when some asks you a question. In addition, consider each event a learning opportunity and bring some questions about what you would like to learn most. I like to review agendas and attendance lists ahead of time. This helps me decide what topics might be of interest and whom I’d like to meet with so I can get the most out of an industry event.
Communication is the most essential leadership skill, and basic conversation is the root of verbal communication. Like all other skills in life, the more you practice the better you will perform in this area. To some degree, your success is always predicated on how others see you—so continue to polish those communication skills!