• Entrepreneurship

Easy ways to start a great conversation

Guest Blogger | June 11, 2012

Jean Lepage, Développement économique – CLD Gatineau, Gatineau, QC, CYBF community partner

Does the idea of walking into a room full of strangers make you nervous? You are not alone! Perhaps with the exception of President Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama, most of the rest of us get butterflies in our stomach when we are facing strangers.

“For many entrepreneurs, networking is their Achille’s heel”, says Dave Howlett, a Toronto-based consultant who specializes in networking and business skills development. To master the art of conversation and maintain the interest of the other party, you can choose from a number of proven techniques. Read on for tips to help you prevent faux pas, blunders and, of course, meetings that you want to forget as soon as possible.

Networking is about establishing personal and professional relationships that are mutually beneficial but to reach this goal, it’s important to start the conversation properly. According to Howlett, after your introduction – “Hi, my name is … Nice to meet you” – most people will use the common and overused question: “So… What brings you to this event?”

Try a different approach – pay them a compliment! Make a flattering comment about their watch, their clothes or anything else they are wearing. You will break the ice and impress them at the same time. However, always be honest and sincere. Nothing makes people flee more quickly than insincerity. Then, try to find common interests. Ask them what their field of expertise is, what they do for fun, what activities they do outside business hours and what they are passionate about. People love to talk about themselves. If you encourage them to do so, they will appreciate you from the start.

Instead of approaching people to sell your product or to find “what you can get from them”, show interest in their problems and suggest solutions. Ask them what challenges their business or industry is facing. Act like a person who listens and knows how to find solutions.

Proudly wear pins and buttons showing your personal interests. For example, Howlett always wear his Toastmasters pin or the one with the Ironman logo. This is often a good conversation starter.

Follow up by sending a hand-written thank you card. “People often delete emails but thank you cards are proudly displayed in offices, making their recipients look like heroes in the eyes of their co-workers”, says Howlett. “Furthermore, these cards will make them smile and think of you each time they will see them.”

This comment makes me think of an ad, taken from a magazine, which was sent to me by mail. A post-it was on top of it, with the following hand-written note: “I thought this would interest you, Mr. Lepage.” This form of communication passes through the filter and reaches the recipient directly.

Good luck networking!