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The Art of Conversing

conversationAs a PR practitioner, apart from writing and communications skills, what is that one important skill that we all must master? While you think about the answer, just picture these situations:

1)      Your client and you are early for a media interaction and awaiting the arrival of the journalist, who is supposed to interview your client. You have already briefed your client on the interaction and have also given him feedback on the progress of the account etc. The journo calls up and says that he will be delayed by more 20 minutes. You have no option but to sit along with your client – who is a CEO/MD of a company, what will you do?

2)      Reverse the above situation, the client has not arrived and you are sitting with a journalist, waiting for your client. Again you have already briefed the journalist as well about the company and the client and you still have 20-30 minutes to pass, what you plan to discuss?

3)      The Corp. Comm. head based out of another city, visits your city for media rounds. You have to spend almost a day, taking him/her around the media houses introducing him to relevant journalists. Apart from briefing him about the media and journalist what will you talk the entire day?

These are some of the scenarios that we often come across and you may find yourself in a situation where you may not have much to talk. This happens to the best of us: we’re talking to someone we’ve just met, and the conversation is stalling, we don’t know where to take it, how to keep it going and the silence makes us feel awkward. So coming back to the question, the skill that is required to not only rescue but triumph at such situations is the ‘art of conversing’. It is more important to us as we call ourselves communicators, whose perceived job is to network with media and stakeholders and communicate the messages that our client or company wants us to propagate. But most often we depend on emails and to the point telephonic conversations and whenever we face situations such as above we can’t help but get into an awkward position, where you are thinking what to talk next.

On the other hand you must have met and seen people who can strike a conversation with anyone and make it so interesting to the opposite person that he becomes their lifetime friend and fan. How do they do that time and again? Are they naturally talented or there is some secret formula to attract people’s attention towards them? With my inquisitiveness to demystify this mystery I again surrendered to god Google, who like always blessed me with some interesting insights that I can share with you today.

So here are some Do’s and Don’ts that can help you have interesting conversations with your clients, journalists, peers, bosses etc., apart from your regular work related discussions.

DOs

  • Be interested in everything, or in as many things as you can manage and the easiest way to learn interesting things is by reading as widely as you can. (Something that I have been repeatedly saying in my articles). Reading will help you come up interesting topics of conversations in almost every situation, even the three listed above. The more you know, the more you can engage people in conversations. You may discover that the more widely you read, the easier it is to hold conversations, even at casual and intimate level. Talking interesting things at the right time helps you build your own brand value; people will start perceiving you as an intelligent person, who has his own opinion on variety of topics.  Knowledge is the social fodder that feeds today’s information-driven world, and knowledge is best earned by reading.
  • Do some basic research on the person and the possible topics on which you can have conversations.
  • Listen: Learn to really listen when someone is talking. When you listen attentively, you’ll pick up on loads of potential paths in the conversation.
  • Deliver what you want to say in the right manner. One of the most important things in a conversation is not only what you say, but how you say it. A change in these habits can make a big difference since your voice and body language is a vital part of communication. Some things to think about:
    • Slowing down. When you get excited about something it’s easy to start talking faster and faster. Try and slow down. It will make it much easier for people to listen and for you actually get what you are saying across to them.
    • Speaking up. Don’t be afraid to talk as loud as you need to for people to hear you.
    • Speaking clearly. Don’t mumble.
    • Speak with emotion. No one listens for that long if you speak with a monotone voice. Let your feelings be reflected in your voice.
    • Using pauses. Slowing down your talking plus adding a small pause between thoughts or sentences creates a bit of tension and anticipation. People will start to listen more attentively to what you’re saying.
    • Learn a bit about improving your body language as it can make your delivery a lot more effective.
  • Open your mind as well as your eyes. Develop your observational skills to pick up interesting stuff in your surroundings to talk about. Develop your personal knowledge-bank by expanding your view of interesting things in the world.

DON’Ts

  • Don’t ask too many questions the conversation can feel like a bit of an interrogation.
  • Don’t interrupt someone when they are telling some anecdote or their view on what you are discussing to divert the attention back to yourself. Don’t hijack their story before it’s finished to share your best anecdote. Find a balance between listening and talking.
  • Avoid arguing and having to being right about every topic. Often a conversation is not really a discussion. It’s a more of a way to keep a good mood going. No one will be that impressed if you “win” every conversation. Instead just sit back, relax and help keep the good feelings going.
  • Avoid gossip, sex, religion and politics related topics, these topics are very personal
  • Avoid Being boring: Don’t prattle on about your new car for 10 minutes oblivious to your surroundings. Always be prepared to drop a subject when you start to bore people. Or when everyone is getting bored and the topic is starting to run out of steam.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to keep a conversation going no matter what. If you see the person you’re talking to is simply refusing to participate in the conversation and be sociable, you can end the conversation politely.

However, I believe you have the responsibility to at least try and make a conversation work. And if you do this well, you will significantly be able to make great friends and influence people. You have to practice making conversations if you want to be good. “Building confidence is like learning to swing a golf club. It boils down to knowing what the critical skills are and practicing them.

Of course, in order to practice this you have to open yourself up for some awkward situations. But there is no way to grow without being awkward at first, so try it. It feels good to be able to find the interesting thing about anyone you talk with. I find the more confident I am in my ability to do this, the more open I am to the whole world. After consistently practicing this, I have a strong belief that every individual has something to offer if one can just get the get the fortitude to initiate the conversation.

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