How to start a conversation and keep it going.
by John Buckley
I’ve started these messages with “I’m a sales guy so I’ve got this down pat!” If I said that here, I’d be lying. Very few people are truly comfortable walking into a room full of strangers. I’m not. I’m better than I used to be because I work at it. But it still isn’t easy.
Some people are Unconscious Competents (UC, the final step in the learning process we talked about a few weeks ago) at ease with making idle chit chat sustainable, engaging and functional. Maybe they grew up with it. Maybe they invested the 10,000 hours necessary to completely master a complex skill as Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Outliers. Meaningful conversation is a complex skill indeed. These UCs seem to have the tools of easy conversation thoroughly internalized; they don’t even have to think about a “process”. They are the people we are all secretly envious of.
The good news is that there is a way to get good at conversation with new acquaintances. Who can show you the way? Me? Oh no. How about Dale Carnegie. He’s been teaching people How to Win Friends and Influence People since 1936. People he taught, taught other people (etc.) who keep the original concepts alive and up-to-date. Originally written more than seventy-five years ago, the latest edition of Carnegie’s book is called How to Win Friends and Influence People for the Digital Age.
The Dale Carnegie Institute, as the keepers of his flame, teach online and in-person classes on a broad swath of subjects from the basic How to Win Friends…, to sales, to leadership and many others. Some are one day workshops, others are weeks long, indepth programs. They all hinge on effective communication.
I went to a Dale Carnegie workshop lead by Mary Lucnik-Garcia that told about the Conversation Stack. Mary led us through an exercise to build a conversation stack for another attendee whom we’d just met. With just a little effort, it makes you come across like Cary Grant/George Clooney/Ryan Gosling. (Does that cover the generations?) While each step is in the book, they aren’t brought together as a single complete tool. That is done well in this worshop. The trainers at the Dale Carnegie Institute work with you to make sure your conversation stack is sturdy and genuine. In the meantime, the following link will give you a good cheat sheet. Read it and this silly graphic will make sense.
Every library and bookstore in the world has Dale Carnegie’s books. There is even an app for that! In Chicago, you can reach the Dale Carnegie Institute at 630-390-6050. (Yes, I am plugging them! They deserve it.)
While it’s easy to learn the basics, if you invest the time and effort (it probably doesn’t really take 10,000 hours), you can become the envy of the room.
Questions, comments, or share your personal experiences below in the comments.
John Buckley is a senior sales and marketing professional with experience in lead generation, business development, account management, sales training and support, and customer service in technology related businesses and services.