Networking: The Art of Conversation

I attended a business conference last month and had the opportunity of meeting and speaking with a number of entrepreneurs and business people. During the course of the conference one of the moderators posed a question to everyone. He asked, “what would you say if you were alone with Femi Otedola in a lift?” Obviously, most of us were lost for words. What would we say if we were stuck in a lift with one of the most powerful businessmen in Nigeria?

He went on to explain that he wanted us to realize that, as entrepreneurs, we may come across opportunities to make powerful connections without prior preparation. A lot of the time it is for a very brief minute. There's no time to gather your thoughts. But you can't just blurt out your idea either - you don’t want to come off as needy. And you definitely don’t want to be just like every other person. What you want is to leave a lasting impression, to transform a chance encounter into a memorable one. After all, what's the point of the conversation if you're forgotten within a few minutes or hours?

As entrepreneurs, networking is crucial for business growth, and because these opportunities could come at any time, we need to be like the boy scouts: Always prepared. You could be at a seminar, at a networking event, onboard a plane, or even at your local supermarket. That's why it's crucial that we cultivate the art of meaningful conversation and have it become second nature.

Let’s take a look at some great ways we can engage in memorable conversation:


1. Let small talk work for you

For some of us, small talk can be annoying and pointless. But the truth is, we really can’t do without it. It is where all things start, and if you want to get anywhere with someone you need to get comfortable talking about mundane things. You often can’t just jump into talking about business right off the bat. You have to find a way to blend your small talk with something that will keep the other person interested. For example you may start with a light compliment “Hi, I love your wristwatch, is that a Patek Phillipe?” This could lead to a potential conversation about wristwatches and the finer things in life. Before you know it you’re talking and laughing about ideas and you can eventually ease into business talk.


2. Talk about ideas

There's something very refreshing about having a conversation with someone and exchanging ideas and concepts. When you meet other entrepreneurs, the best way to have a meaningful conversation with them is to talk about some of the developments in your industry. You can go further by asking for their opinions. Throw in an unusual angle here and there, and soon they'll want to spend more time speaking with you and hearing your unique view. And even if they don't want to, you'll definitely be remembered!


3. Mirror sparingly

It's true that one of the most effective methods of communication is to mirror the other person (i.e. repeat what they say and/or agree with them). But you have to take care not to kill the conversation by just mirroring and not contributing anything. Take this conversation for instance:

Kunle: "This is a really beautiful building isn’t it?”

Seun: "Yeah, it's great.”

That conversation is going nowhere. But consider this:

Kunle: "This is a really beautiful building isn’t it?”

Seun: "Absolutely. I think they could have made it a bit more wheelchair friendly, though.”

This opens up the conversation and perhaps could lead to a discussion about architecture and a host of other topics. And if Seun is an architect or interior designer, it's a great way to start talking business, and maybe score a contract from Kunle.


4. Be a problem solver

 A great (and memorable conversation) is one that adds value. When you’re conversing with other entrepreneurs you have to be able to respond with creative input. It's not enough to just nod your head or disagree - try to suggest solutions to whatever problems that are mentioned. Your solution might be a product or service that you offer, an anecdote with a helpful lesson, or even an introduction to someone who can be of help. If you add value to someone's life (or business), they're more likely to keep you around.


Why don't you try out some of these tips and let us know how it goes? Better yet, come to Jelly next week and give it a go. Who knows, you may just end up with a very valuable partnership. Got any other tips? Share them in the comments below.

Further Reading:  How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere by Larry King