Some people are just GREAT conversationalists. Period. They can talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere about any topic. And maybe it's because they're funny, interesting, outgoing, brilliant, up with the news, ask great questions, listen attentively and the like.
But effective, engaging conversation also stems from preparation.
Last week I attended a seminar hosted by my friend Dale Furtwengler. One of his key points was called "Get An Eclectic Education." Good point. I firmly believe in this idea. Because if you read, experience and expose yourself to stuff you wouldn't normally take an interest in, you will more easily be able to take an interest in other people when they talk about that stuff. Especially customers.
So Dale got me thinking: What prepratory steps can people take to become a more engaging conversationalist? Here are five of them...
Do the Magazine Dance
Spend an hour a month at Borders reading different magazines. Check out a few titles you wouldn't normally grab. If you're a man, read Comso. If you're a woman, read Maxim. If you're in your 50's, read Seventeen. If you're 17, read Parenting. Then, when you meet someone with whom you have nothing in common, it'll be far easier to relate to him since you've read his language.
Go Where You Don't Fit In
About two months ago I went to a bar called The Creepy Crawl to support a friend of a friend's death metal band. Now, I'm not exactly the death metal type. In fact, when I walked into the bar and saw 40 teenagers wearing nothing but black who had more piercings and tattoos than a federal prison, I wanted to turn around and run back to my car and immediately pop in a David Gray CD.
But I was glad I stayed. Because during the show I learned a lot about a) the death metal culture, b) teenage behavior in public, and c) My Space. For example, when all three of the bands finished their sets, the lead singer would say, "Thanks a lot...check us out on My Space." Huh. Interesting. Guess My Space isn't just for making friends, I thought. But what's even more interesting is how many times the subject of using My Space for music promotion has come up in my conversations since then.
Wander This World
Every time I give a speech in a city outside of St. Louis, I always make it a point to see the area. Whether it's a run in the city park, a walk along the Rio Grande, or an aimless wander around a small town, it's an opportunity to observe a new culture. Sure, I could easily stay in my hotel room and check my email or buy a movie, but I'd rather experience a new city so next time I meet someone from that city, we can have an egaging conversation about it.
Next time you make your way out of town, spend 20-30 minutes soaking yourself in that city's culture. The experience will be stored in your conversational hard drive and become perfect material for your next encounter with a customer, friend or stranger.
Read The Best
Alan Weiss addressed the topic of engaging conversation during a NSA convention a few years back. His advice: "If you read 5 fiction best sellers and 5 non-fiction best sellers a year, you'll be able to have an intelligent conversation with anybody."
God Bless The Internet
Within 10 minutes, anybody can increase their conversational ability by clicking through a few websites. Here's a great tip: create a list of your favorite websites/blogs that are updated frequently. At your lunch break, before you go to work, or even when you have time between meetings, scroll through and see what's going on. That's one of the great advantages of having a blogroll. Here's mine:
LET ME ASK YA THIS...
What else can people do to become better conversationalists?
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Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag