8 ways to improve conversations at communications networking events

Blah...I’m a big fan of communications networking events.

There are so many to choose from now, especially in London, and they are often either free to attend, or there’s a small fee, typically around £20 to £25.

They are popular too. The main institutes such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Institute of Internal Communications run national and regional events over two or three hours. Communications agencies, as well as communications recruitment agencies, also run inexpensive events in the hope of generating new leads.

Mastering the art of holding conversations

The main attraction usually comprises of expert speakers, a seminar or a workshop, with the rest of the event generally devoted to meeting other communications professionals.

These networking opportunities can be really useful, and given what we do for a living, of course we have mastered the art of holding conversations with a complete bunch of strangers. Or have we?

Unfortunately, even people who ‘do’ communication for a living can find it difficult to keep conversation flowing, in these socially contrived situations. Apart from ‘communications’ what else do you really have in common with other attendees?

A bit of practice and reflection

It probably won’t come as a surprise that building conversation skills, for use in such situations, can easily be improved through a bit of practice and reflection.

Here are my eight tips for getting more out of your conversations at communications networking events:

1. Get networking – Reading how to do this is great, but try putting yourself in professional networking situations as often as possible (using social media doesn’t count). Pay attention to the flows of conversations, and observe those who seem to be the most effective communicators.

2. Model yourself on a great conversationalist – Who do you prefer to talk to and what makes them stand out from the crowd? How do they make your feel, and what specifically do they do that makes you feel that way? Study their behaviour to improve your own conversation skills.

3. Ask questions – Start a conversation or demonstrate your interest in what a person is saying by asking questions. Open-ended questions, as opposed to closed questions, elicit more interesting responses.

4. Encourage the other person to talk – Invite others to talk about themselves. People are always comfortable talking about a familiar subject, especially if it is about them.

5. Be a good listener – This doesn’t mean hiding in the fringes of the conversation. Engage in the conversation through nods and smiles, and comment on what they have said.

6. Use body language to express interest in the conversation – Seems like common sense, but it isn’t always used that commonly. Make eye contact, acknowledge statements with a nod, comment or question when appropriate.

7. Know when to speak and when to listen – Sometimes, the other person allows you to monopolise by asking you question after question. Flattering perhaps, but you’re not learning anything about the other person. Likewise, don’t overdo your own questioning, as it will feel like interrogation.

8. Be prepared – A good conversationalist engages the listener and stimulates the conversation. Keep up with trends and current events and you’ll have something to talk about. Maintain and taking up new interests and you’ll naturally be more interesting.

And if none of this works, you can always try using this blog post as an ice-breaker!

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