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Evan Bailyn

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How To Cock-Up A Cocktail Conversation

Posted: 03/26/2012 6:22 pm

If you regularly attend events for work, or rely on interacting with other people for your career, I have a fantastic guide for you on how to absolutely never get what you want. Other people may provide strategies that only occasionally backfire. However, completely ruining your own conversational aims takes surprisingly little time. All you have to do is master one foolproof tactic: never, ever allow people a glimpse of who you really are.

Impossible, you may say -- but no! As with all the best how-to guides, it comes down to the three C's: be cool, collected and corporate.

Be Cool: As any junior high student knows, the essence of 'cool' boils down to three words: don't care. Period. This especially applies to professional interactions with people who have the potential to further your cause or help grow your business.

Remember how the cool kids in school never messed up, because they never got involved? Be that cool. Don't strike up a conversation -- be professional and let people come to you! Cool people are coolest when they resemble mannequins -- no warmth, no animation, no enthusiasm. The cool businessperson never makes the first move -- which guarantees that you stay stock-still forever.

Be Collected: One of the strongest arrows in your quiver of ineptitude is being polished, pressed, starched and entirely self-possessed (think distant politician or blank runway model). You are focused on you, which means you have wasted no time trying to understand the objectives of the people you might speak to. You put no effort into preparing, in case you meet someone whose objectives align with yours, and so you will be happily unable to offer solutions (this would only make them more eager to talk to you). Having accomplished this, you are ready for the next level.

Be Corporate: Who doesn't have warm and fuzzy feelings about their favorite corporation? The tangled bureaucracy, the glassy impersonality and uniformity... sigh. They dispense information in declarative-sentence fact bites, never ask how you're doing and list their contact information where you can only find it if you're looking for it. In other words, they are the perfect models for those who want their professional networks to be as lively as a morgue. Here's how you can apply their tactics to ruin a conversation with a potential donor, client or contact at any event:

Don't ask, just tell: Wait for the inevitable "So, what do you do?" Answer. Then wait. No need to show personal interest -- you want this conversation to grind to a painful halt, and the best way to do that is to act like a call service operator. Answer direct questions, but don't go any further. If you actually wanted to develop this person as a viable, lasting contact who might one day be a client or refer you business, you would forge a relationship, which would require finding out about what drives them professionally, why they chose their fields, what they hope to accomplish in the next few years -- finding real common ground and a shared sense of purpose. Which takes time. And effort. So remember -- no corporate flunky really wants an answer to "How are you today?" That's why they don't pause before plowing ahead with their next sentence.

Numbers or names, they're all the same: A beautifully dead-end conversation resembles an elevator pitch. When you treat your conversational partner like a captive audience, you get to talk as much as you like about business, all while avoiding those icky personal topics like family, mutual friends, children, backgrounds and personal passions and interests. When you learn what makes the person you are speaking to unique, and relate to them on a personal level, you exponentially increase the likelihood that they will anticipate -- even look forward to -- speaking to you again. So speed through your conversation. Say what you want to say and move on to the next person. In no time, you'll have covered the entire room, and have nothing to show for it. Score one for the good guys.

Here's my card: Your conversational partner's pocket is already bulging with business cards. You want yours crammed in with the rest (after all, dry cleaners need something to read, too), so hand yours off with a vague "Let's connect." Failing to offer a concrete time or reason for your new acquaintances to get in touch with you ensures that they won't. On the other hand, promising to touch base via email within a week about a specific subject you discussed will only improve your relationship -- just say no.

With the three C's at your disposal, I guarantee that no conversation, whether it be with potential clients, networking contacts, or donors will lead to a sound working relationship. So enjoy your next networking event, secure in the knowledge that you can leave your phone off -- it won't be ringing. Who needs new business anyway?

 
 
 

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