Nevertheless, I still have moments when words (and tact) fail me. For example, when I’m trapped next to someone at a social gathering and really want to get away, I’ll often interrupt the other person midsentence and say something like, “Excuse me, there’s someone over there I need to talk to,” while backing away. Ouch! The other person looks crestfallen, and I feel like a cad.
But now that I’ve read the instant classic by communication coach and strategist Marvin Brown, called How to Meet and Talk to Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime: Simple Strategies for Great Conversations, I’ve learned a nicer and more graceful way to exit a conversation. Extend my hand, smile, make eye contact, and say something encouraging, such as, “Ralph, it was a pleasure chatting with you. Hope we can do it again soon.” I haven’t burned the bridge behind me, and I can walk away with my head held high.
Brown exposes common missed opportunities in casual conversation. For example, how many times do we engage in what he calls a “conversational dead end”? This is when we say, “Hi,” hear “Hi” back, then both look at the floor, cringing for lack of something else to say. Next time, we might say something like, “You’re looking very relaxed today. How are you enjoying the summer?” That’s simply a more elaborate, interesting, and open-ended way of asking, “How are you?” And when one takes advantages of openings, rather than wastes them, one never knows where the conversation will lead, and what riches could be uncovered.
This book was so jam-packed with tips, tools, and fascinating tidbits that I found myself reading it cover to cover in about 2 hours. Brown says there are three ways to start a conversation: (1) with a declarative statement, (2) with a question, or (3) with a combination of the two. He shows how to find an environmental prop in any situation or setting you’re in, and then use it to get a conversation started. By the time you read and practice his techniques, you’ll never be at a loss for words, whether you’re in an elevator with strangers or having dinner with your future in-laws.
Now does this mean that every encounter has to be meaningful and important? Absolutely not. But as Brown points out, small talk is not trivial. It puts people at ease, opens professional doors, forges alliances, sparks new ideas, and deepens relationships. Once we learn how to start a conversation, Brown shows us how to use body language, strategic questions, listening, and conversational prompts to get the other person talking, sharing, and trusting. If you know how to earn trust, you can guide the relationship where you want it to go, whether it’s to get a prospective client to buy your product, or convince your teenager to change his behavior.
There are wonderful tips for giving and taking criticism — as well as compliments. Brown also offers insights on the difference between extroverts and introverts — and what these personality types can learn about each other. And he presents the most common conversational pitfalls to avoid — many of which struck a painfully familiar note.
Brown has a fresh way of singling out small physical gestures — such as the smile, the lean-in, the “look,” or the handshake — and examining their impact, import, and meaning. Then he gives us practical ways to use these as tools for more effective relationship building.
Marvin Brown made a name for himself as a legendary salesman in the financial services industry. On the heels of that success, he spent years as an executive-level sales manager until becoming a leading sales trainer. He’s personally trained thousands of men and women in the art of selling themselves through great communication, and now he’s teaching workshops and seminars to people nationwide.
His book, a culmination of everything he has learned and practiced through decades of sales, management, and training relationships, is delightfully to-the-point, pithy, and practical. This gem should be required reading for anyone in business, because it has so many useful tips for communicating well in any type of circumstance. But it’s not strictly a business book. Brown includes sections devoted to technology etiquette, party going, and even dating. Everyone who reads book will experience a few aha moments and walk away with a handful of new communication strategies to try out.