Learning to talk-the-talk

June 05, 2017

Learning to talk-the-talk

Account management is neither for the timid nor the quiet-tongued. A healthy mix of self-confidence and the ability to initiate and sustain conversations with others is essential for career success. 

You'll be required to 'talk-the-talk' for your entire career, as this will be your ticket to building and maintaining relationships and doing business with all types of people. This myriad of people will include: 

  • Clients at various levels within an organisation, from receptionist through to CEO. 
  • Your clients' customers. 
  • Your suppliers. 
  • Your clients' suppliers. 
  • Media. 
  • Celebrities and distinguished people, and their management. 
  • Sponsors. 
  • Agency staff (permanent and contractors). 
  • Wider industry contacts. 
  • Strangers at networking (and other) events. 

You'll be thrown into conversations with people of different ages, cultures, social standings, genders, and degrees of knowledge or experience - and you'll need to quickly master these situations, even if the situation is totally new. 

Learning how to talk-the-talk will feel easier, and more natural, over time once you start exercising some core skill-muscle. 

 

Know your stuff 

People want to know that you know what you are talking about. This is easier said than done, especially when you are starting out. Sometimes, the best that we can hope for is to know enough about the matter directly at hand to squeak by unnoticed! 

At a bare minimum, you should go into every meeting with at least this amount of knowledge: 

  • Background information: why you are meeting, what you hope to achieve, any historical context or previous issues. 
  • Who you are meeting: their names, job titles, work histories and how they are connected to you. 
  • What you will be talking about: if you need to research anything, now is the time. 

 

Master small-talk 

You can never underestimate the power of small-talk. This is the section of conversation that sits between a 'hello' and the reason you are making contact with someone. 

You may not like small-talk, and you may find it difficult to do (you are not alone), but it can be your lifeline in situations where you are meeting new people (like a networking event, tradeshow, or client function). It's a skill that is worth making an effort to master. 

It's also important to know when to add small-talk into conversations with people you know well, such as your colleagues and clients. For example, launching straight into the meat and potatoes of a conversation will certainly get you straight to the point and save time (which some people actually appreciate), but it can also come across as abrupt and uncaring. Using filler questions or comments will help to build rapport, such as: 

  • "Did you watch the game on the weekend? Wasn't it great?!"
  • "How did you get on at your conference last week?" 
  • "How is your daughter doing? Last time we talked you mentioned she was unwell." 

Important points to note: 

  • Staying on top of current events will help your small-talk a LOT. 
  • Small-talk should be happy. The objective is to leave your companion in a good mood after they talk to you. Try to turn awkwardness into awesomeness. 
  • The hardest part of small-talking is the start, so just breathe, smile, start. 

 

Have confidence 

Imperfect words said with confidence and conviction are going to come across far better than perfect words delivered meekly. 

It will take a while (and a whole help of practise) before you are at a point where confidence comes naturally and comfortably. Until that time it is perfectly acceptable to wear a veneer of confidence (a.k.a. 'faking it 'til you make it') as long as you come across sincerely and humbly in your conversations.  

Confidence (manufactured or natural) is not the same as arrogance or ego or trying to be smooth, it's about being self-assured and knowing that what you have to say is valid, interesting and/or relevant. 

 

Be present 

Whenever you are talking with someone it's important that you are totally 'present' in the conversation. If you slightly 'check out' (like if you fidget, look at your watch, or seem a bit distant) you will immediately alienate the person you are talking to.  

Even if you find the dialogue boring, you should act like you are fully engaged until such time as you can politely (and without causing offence) extricate yourself from the conversation. 

 

Know when to talk (and when not to) 

Talking-the-talk is all about knowing when to say the right, intelligent thing at the right time - and knowing when to be silent and just listen. 

Listening will be your #1 guide to when to talk, and what to say. Listening will give you a chance to take cues from your companion's words, tone and body language.  

You may have a good idea about what you want to cover, but the best conversations are never scripted. Your confidence and listening skills will enable you to adapt on the fly and mould your conversation to whatever is happening in the moment. 

 

Be empathetic 

The reality is that you will – often – find yourself participating in conversations that are not particularly 'fun', or where you are disinterested in the topic at hand. At times like this it can be difficult to muster up the enthusiasm required to pull off a successful conversation. Somehow, you are going to have to do it. 

Your aim, for all conversations, is to come across as being sincerely interested as you listen and participate. If you don't, then you may come across as smarmy, fake or disingenuous – and that could be disastrous for the future.  

The solution is to build up your skill in being empathetic. This is your ability to understand and share the feelings of another person – which is not easy, especially when you are feeling anything but empathetic. 

The more you learn to walk a mile in someone else's shoes; the more you start to care about others and their needs; the more that empathy will happen. You first have to start putting the needs and feelings of others, before your own, and you may be surprised at what will happen along the way! 

 

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