Working in the nonprofit sector means attending many business-related social events, especially fundraisers. And a big part of a nonprofit executive’s job is talking to others about the organization’s mission and programs. However, despite the fact that nonprofit executives know their organization inside and out, and feel passionate about their mission and programs, some still have trouble conveying that passion to others, simply because they lack strong conversational skills.
Contrary to popular belief, the ability to talk easily with others is a learned skill, not a personality trait. And acquiring this skill will help you develop rapport with people and leave a positive impression that lasts longer than an exchange of business cards. Here are a few tips nonprofit executives can use to improve their small-talk skills:
Be the first to say hello. If you wait for others to approach you, you may wait all night. Also, when you say hello first,you determine what the conversation will be about, making it easier to talk about things you know and about which you feel comfortable.
Introduce yourself. Act as if you’re the host and introduce new arrivals to your conversational partner or partners.
Take your time during introductions. Make an extra effort to remember names, and use them frequently in the conversation.
Maintain eye contact. Many people in a group of three or more people look around in the hope that others will maintain eye contact on your behalf. But people don’t feel listened to if you’re not looking at them.
Get somebody to talk about why they’re attending the event, and you are on your way to engaging them in conversation.
Show an interest in every person. The more interest you show, the wiser and more attractive you become to others.
Listen carefully for information that can keep the conversation going.
Remember: People want to be with people who make them feel special, not people who are “special.” Take responsibility in helping people you talk to feel as if they’re the only person in the room.
Play the conversation game. When someone asks, “How’s business?” and “What’s going on?”, answer with more than “Pretty good”or “Not much.” Tell more about yourself so that others can learn more about you.
Be cautious when asking business and personal questions.Don’t open a conversation with “How’s your job going at _____?” What if that person just got fired or laid off? Questions like “What do you do?”, “Are you married?”, “Do you have children?” and “Where are you from?” lead to dead-end conversations. Be careful when you’re asking about an acquaintance’s spouse or special friend—you could regret it.
Be aware of body language. Nervous or ill-at-ease people make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable, even when you’re not.
Be prepared. Spend a few minutes before an anticipated event preparing to talk easily about three topics. They will come in handy when you find yourself in the middle of an awkward moment—or while seated at a table of eight where everyone is playing with their food.
Show an interest in conversational partner’s opinion, too.You’re not the only person who has opinions about funding the space program or what will happen to the stock market.
Stop conversation monopolists in their tracks. If possible,wait for the person to take a breath or to pause, then break in with a comment about their topic. Immediately redirect the conversation in the direction you wish it to go.
Be prepared with exit lines. You need to move around and meet others.
With practice, you can learn how to make the most of meetings, fundraisers and other networking events. You’ll learn to appreciate, rather than dread, networking events.
Image credit: deltadentalblog.com, beyond.com, smalltalk.whatcheeer.com, howtobemoresocial.com