Monthly Archives: February 2015

Repeat Favourite Phrases to Improve Conversation

One of the things to remember when you are looking to improve conversation skills, especially if you are using English as a second language and you really want to speak English better, is that English is just one part of language, and language is just one part of communication.

A quick way to build rapport with your listener is to mimic or reflect back their favourite words or expressions. So this way, even if you ‘have an accent’ it won’t be as important as the fact that you are connecting with the person on their level and making them feel comfortable by using a few of their own favourite words/expressions.

This is also a good thing to remember when you are trying to decide if you should sway your English accent towards British or American. The actual answer is – it depends. It depends where you live or who you work with. I am not suggesting you have 2 distinct ‘fake’ voices, one that sounds like James Bond and another that sounds like the President.  I am suggesting that you listen to and imitate the people around you, especially if you are a new immigrant. This will help you bridge the gap and increase fluency or at least a sense of fluency until your English improves a bit more.

There is more I could say on this subject but for now the take-away point is to listen to the people around you for their favourite words and expressions and then repeat them sometimes. Do not be an annoying parrot though. About 3:1 should suffice.  It’s a simple trick that connects and builds rapport.  After all, we like people who seem to be similar to ourselves, right?  🙂

Key Interpersonal Skills Help When Travelling Abroad

Here’s a story from my business trip in 2008 to Moscow, Russia, where I trained managers at an oil services company in Western business communication and English language skills.  The story does not take place in the office, but rather during my free time.

I coach and train relationship building techniques, like the art of small talk and the fundamentals of a solid, winning first impression. These interpersonal communication skills are vital in life. I also teach networking skills, as these soft skills are imperative in building business relationships. Here is a story where I combined my interpersonal communication skills with local commerce.

In Moscow I was facing a big language communication barrier (although I did my best to learn to read and speak some basics while I was there for 2 months) and so I relied on other communication techniques. They are worldwide, human techniques. One day my old PC laptop  equipment was failing (remember – 2008 – and this was also before my Mac) and so I went with a Russian friend looking for a new headset and microphone in a local mall, and I saw an Indian man running a computer shop. He spoke with a strong Russian accent (so I was told) and it was obvious to me that he was an immigrant or migrant worker there. I immediately felt like I was back in Toronto,  and started to speak English to him. We smiled and chatted and he sold me a new headset which worked very well. I was back to ‘Skyping’ my friends and family constantly, as you may appreciate.

A few days later, after a great day of site-seeing (for those who know Moscow I visited Old and New Arbat, Hard Rock Café, and Victory Park) I decided to add a webcam to my long distance conversations and returned to the same mall. I purposely sought out the same shop and yes, the same Indian man was working. We smiled again and chatted briefly. I told him this time I was in need of a webcam that can skype, and he recommended one immediately. I asked how much and the answer was 1000.00 Russian rubles (FYI at that time the exchange rate was 1 dollar to 24 Russian rubles, so do the math if you wish) and then I asked if there was a cheaper option that could still skype. He smiled and played with his computer for a minute and then said to me that he could sell it for 800. DEAL. Done.

Some of you reading this story may not be too surprised by a seemingly independent shop keeper giving a bit of a discount, but I was told by my Russian guide that discounts at malls and proper businesses are quite impossible. She was genuinely surprised by my discounted price. I explained to her that I felt that he liked me for these 3 reasons:

A)  He thought I was a nice guy; I smiled which is almost rare for Russian men in that business situation

B)  He was happy to see me as a repeat customer; he did not want me going elsewhere 

C)  I think he could appreciate me as a foreigner in Russia – the same as him!  In that way we ‘connect’ even though we have very different cultures and personal situations

Most of us at some point travel, and we should not think that our actions do not matter to the local people. Carry yourself as you would at home and continue to be in the constant habit of initiating great people skills that cut through different culture and language. You never know when they will help you!  People all over the world seek to feel appreciated, to connect, and to have their mood elevated in a positive way.  I felt that way after my dealings with the shop keeper, as I’m sure he did too.  Remember those key concepts in business, and in life, here and abroad.  They will serve you well.  🙂

Confidence Booster Exercise

Some experts say a great way to boost your confidence is to keep a confidence diary for a month.

It is a smart tool to remind yourself just how good you really are and what you have to be thankful for, and pleased about in your life right now.  By writing (or typing) answers to key questions you are forced to be honest with yourself and to look at the positive aspects and people in your life, even when you are feeling a bit down.

Once a week for the next month you can jot down your answers in a notepad or type them in a Word doc to the following confidence questions.

Take just 10 minutes per week, sit down and record your thoughts to:

1. What have I got to be grateful for in my life right now?

2. What am I happy about in my life right now?

3. Why am I happy about these things?

4. What did I accomplish last week?

5. What am I excited about in my life right now?

6. Who do I love and appreciate in my life? Who do I like hanging around? Why?

7. Who loves and appreciates me for what I am?

Answer these questions at the start of each week and it will set you up for success.

If you need a booster midweek, then by all means answer them again whenever you want to feel centred and remind yourself of what you have got going in your life right now.  Writing makes it real.  🙂

Successful Networking Top 10 Tips

To be successful at networking first of all you cannot allow yourself to be a wallflower. Here are my personal tips for success at a networking function so that you can be prepared (which will help combat any anxiety you may have about going and meeting strangers) and come off looking and sounding smooth and successful.

1 – At home, write out a list of your strengths, attributes, special skills, etc. so that you know why someone should be interested in your services, your resume, etc. Now these strengths are in your head to boost your confidence and remind yourself of why people should talk to you or listen to you.

2 – Visualize the room; visualize smiling, shaking hands, talking to people, exchanging ideas, asking questions, exchanging cards, etc. Visualization works well, especially for shyer people, and many successful people in business, sports, entertainment etc. use visualization to get an image of a successful action before going out to the event.

3 – Show up with confident posture, a controlled walk, a smile and firm handshake, and lots of eye contact.

4 – Use the immediate environment to get the conversation started, like talking about the venue, the host, etc. and then find a common bond to keep it going. For example, talk about different networking functions you have attended, talk about any common interests regarding vacations, work, hobbies. Small talk first is normal, then get down to business.

5 – Now, have questions prepared to ask, to get people to talk about their needs, and then shape your conversation to reflect how you or your services could help in those areas. Don’t be pushy. Soft sell yourself. Build interest. For example instead of saying “I sell office insurance…do you need some?” you might instead say “Do you have your own office? What insurance rate are you paying, if I may ask? I am just wondering if you are getting the best value for your money. I am in the industry, so I am aware of the fair market value of the offices. What size of office do you have?” etc. Now they are more ready to be “helped” by you.

6 – Remember to repeat their name back to them, actively listen, and keep a mental database of some details of the person with whom you are speaking to.

7 – Always collect a business card if possible, and feel free to be the first one to ask for it. Ask with some enthusiasm and at the time when he or she has just talked about what they do or how they can help you. Smile and offer yours. Ideally, if you are talking about yourself correctly, people will ask you for your card. However, if they don’t, you may choose to offer.

8 – When you go home, write out information on the back of the card or on a sheet of paper, stapled to the card. These details help build and maintain rapport for the next and subsequent meetings, emails, and phone calls. Everyone appreciates being remembered!

9 – Email them within 24 hours to say that it was nice to meet them, and perhaps mention a detail you remember, and the suggestion to ‘keep in touch’.

10 – Unless you had already planned a meeting previously, follow up a week later and see if you can arrange a drop-by visit or a coffee, if you think this relationship has potential. It is okay to initiate contact. Be a leader!