Conversational Skills

This past Tuesday, Stern Honors Program students learned how to carry on a conversation. Jodi R. R. Smith, president and owner of the Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting firm came to speak to the students regarding conversations in business and social settings, a much-needed skill for university graduates.

Smith holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Rochester, as well as a Master’s Degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. She has worked in human resources and hiring for large corporations. And on Tuesday, she spoke to students about wowing potential bosses and overcoming awkward social situations. As she put it, in childhood the number one thing that we are taught is not to speak to strangers, then suddenly in adulthood we are judged on our ability to speak to strangers.

Smith kicked off the program by having every student write out a nametag. This initiated a discussion on the proper placement of the nametag (the right side), and the name to write (full name for business functions, first name for social). Smith continued on to discuss handshakes and “Snippet Starters,” the introductory snippet that can start off a conversation. She encouraged students to ask questions and participate in practical exercises. For example, students were not allowed to take from the dessert buffet present until given permission by the lecturer. Approximately midway through the event, she had the students stand up, and go ‘mingle’ at the buffet table. She described the set up of the buffet table in social and business situations as akin to wildebeest gathering at the watering hole, with the idea that the person attempting to make advantageous connections is like a lion, waiting for one to separate from the herd.

Smith had the students attempt to initiate conversations with new people using the “Snippet Starters,” they had practiced earlier in the lecture. Following these exercises she also discussed important elements of conversations, such as graceful exits, a necessary skill for many interactions. In today’s world of competitive interviews and new social situations, such as business parties, these skills are incredibly necessary. Many interviewees are disqualified based upon their lack of conversational abilities.

Smith drew upon her own experience in hiring to make this issue clear to the students. Over one hundred students attended the event and as many of them were seniors, hoping to soon enter the working world, conversational tips were not unwelcome. While many may assume that the conversation is a natural part of interaction, intimidating business and social settings can make initiating that conversation difficult. Smith’s dynamic and interactive presentation brought home the importance of conversational skills in today’s world.

In News. Tagged conversation, honors.