Get Better At Connecting with Others: Conversations Without A Net

Without A NetHave you ever had one of those momentary flash backs you just know dates you? I mean, really dates you? Recently, I did. It was in response to reading some networking advice that brought to mind a classic 90s song. You know, “things that make you go hmmmm….”

Included with standard advice, like exchange business cards and dress for success, was this gem: Memorize your elevator speech. Not only that, but the writer provided a recipe for what should be included; specifically, your name, web address, who you help, and what results you produce for your clients. Oh! And one more thing. The writer noted that you should deliver your (memorized) elevator pitch as naturally as possible.

Not only did it this “make me go hmmm,” but it seemed to suggest why people may resist meeting new people at events. Let’s face it. It is just too hard to be natural when you have to deliver a speech – even a short one! [Tweet This] So, if you’re not feeling you can do this, it can kind of discourage you from going, and from enjoying yourself if you do.

So, this got me thinking about some of the reading I’ve been doing on the craft of acting – particularly, improv. In his informative Acting for a Living, Roy McCrerey makes the point that it’s actors with improvisational training who are best suited to win work where roles call for people who come across as more real. Ironic, I know. Yet, the skills of improv can actually better prepare us for natural interactions than memorizing a pitch.  [Tweet This]

Not only did this seem to validate my view that memorizing and elevator speech is wrong, but also suggested that learning some improvisational essentials is probably the best thing you can do. It is a way to help you think on your feet and engage people in fresh conversations that will be more engaging and memorable. So, here are three core improv principles with examples of how to apply them.

The “yes…and” technique

Here participants in a dialogue take what they are given and add new information to advance the conversation into new territory.  It can be a great way to move discussion in an insightful direction. So, when a person you are speaking with mentions a problem or challenge you know something about, you can acknowledge (“yes…”) before adding (“…and…”) new, relevant, and useful information. Not only does this allow you to apply your general knowledge and expertise, but it also serves as the foundation for a mutually beneficial conversation.

 Go with your gut

Just as improv actors trust their first intuitive thought, so should you. When genuinely taking an interest in and engaging others, you can’t go too far wrong in trusting your instincts as you interact. Besides, what you say is not immediately set in stone, so you can always ask for clarification to refine your response. The greater your personal clarity about what you know and do in your life and work, the more likely your responses will be on target.

Make others look good

The basic idea here is that there is no conversation without somebody else. So, it’s good practice to always acknowledge others who may be part of the conversation – whether it’s just one other person or members of a small group. Part of the key here, actually, is the wisdom of striving to be “interested” by listening and asking questions versus trying to be “interesting” by dominating conversation.

Great improv, it turns out, fosters great conversations. And great conversations are often a mix of shared advice and stories that happen beyond the edges of the script. And it’s beyond the script where emotional connection is made. [Tweet This] And after all, if you’re investing the time to meet new people, isn’t that what you really want?


What tips do you have for better conversations? I’d love to know. Just leave a comment.


  1. says

    Walter, this is great advice. I just heard about the “yes…and” technique from a colleague who is studying improv this year, and it’s something I’m trying to be conscious of in my daily activities. I am also enjoying my time at Toastmasters, one of the primary components of which is improvised “table topics.” I find this helps greatly with confidence and ability to think on one’s feet. Speaking is a muscle which must be trained!

    • says

      Thanks for your great comment, John!!

      I think you make an excellent point about needing go develop our speaking muscle. From improve to table topics, I think whatever we do to improve our communication is great!! So, much of this takes awareness and practice – but it’s all well worth it!!

      Not only does it help us enhance our confidence, but it also leads to better interactions and better connection!

  2. says

    Good post Walter. It’s funny. I’m a former stage actor and improve is what I enjoy together. The challenge for me is knowing when to stop talking! :) As you pointed out, it’s about being interested first. And interesting second!

  3. says

    Thanks for your comment, Brent!!

    Wow! I didn’t know you were once a stage actor!! That’s awesome!! Actually, I think we can all learn quite a bit from actors and acting. The craft of acting is so different from what we imagine it to be!!

    By the way, I know what you mean about talking!!! Me too! So that advice about being interested before interesting is truly a daily guide for me!! :)

  4. says

    Good post Walter. It’s funny. I’m a former stage actor and improv is what I enjoy doing The challenge for me is knowing when to stop talking! :) As you pointed out, it’s about being interested first. And interesting second!

  5. Charlean Parks says

    These tips are very good! I think it takes some practice if improvising is not something you can do naturally. I’m going to take an improv class very soon just to enhance my skills a bit. Thanks for sharing Walter. Keep the blogs coming!!

    • says

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Charlean!!

      I think taking an improv class can be a benefit in many ways!! Not only as a way to become a better conversationalist, but also to learn to be better at thinking on your feet, as well as a confidence builder!! Meanwhile, I think these three approaches are pretty straightforward to implement with just a little practice.

      Look forward to hearing about your class and staying in touch!!

  6. says

    How interesting… I would never have guessed that taking a class in improvisation could be of help in the networking/interviewing circuit. But it makes a lot of sense… and it sounds like one could have fun at the same time :)

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Dorlee! Actually, I imagine that taking an improv class could be fun – and useful for some people. And yet, I think that three principles I outlined here are really a mindset. I think most people could adopt and apply fairly readily – and have better conversations with anyone!!

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