5 Ways to Become a Better Conversationalist

Some people are just GREAT conversationalists. Period. They can talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere about any topic. And maybe it’s because they’re funny, interesting, outgoing, brilliant, up with the news, ask great questions, listen attentively and the like.

But effective, engaging conversation also stems from preparation.

Last week I attended a seminar hosted by my friend Dale Furtwengler. One of his key points was called “Get An Eclectic Education.” Good point. I firmly believe in this idea. Because if you read, experience and expose yourself to stuff you wouldn’t normally take an interest in, you will more easily be able to take an interest in other people when they talk about that stuff. Especially customers.

So Dale got me thinking: What prepratory steps can people take to become a more engaging conversationalist? Here are five of them…

Do the Magazine Dance
Spend an hour a month at Borders reading different magazines. Check out a few titles you wouldn’t normally grab. If you’re a man, read Comso. If you’re a woman, read Maxim. If you’re in your 50’s, read Seventeen. If you’re 17, read Parenting. Then, when you meet someone with whom you have nothing in common, it’ll be far easier to relate to him since you’ve read his language.

Go Where You Don’t Fit In
About two months ago I went to a bar called The Creepy Crawl to support a friend of a friend’s death metal band. Now, I’m not exactly the death metal type. In fact, when I walked into the bar and saw 40 teenagers wearing nothing but black who had more piercings and tattoos than a federal prison, I wanted to turn around and run back to my car and immediately pop in a David Gray CD.

But I was glad I stayed. Because during the show I learned a lot about a) the death metal culture, b) teenage behavior in public, and c) My Space. For example, when all three of the bands finished their sets, the lead singer would say, “Thanks a lot…check us out on My Space.” Huh. Interesting. Guess My Space isn’t just for making friends, I thought. But what’s even more interesting is how many times the subject of using My Space for music promotion has come up in my conversations since then.

Wander This World
Every time I give a speech in a city outside of St. Louis, I always make it a point to see the area. Whether it’s a run in the city park, a walk along the Rio Grande, or an aimless wander around a small town, it’s an opportunity to observe a new culture. Sure, I could easily stay in my hotel room and check my email or buy a movie, but I’d rather experience a new city so next time I meet someone from that city, we can have an egaging conversation about it.

Next time you make your way out of town, spend 20-30 minutes soaking yourself in that city’s culture. The experience will be stored in your conversational hard drive and become perfect material for your next encounter with a customer, friend or stranger.

Read The Best
Alan Weiss addressed the topic of engaging conversation during a NSA convention a few years back. His advice: “If you read 5 fiction best sellers and 5 non-fiction best sellers a year, you’ll be able to have an intelligent conversation with anybody.”

Enough said.

God Bless The Internet
Within 10 minutes, anybody can increase their conversational ability by clicking through a few websites. Here’s a great tip: create a list of your favorite websites/blogs that are updated frequently. At your lunch break, before you go to work, or even when you have time between meetings, scroll through and see what’s going on. That’s one of the great advantages of having a blogroll. Here’s mine:

  • Brand Autopsy
  • Better Communication
  • Business Growth Blog
  • Chris Ray
  • Church of the Customer
  • Don the IDEA Guy
  • Dutch Driver
  • Lipsticking
  • Make It Great
  • My Flight Blog
  • Micro Persuasion
  • Music Promotion Blog
  • The Occupational Adventure
  • Seth’s Blog
  • Small Business Branding
  • Spudart
  • The Virtual Handshake
  • Worthwhile


    What else can people do to become better conversationalists?

    * * * *
    Scott Ginsberg
    Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag

  • And now for our word of the day: ubiquitous

    Great word: ubiquitous.

    It means “existing or being everywhere at the same time, constantly encountered or widespread.”

    Some synonyms include: everywhere, pervasive, far-reaching, copious, continual, everyday, familiar, persistent and recurring.

    Why do I bring this up? Well, first of all, it’s a fun word to say. In fact, try it right now. Really quick – say it out loud: ubiquitous. Just do it. Don’t worry about the guy sitting next to you.


    Ok anyway, back on track. The word ubiquitous first struck me when I lived in Portland, Oregon. Home of the Trailblazers, the best salmon rolls ever, and of course, more Starbucks than any city in the world. Seriously, there was a Starbucks three blocks north of my apartment and two blocks west of my apartment. It was like that classic Onion article, New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks.

    But all kidding aside, the lesson is simple: you’ve gotta be everywhere. And while I was reading Seth’s new ebook this morning, I thought about how valuable the word ubiquitous is to businesspeople, entrepreneurs, marketers, authors, or pretty much anyone who has an idea for which they hope to create and maintain fans. And insofar as you are ubiquitous, you increase your visibility and brand recognition. Not to mention your credibility, since customers only give you credit for that which they see you doing consistently.

    So, ask yourself these questions: are you ubiquitous? is your company ubiquitous? and are you taking advantage of blogs, newsletters, search engines, podcasts, article databases, Squidoo, social networking sites and the like in order to BE ubiquitous?

    I hope so! Because when you ARE ubiquitous, you’ll start to hear your customers, fans and friends say those three magical words: “Wow, you’re everywhere!”


    What are the top three things YOU do to be ubiquitous?

    * * * *
    Scott Ginsberg
    Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag

    Accessible = Approachable = $$$

    “Gee, you guys are tough to get a hold of…”
    “I finally tracked you down!”
    “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for weeks.”

    This is not good.

    When your answer the phone and hear one of these comments, it means that your caller, potential customer, raving fan or transient website visitor who would just LOVE to talk to you, who FINALLY got a hold of you for first time, is already annoyed. He’s already thinking, Damn it…maybe this company isn’t worth it anyway.

    And you haven’t even started the conversation yet.


    Think back. Have you ever sought help from a person or a company, scoured their website for a few minutes, only to frustratingly discover NO contact information other than one of those cryptic, impersonal, we-promise-to-get-back-to-you-soon forms?

    What a pain in the arse.

    But let’s turn the tables for a sec. Have you ever needed to talk to someone – like, NOW – easily found a phone number on their website and instantly heard a REAL PERSON’S VOICE within five seconds?

    Apparently, customers love this. Which sounds kind of obvious, right? Customers love talking to a real person? Duh!

    But here’s the thing. Over the past few years I’ve received a lot of random phone calls, either on my cell or on my office line, from people around the country who wanted to buy books, set up speaking programs, or even just shoot the breeze. And often times, this is what the conversation sounded like:

    “HELLO, my name is Scott!”

    “Oh, uh…Scott?”


    “Wow, I-I didn’t expect you to actually answer the phone.”

    “Really? Why not?”

    “Um, I don’t know…I guess most people are just tough to get a hold of. But this is great! I’m so glad we’re talking! Anyway, my name is Karen. The reason I called is because I’m the Program Coordinator for my company’s annual conference, and we’re looking for a speaker to kick off the…”


    Still, I’m blown back every time I hear a remark like that because it just seems smart to be easy to get a hold of. And I’m surprised more people don’t embrace that idea.

    Now, maybe that’s just my style. Maybe that’s my generation. Or maybe that’s because I run a one man operation there’s nobody else here to answer the phones!

    But even Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble, author of the book Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers, posted about this very idea last year:

    “Make it easy to get a hold of you – especially if you ever want something nice to happen to you. I’ve been trying to get a hold of bloggers lately to do various things with them (and even hire some of them) and often it’s hard to find a way to contact the blogger. But you never know who wants to get a hold of you. How they’ll change your business. How they’ll change your career.”

    Amen to that.

    And I know: putting your anonymity on the line (no pun intended) has its drawbacks. There’s the possibility of stalkers, crank calls, additional cell phone charges for incoming calls (damn you Sprint!) and of course, people trying to sell you stuff you don’t want.

    But the bottom line is: customers love and want to talk to YOU.

    If that’s not approachability, I don’t know what is.

    Wanna talk about it? Call my cell: (314)374-3397.


    How do you make yourself (and your company) accessible to customers?

    * * * *
    Scott Ginsberg
    Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag

    What’s in a name? Sometimes nothing…

    After watching yesterday’s Superbowl and its entertaining commercials (way to go Big Ben!) it’s fascinating to think about companies who spend millions of dollars creating a catchy, memorable new name for their hot new item…and compare it with businesses whose brand success comes from, ironically, having no name at all.

    I remember studying this topic in one of my marketing classes at Miami of Ohio. Actually, I think Roethlisberger’s desk was next to mine, although I don’t remember seeing him in class very often. Hey, I wouldn’t have gone to class either!

    Still, quite a few examples of this trend pop up:

  • Puerto Vallarta’s Nameless Cafe
  • Hardcore punk band No Use for a Name
  • Harvard Square’s The Nameless Coffee House
  • Anime favorite The Page with No Name
  • And although it’s a stretch, I always chuckled when I passed I-70’s The Nameless Creek outside of Indy

    There’s a marketing term out there for this trend, but I’m not sure what it’s called. Generically eponymous? Anti-genre? Ironic? Inverted?

    Who knows. But in the rare instances that it’s used, it seems to work in terms of memorability and humor. Although, you have to wonder how many times names like these can be used before, ironically, the anti-genre become a genre in itself.


    What’s your favorite “no name” product or company?

    * * * *
    Scott Ginsberg
    Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag

  • This might be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen a website do

    Sean Murphy, aka “The T-Shirt Guy” and Customer Relationship Development Director at CustomInk.com GETS it. We became friends a few weeks ago during The Dana Carvey Incident.

    Go to his site. And you, just like me, will be instantly magnetized to this bar on the right side of the page. When I first saw it I thought to myself, that’s the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen.

    It’s honest. Open. Approachable. Transparent. Credible. And the thing is, customers rarely (if ever) see online retailers doing stuff like this.

    Why not?

    Because they’re scared? Because they don’t care? Who knows. So I asked Sean about his Instantly Updated, Always Uncensored Customer Satisfaction Bar, and here’s what he had to say:

    “After our customers receive their order, they are asked to complete a survey which includes a question asking them to give us feedback that they’d like to share with others. I’ve never seen other websites do it the way we do it. It’s continuously updated and completely uncensored — typos and all!”

    “Our uncensored customer reviews are very much like an introduction to someone by your friend. If there is a person you want to meet at a social gathering, it’s more comfortable for most of us to be introduced to them rather than walking up to them cold. Or another way to look at it, is that our uncensored customer reviews are like the conversations you hear when you walk into a neighborhood store.”

    “At my neighborhood dry cleaners, for example, as I walk in I hear a customer thanking the owner for their great service and quick turnaround while another may be upset about a stain they weren’t able to get out. It’s difficult to recreate this very natural, and in my opinion comforting, experience in the online shopping world, but our uncensored customer reviews come close.”

    “New visitors to CustomInk.com see the comments, both the good and the bad ones, that were posted moments before they visited the site — just as if they’d walked into their neighborhood store. Of course, 99% of what our customers say about us is positive but the public nature of this feedback motivates us to aim for 100%.”

    “I wouldn’t call it a marketing tool, but in my personal life, honesty and transparency are two essential factors in my relationships with both people and companies. I guess it all comes back to the golden rule, treat others as you would want to be treated.”


    How does your website maintain transparency and honesty?

    * * * *
    Scott Ginsberg
    Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag

    How do you say ‘approachable’ in Spanish?

    She wore a long, black cape and a colorful hat. Stunning. Beautiful. Sexy. And on the back of her garb read the word Viva!

    I smiled and she smiled back. Then she gracefully danced away. Two seconds later, I saw another one. Then another! Then another! And out of nowhere, four identical women banded together in formation and walked down the main street of downtown Puerto Vallarta like a gang of Femme Fatales looking for their next victim.

    Wow. When I die, that’s the way I wanna go.

    “So, what do you think Viva is?” my dad asked as we stopped in the middle of the street to gaze.

    “I don’t know. But I intend to find out,” I said.

    About 15 minutes later, my family and I found ourselves in front of the following store:

    Hmmm…Viva! I wonder if this is where that gang of girls came from. Better go inside and inquire.

    I located a manager in the store and asked about the women. He put his hand on my shoulder, nodded like a proud father and flashed one of those Oh, so you don’t know? kind of smiles. And like Antonio Banderas himself, Marco said:

    “They are ‘The Viva Divas.’ It’s like a…how-you-say, ‘advertisement’? Si. The women promote the store by walking into restaurants around town. Everyone notices them. They are beautiful. And they pass out little cards with pictures of our items. Kind of like a movie when you see the ah…how-you-say, ‘preview’? Ah, yes. It makes the customers want to learn more.”

    I thanked Marco for the info as we exited Viva. My parents, brother and I walked down the streets of Puerto Vallarta as our vacation continued. I carefully watched every person pass by, hoping to catch another glimpse of a Viva Diva.

    Pero nada.

    However, on the floor of the restaraunt we ate dinner at, I noticed a small card. When I reached over to pick it up, it read:

    Dear Visitor and Resident:

    We have a small gift for you, no strings attached. (We are not selling time share.) We truly believe well designed jewelry does not have to cost a fortune. Drop into Viva this week and bring this card with you. Our packable hats will protect you from the sun. Our French ballet flat and espadrilles will make you want to skip and dance. And our jewelry will make you swoon.



    When I returned to the states I discovered that Viva has won awards for Best of Puerto Vallarta Shopping and Best Local Marketer, among other accolades. In which case, I think the answer to my original question: How do you say ‘approachable’ in Spanish?



    Which stores do you find approachable?

    * * * *
    Scott Ginsberg
    Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag

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