Whenever you are discussing a contract, forging a deal, or doing business of any kind, think of your conversation in terms of three stages: the warm-up, the core, and the wrap-up.
Once you and your business companion have said your hellos and taken your seats, engage in a little small talk—chat that can range from the day’s top news story to your golf handicap to, yes, the weather. You might spend five minutes or so on this opening segment. This is the relationship building time and its purpose is to break the ice and set the stage for the business that is to follow.
Next, the talk turns to the business at hand. In this longer portion of the conversation, make your personal investment clear by sitting erect and making eye contact. As the conversation gets rolling, keep in mind that you are engaged in a dialogue, not a monologue. Even if you’re launching into a lengthy explanation of a complicated new technology, draw the other person into the conversation by pausing occasionally to ask questions such as, “What do you think so far?” Also, be careful to use the word “you” as often as “I”; this conveys a message to your partner that you consider him or her integral, not tangential, to the business being discussed.
Even though this is the serious stage of the conversation or presentation, leavening the conversation with the occasionally funny aside or pertinent anecdote can keep the atmosphere more relaxed and help you get your message across. Hammering your point too aggressively or relentlessly, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect.
Ending with a brief recap of any decisions made during the conversation ensures there are no misunderstandings. But once you’ve wrapped up your business and resumed your small talk, stick with it. Letting go of the business topic and ending the conversation on a purely social note is an implicit acknowledgement of the friendly nature of the business relationship.