Read any ‘guide to networking’ nowadays and the same tips and tricks will always crop up – making eye contact, asking open-ended questions, listening, showing a genuine interest.
I’m not going to argue with any of those as a mantra to follow, but it’s always struck me as rather sad – and eye-opening – that people should need reminding of these basic social cues when faced with a room full of strangers and lukewarm white wine.
These should all come as second nature to all of us. But as a society, are we in danger of letting the art of conversation die out?
We live in an age with more tools for interacting with people than ever before – smartphones, social media platforms and a whole language of emojis.
However, the flip side of these innovations has been shrinking attention spans, a focus on instant-gratification, and a generation which seemingly feels more comfortable behind the safety of a screen.
And the risk is that we lose and devalue the fundamental inter-personal skills that are so important ‘IRL’ and that can’t be practised over WhatsApp.
Because being an adept conversationalist is a skill just like any other, and an attractive one at that.
We’ve all admired that person at a party who works the room effortlessly with intelligent remarks, the host who puts everyone at ease, and enjoyed the thrill and frustration of long, rambling debates that feel like they’re never going to end.
You see it on political campaign trails. It’s no coincidence that the political leaders who capture the enthusiasm of a nation tend to be those perceived to have a knack for conversing with joe public, rather than for giving carefully scripted monologues from behind a lectern.
It’s important in the world of business too. That CEO that looks most comfortable in an interview? That’s usually because they’re more comfortable talking to people full stop. Brands that foster the strongest loyalty are the ones which take the time to get to know their customers, and then listen to them.
Like any skill, conversation needs to be nurtured. We may feel like we spend our whole lives communicating; following our friends and linking up with our colleagues. But typing isn’t the same as talking. Scrolling through pictures doesn’t make our relationships any richer. And when was the last time you struck up a dialogue with a stranger and got to know someone new?
It’s down to all of us to ensure that good old trusty conversation is not a form of communication that gets drowned out amidst the noise.
Emily Barnes is an account director at Camargue