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Turn Every Conversation into an Opportunity to Cultivate Connections

Do you avoid talking with people in business settings unless there is purpose? Do you dread receptions, hospital mixers and fundraisers, and other business-related social events? Do you struggle to make meaningful, long-term connections with your on staff team members, administrators and healthcare professionals? You’re not alone. Many of us are apprehensive about these situations, because most of us either hate entering rooms where we don’t know anyone or hate spending time with people we don’t know well. With a little practice and use of these helpful tips, you’ll be conversing at the water cooler effortlessly.


1)      Introduce and initiate. Go ahead and initiate with a hello! Even if you recognize, or slightly know someone, re-introduce yourself. Be aware of how he introduces himself (you may know him as Charles, but maybe he goes by Chuck) and use his name throughout your interaction. This will help you remember it in the long run and also establish a personal connection. By taking ownership and initiating a conversation, you will feel more in control to drive the direction of the exchange.

2)      Use an icebreaker. An icebreaker not only provides a way to meet new people, but also helps jump start conversations. For example, using an icebreaker such as “Tell me about your work here…” instead of simply saying hello can lead to a fruitful conversation, rather than an uncomfortable silence. Some other valuable icebreakers you might use are:

·      “Bring me up to date on your latest project.”

·      “What do you find to be the most enjoyable aspect of your work?”

·      “Tell me about your history with ________.”

·      “How did you come to find yourself in the health care field?”

3)      Express interest and make an effort.  You have to be interested if you want to be interesting. Part of your job as a convers-ee is to get the other person to talk. Listen to what your conversational partner is saying and ask relevant follow-up questions. Take cues from them and make a mental list of questions you can ask to get them to elaborate. If you’re talking to Mary in the marketing department, ask what she’s working on, what the new marketing strategies are. This is a great way to brainstorm about future projects, find out about how your work meshes with marketing and build a lasting business relationship. That being said, be sure not to ask so many questions that you come off as an interrogator. There should be a flow and balance when communicating.

4)      Find common ground. Whether you’re chatting with a new co-worker or a business function speaker, it’s important to stay on a related topic. As long as you stay on a subject you are both familiar with – like your specific field or the day’s event – you’ll be able to communicate easily. “Why did you attend this event?” “What are your thoughts on the hospital’s new sustainability platform?” “What was the your number one takeaway from today’s seminar?” “Wasn’t the new mission statement interesting?” “What kind of special summer plans do you have?” Avoid controversial topics like, politics, religion, personal relationships and family issues and stick to what you both know is applicable.

5)      Overcome awkward pauses. It’s up to you to keep the conversation going if there are some uncomfortable pauses. Use your setting for ideas to reinvigorate the discussion. Say, “It’s great having our endo conference in a warm, tropical place. Have you been to Miami before?” Use pauses as an opportunity to compliment your counterpart. Try, “I’m impressed with what you’re doing for our IT department. You’ve made some huge improvements in our technology and security.” This is also a great time to interject with any material you’ve previously prepared. Even something as simple as: “Where are you from originally?”

6)      Establish personal boundaries. It’s fine if you want to let someone know where you went to college or how many children you have, but be mindful of how much personal information you provide. Sure, your relationship could benefit if you find out both your wives are attorneys, but evaluate the value of the subject matter and its impact on the rapport.  If the dialogue gets too sidetracked into personal details, the business relationship angle can become lost. Revealing too many personal details in a business setting can be inappropriate. Use your best judgment to maximize the content of the conversation.

7)      Exit thoughtfully. In many business situations, it’s important to make contact with several people and move around a room. And, sometimes there is just a good time to move on. Find an appropriate point in the conversation to make an exit. Say, “I really enjoyed talking to you about today’s meeting. I have your card and I’ll be in touch with you this week so we can discuss it further.” Make a plan that is actionable and give a specific time when you’ll follow up. Most importantly, if you say you’re going to do something, do it!


Debra Fine is a Denver based keynote speaker, trainer and bestselling author of The Fine Art of Small Talk How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills - and Leave a Positive Impression (Hachette). Contact us for more information about having Debra as your key note speaker!

Kirsten SingletonComment