During a speech-training (a.k.a. accent modification) telephone coaching session, a client shares that I’ve helped demystify the English sound system for her. Brava! I tell her. She asks, Can you now help me with networking, American style? When it comes to small talk, it doesn’t feel natural. I get quiet and reserved.

Below are a few immediate suggestions I offer:

  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Start with a conversation-starter topic, such as:

o   Shared situation—can’t go wrong with this one

o   Mutual acquaintance—nothing negative

o   Something neighbor-hoody—Chicago, a city of neighborhoods.

o   Something food-related—plenty of foodies and restaurants here

  • Make eye contact.
  • Speak and project an open and optimistic persona. Perhaps watch Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man” for inspiration with this. Elizabeth Moon at the University of California—Davis’ Graduate School of Management includes this in her networking curriculum.

An arena of sharing information, ideas & opinions

While I’m interviewing a group of international speakers of English, two thirds relay their experiences in not getting a joke, not catching a specific phrase, not understanding what some of their remote fast-speaking, mumbling American colleagues are saying in today’s business lingua franca, English. During such team meetings, they’re not accustomed to interrupting others with questions and their own opinions. They may seem to be less than 100% engaged when in fact, they are, 110%.


For any HR professional, team leader, or employee navigating the current global trends and demands, I believe it’s critical to initiate and keep having conversations. Talky-talk events. Those which include (1) structure—the background and stories of its participants and (2) talk space for both the listeners and speakers.

What type of talky-talk events or routines might be worth organizing and cultivating within an organization?

·      A thought leader who shares, educates, and opens up the floor to a Q/A conversation with the audience.

·      A virtual or in-person discussion forum or “safe space”

·      Meetings with break-out sessions

·      Training and coaching programs.

And You?

Do you have any to recommend? I’d love to hear from you in the comment box below.

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