Never eat more than you can lift.” ~Miss Piggy
Blog Date: 1/23/12
If you’re in business, there will come a time when it becomes necessary to talk work outside the office in the form of a business dinner, breakfast, or lunch. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who have been making deals since your diaper days about nap time and can’t wait to get down to business. But maybe you’re a little more on the shy side and the thought of making small talk while eating and remembering to mind your manners and fitting in something about your company is a bit more daunting. Not to worry, your business days don’t need to be over just yet. Conversing is an art. Business doesn’t need to be uptight and impersonal. And an invitation to share a meal is the perfect way to become more familiar with the other person.
But how? I just recently read Don Gabor’s “Talking with Confidence for the Painfully Shy” and I’d like to go through five basic rules of business dining, as adapted from that book:
1. Know your business purpose. Are you discussing a new marketing plan or using this meeting to gather information for a sales presentation? Always keep this purpose in mind.
2. Balance talking with listening. Talking about yourself and sharing the information you have to contribute to the purpose of the meeting is very important. But people like to talk about themselves too, so remember to listen.
3. Know when to have small talk and when to transition into business mode. Often the meal will start out with small talk and, depending on the length of meeting, the focus will eventually shift to your business purpose. But how do you bridge your conversation without sounding forceful or being abrupt? This brings us to the next point.
4. Bridge smoothly from small talk to your business topic. Tactfully changing the focus from everyday musings to the main idea is important. Gracefully steer across several conversations to your business topic by taking key phrases from the conversation and relating them to your own business purpose.
5. Eat and converse at calm rates. Pace yourself moderately regarding your meal and your conversation. Don’t speak so fast that no one can understand what you are saying, but don’t bore the person to sleep either. You can gauge yourself by eating at the same pace as your dining companion.
Now the basics are covered, but depending on the time of day the meal is chosen to be shared, how conversation should proceed will vary.
The Breakfast Meeting: These power breakfast meetings are shorter than lunching and dining, lasting only around 45 minutes total, so adjust accordingly. Small talk can lead up to ordering and pouring the first cup of coffee. After a couple of minutes, once you are sure your partner is actually awake and alert, shift gears to the business topic you want to discuss, and take it away.
The Business Lunch: Lunch time offers a break from the office and a chance to interact with the rest of the world and will usually last from about an hour to an hour and a half. More time for small talk and socializing is available so take advantage of forming a personal connection. Remembering to bridge the conversation after sufficient family vacations and hot topics have been discussed, you can then proceed to your main topic of conversation.
The Dinner Meet-up: Similar to the lunch meeting, time to socialize is available before food arrives. Creating a relaxed and comfortable environment is important, so avoid topics like politics, sex, and religion. Before narrowing in on your main topic, or if you are done discussing business before the meal ends, inquire about general business practices and the philosophy of your partner and what his “big picture” is for his company and how he goes about managing his people. Gaining this insight can also lead to more in-depth conversations which forms a better rapport.
Now that a nice meal has been shared and business has been taken care of, it’s time to part ways. As the recipient of a nice meal, be sure to thank them. But instead of ending the meeting abruptly, opt to letting your meal partner know that you will be sending him a recap of the main points that were discussed and what conclusions had been reached to close the deal. End on some light conversation, and you have just concluded a successful business meal meet-up. And now that you have gained this experience, the next business lunch won’t seem as daunting!
Adapted from Don Gabor’s Talking with Confidence for the Painfully Shy