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Career Coach: The Art of Conversation

In this month's "Career Coach," Pamela Kleibrink Thompson paints the art of conversation, which should center on dialogue not monologues.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

I have a problem. I talk too much. I tend to hog the spotlight, not yielding the floor to others who want to contribute. This has been pointed out to me, and I'm trying to correct it.

Perhaps you know someone who talks too much -- someone who is long-winded. Perhaps you are long-winded, and haven't given anyone a chance to point this out to you.

To avoid being perceived as boring, self-absorbed and egocentric, engage the people you speak with in a two-way conversation.

A conversation is about sharing -- it's not a monologue. Monologues are okay for the stage, when you perform or lecture or make a presentation, but a conversation should be give and take. It should ebb and flow. If your conversation is drowning the other person, he will think less of you.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People observed that a person loves to hear the sound of his own name. He also noted that people love to talk about themselves. So give them a chance. They'll think you're terrific and fascinating if you listen to their stories, so use your ears more than your mouth. One of my aunts used to say, "I listen so I'll know everything I know and learn everything you know."

Conversation is a vital career skill. If you can't be genuinely interested in other people, at least pretend to be. Ask questions to find out what interests the other person. Try to find out what you have in common. Good conversations can lead to connections. Focus on remembering names and learning something about the person. Don't worry about making your point or getting your story across. Your goal should be to learn about the people you are speaking with.

When you find you have something in common with your conversation partner, he will be more open to what you have to say. Don't make your pitch until you've given the other person a chance to talk about himself, his projects or interests. He will be more receptive to your story if you've given him the opportunity to tell you his.

Pay attention to the reaction of your listener. If she seems distracted, she may not be as interested in your fascinating anecdotes as you think. Check for non-verbal cues regularly so you don't annoy or alienate your listeners. If people frequently say "uh-huh" to get you to finish talking or interrupt you, or otherwise show a lack of interest, you might be talking too much.

Be concise. Don't bore your listener with unimportant details. Keep stories as brief as possible while still making your point. Give the listener a chance to respond by asking, "What do you think?" Your conversation partner will appreciate your consideration.

Bring other people into the conversation. Find ways to draw those on the sidelines into a discussion. Introducing newcomers is a great way to demonstrate that you've been paying attention. For example, if a person is on the periphery of a conversation at a party or industry event, invite him to join you. "We were just talking about the new animation software. (Your conversation partner's name) really loves it. Have you used it yet?"

Trade shows, film festivals and industry events, like Annecy in June, Comic-Con in July and SIGGRAPH in August, are great places to practice the art of conversation. I'll be doing a lot of talking at SIGGRAPH since I'm presenting a course. But off stage, I'll be listening more than talking. If you do the same, you're sure to learn a great deal.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, hiring strategist, career coach and speaker, available for personal consultations and speaking engagements. She will give a course at the SIGGRAPH conference on Monday, August 6 at 3:15 on "Resumes and Demo Reels, If Yours Don't Work, Neither Do You"). If you are interested in her professional services as a career coach, speaker, or recruiter, contact her at