Everyone learns the technical skills required for their jobs, but not everyone places importance on conversational skills. The ability to talk easily with anyone is a learned skill, not a personality trait. Acquiring it will help you develop rapport with people and leave a positive impression that lasts longer than an exchange of business cards.

Here are a few tips business professionals can use to improve their small-talk skills:

– Be the first to say hello.

– Introduce yourself. Act as if you're the host and introduce new arrivals to your conversational partner or partners.

– Smile first and always shake hands when you meet anyone.

– Take your time during introductions. Make an extra effort to remember names, and use them frequently in the conversation.

– Maintain eye contact in any conversation. Many people in a group of three or more people look around in the hope that others will maintain eye contact on our behalf. But people don't feel listened to if you're not looking at them.

– Get somebody to talk about why they're attending the event, and you are on your way to engaging them in conversation.

– Show an interest in every person. The more interest you show the wiser and attractive you become to others.

– Listen carefully for information that can keep the conversation going.

– Remember: People want to be with people who make them feel special, not people who are “special”. Take responsibility to help people you talk to feel as if they're the only person in the room.

– Play the conversation game. When someone asks, “How's business?” and “What's going on?” Answer with more than “Pretty good” or “Not much.” Tell more about yourself so that others can learn more about you.

– Be careful with business acquaintances. You wouldn't want to open a conversation with: “How's your job at ________?” What if that person just got fired or laid off? Be careful when you're asking about an acquaintance's spouse or special friend; you could regret it.

– Don't act like you're an FBI agent. Questions like “What do you do?”, “Are you married?”, “Do you have children?”, and “Where are you from?” lead to dead-end conversations.

– Be aware of body language. Nervous or ill-at-ease people make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable, even when you're not.

– Be prepared. Spend a few minutes before an anticipated event preparing to talk easily about three topics. They will come in handy when you find yourself in the middle of an awkward moment... or while seated at a table of eight where everyone is playing with their food.

– Show an interest in your conversational partner's opinion, too. You're not the only person who has opinions about funding the space program or what will happen to the stock market.

– Stop conversation monopolists in their tracks. If possible, wait for the person to take a breath or to pause, then break in with a comment about their topic. Immediately redirect the conversation in the direction you wish it to go.

– Be prepared with exit lines. You need to move around and meet others.

– Don't melt from conversations. Make a positive impression by shaking hands and saying goodbye as you leave.

Debra Fine is a former engineer living in Denver who works nationwide as a speaker and trainer presenting “The Fine Art of Small Talk”. For more information, call (303) 721-8266 or visit www.debrafine.com .