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Admit it – you’ve had the thought.

I hate business dinners, George Brinkman says to me. I am startled by the ferocity with which George utters these words. George is a highly seasoned business executive after all – a Fortune 500 guy with a keen mind. Funny, sharp. The sort of fellow who talks well, really well. And George attends lots and lots of such dinners.

I hate the moment when we run out of things to say, George adds. There is a long, pregnant pause. And that moment always comes …

Huhmm. What I really dislike is not the dinners – no, it’s the predictable conversations. They zap the energy out of me. I have a hunch these are the conversations George was talking about, as well. The sports/weather/favorite TV show/happy family conversations. The blah blah blah of predictable chatter. The blah blah blah of no surprises. The blah blah blah of just filling up time with easy narratives. You have been there. You know.

So how do we electrify a business dinner chat?

1. Take a risk

Fine, start with safe and easy banter. But quickly find an opportunity to take a social risk. Share something unexpected that happened to you recently. A personal challenge you face. A wonderful surprise you had. A sudden insight.

Such stories offer our table mates a delicious glimpse into what makes us tick. They invite our mates to take a social risk, in turn. Suddenly our chat has switched from predictable to unexpected. Unexpected will take us to memorable. Memorable is business-dinner-nirvana.

2. Dive or switch

In any conversation, choose to dive or switch. If we’re talking golf, for example, we may dive by talking golf gear, favorite golf courses, personal bests, golf personalities, professional golf events, golf lore. There are countless ways of extending the golf chat.

I’m not a golfer, and I refuse to get stuck in a golf conversation that drones on and on

How do I switch? I may make a lateral move – veer into other favorite sports. Tennis. Swimming. Or I may open the conversational lens a bit wider. Chat about week-end activities that thrill me – beach time where I live, hanging out in the Keys, attending alternative performance events. These are relatively easy switches. Subtle, fluid, unforced.

Observe where your table mates want to deep-dive with you. Off you go …

3. “Why” is always a Win

“Why” questions are diving techniques at their best. They help us to understand our conversation partner’s aspirations, desires, motivators. They are the single most potent door to a deeper, more engaged conversation. Open it. You will be rewarded with a revelatory chat!

4. Choose Switzerland

The present moment, the present surroundings – that is Switzerland. The common neutral ground that all of us share, during any table chat. If stories at your table don’t coalesce into a compelling narrative, bring the conversation back to Switzerland. Even though everyone at your table is present in the same moment at the same time, experiencing the same ambiance, tasting the same cuisine, each person likely has a very different take on “what’s going on.” Our differing takes often spark a very illuminating chat!

AVOID, AVOID, AVOID: Refrain from office gossip, airing company gripes, or indulging in endless whining about your pet business peeves. A business dinner is not a business meeting or water-cooler-bacchanal. It is a chance to forge a deeper personal connection with those who are present. Explore. Enjoy. And leave the office at the office.