#310: Patti DeNucci on How to Enjoy Better Conversations

Throughout modern history, conversation has been at the heart of human progress. The art of having good conversation is something most people valued.

Coming from a Hispanic family, conversation was always at the heart of most of what we did growing up. We’re talking deep, lively conversations at every family gathering about anything under the sun, including politics, religion, current events and what’s happening in our lives.

But it seems like over the past 20 years, more and more people aren’t valuing the skill of good conversation like they used to. And that’s too bad, because the ability to engage in and lead good conversations is a critical business and life skill.

My guest today is an expert in this topic. Her name is Patti DeNucci, and she’s the author of the excellent book The Intentional Networker and the upcoming book More Than Just Talk: The Essential Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Enjoy Better Conversations.

I’ve known Patti for over 10 years. As you’ll quickly see she’s an excellent conversationalist and a true pro on this topic. And in our conversation we dive into how you can become better at conversation—regardless of whether you’re introverted, shy, or not really fond of talking to people you don’t know.

This is a skill anyone can develop with the right strategies, techniques and practice. Not only will it help you in your business, but also in your personal life.

So with that, I hope you enjoy our conversation.


The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Key Topics and Bullets:

  • Societal shifts, technology access, and political polarization impact
  • Overcoming the Fear of Rejection in Conversations
  • Post-Pandemic Awkwardness and Shyness
  • Impact of personalities, introversion, and shyness
  • Importance of gracefully and assertively shifting conversation topics
  • Handling Difficult Situations in Client Conversations
  • Building Trust in Business Relationships
  • Emphasis on genuine conversations and active listening
  • Patti’s Book “More Than Just Talk”
  • Content of the Book and Writing Process
  • Emphasis on technique and confidence in conversation and writing
  • Introduction to Patti’s New Book “The Art of Conversation”
  • Importance of Developing Social Intelligence
  • Importance of shared enthusiasm and a supportive editor
  • Purposeful Networking and Genuine Connections

Timestamp Overview:

05:15 Ed– I’m hearing a lot of people use the whole personality thing as a crutch. It’s not me. That’s why I’m not good at that. That’s not who I am. And we’ve all seem to have been given an out for so many things including this. Could you speak to that?

Patti– I learned a lot when I was writing The Intentional Networker, and in speaking, and preparing workshops, and you know, I’ve been doing research, well, very intensively for the last 15 years, probably all my life, really, but I’ve done even more research. I’ve learned even more which has been just fascinating. And, here’s the thing about social personality, there’s the introverts who are energized by solitude, the extroverts who are energized by socializing, being with people, speaking out loud, thinking, you know, the the chatty ones who just love people, And then there’s those of us like me, I’m right in the middle, I am a right down the middle ambivert, many people haven’t heard that term before, ambivert, which means sometimes I really like my alone time when I can work and be creative and just relax, and then I love to be out and about with people doing what we’re doing now, I absolutely I love it and then it’s like, yeah, time to go back and so I vacillate and I have to pay attention to that vacillation. When is it time to go back into the other realm? Now, on top of that, there’s also shyness. Shyness is something I don’t know enough about where shyness comes from, but I will tell you this, once you’re an introvert, you’re always an introvert, whatever your social personality is, and you can find that out by taking the Myers Briggs or there’s some quickie test you can take online to get a glimpse of it.

08:54 Patti– Like, don’t if you’re an introvert, don’t overbook yourself. Don’t go to a conference and try to go from the minute the breakfast networking starts to the very last drink is being served in the bar. I mean, I can’t do that. You pace yourself, and you think, okay, I have to go back to my room, or I need to go home now, or if, you know, I’ll do an hour at this networking event, and then I’m going home and watching Downton Abbey or whatever your favorite series is. You have to take care of yourself and honor How it works, and I will also say extroverts need to be aware that they can go forever. They’re like marathon runners, and not all of us can.

12:57 Ed-We’ve all been in a conversation that it’s just not going all that well, either because you feel you’re I don’t know, it’s just awkward or maybe you feel like they’re being a little aggressive and asking too much of you, completely unexpectedly. So what can, and I know I just gave you 2 or 3 different examples, but what do we do? You know, how do we kind of turn things around in a way that’s gonna make the conversation more productive. Or how do we end the conversation?

Patti– So let’s say you’re at a networking event and, you know, networking, people don’t like the term, I don’t know, any place where you’re gonna be social, because I think networking happens everywhere. It happens at the gym. It happens when you’re out walking the dog. It happens everywhere. But let’s say you’re at a specific professional event and you’re having a conversation with somebody and they’re either just talking too much or that you don’t like the energy, you can’t really get the flow going, you can’t get a good mutually interesting conversation going. You know, you can sit there for a while and be polite, and then at some point, you can say, you know what? Please forgive me, please forgive me, those are the 3 words. Please forgive me. Oh, I see my friend over there.

16:18 Ed– You go into a conversation and you feel it’s not abusive, but you were not expecting this negative conversation, right? Negative feedback or, you know, something happened that you didn’t know about and suddenly, in other words, you’re being unloaded with new information that you weren’t expecting. It’s hard to process. Yeah. And you feel stuck. That’s a difficult situation.

Patti– That is really difficult. Well, you know, I I don’t know if I’m really the expert on the difficult conversation thing, but I’ve certainly had difficulty or when something came up, and I think sometimes we have to just be honest and say, wow, I was not expecting this. You may need to say, tell me more about what you want to say to me, and what I need to know about this, and you may have to say, look, I’m not sure how to process this yet, I need to have some time to think about it. I think you can always ask for time to think about something. Yeah. You know, even in some of these very lively conversations, You know, that that people have about all kinds of topics and policies and, you know, I and And a good friend of mine, in fact, she’s the one my new book is dedicated to, Jen B. King, she said that when anybody backs her into a corner, like, well, what do you think about this? And if she’s not ready to answer, she’ll just say I’m not ready to answer that. I need some time to think about this. How awesome for someone to say that Honestly, and say, I need some time than to spout something, you know, that’s totally unthought through.

19:08 Ed– I think that is huge right there because we have been conditioned somehow to think that we have to provide answers and agreement when we’re not ready to do so.

Patti– And we’re also in a world where people think it’s okay to just attack and to be mean and bully. I’m writing a speech right now for a group of city leaders, and I’m trying to be very Tactful in how I’m telling them that they all need to be more tactful. They’re leaders. They need to, you know, practice civility, practice courteousness, practice listening, practice being curious, find out what’s on people’s minds. We have so many bad examples out there in the media, and they’re not only impacting us. They’re impacting our kids.

22:53 Patti– So it back when I was in college, I had lots of writing classes, and I took a journalism class, I did some writing for the school paper, and I learned how about interviewing, and interviewing is all like asking, coming up with a good story comes from good questions. So if you want a good story from somebody, ask them questions. And I don’t mean being invasive and snoopy and getting in the middle of their business, but, you know, ask people things like, you know, what 3 books are on you have books on your nightstand? What are you reading right now? Or, who was your… who was the teacher that influenced you the most? The one that you think about and are so grateful for at this stage in your life. I mean, when people can come up with, in fact, having a powwow to come up with questions, like what’s your favorite conversation question? That’s a question in itself. 

25:49 Patti– I’ve had I don’t know about you, Ed, but I’ve had some really delightful conversations with people that I thought were gonna be the most boring people in the room. That’s my assumption, you know, that was me prejudging. I’ve had boring conversations with people that said, oh my gosh, there’s so and so who’s like the CEO of the company, and it turned out to be a brilliant person, but not a very good conversation. And, I’ve had some surprising conversations, especially talking about tactics. Using the tactic of if you’re going into a social setting and whatever it is, professional or otherwise, there’s always a person that’s standing by themselves, they’re also feeling like I don’t know anybody here. I don’t know what to say, or they just haven’t found right person. Go over and ask them a question. How are you doing? Like, you know, who do you know here? What brought you to this event? You know? Is this the first time you’ve been to one of these? Or do you know that am I the only one that doesn’t know anybody here?

27:09 Patti– It’s a technique. It’s a lot of it’s technique, and then confidence. Again, I think the more you do this, the better it gets. And, honestly, I thought I knew everything about, oh, conversation, writing a book about conversation, which is my new book. How hard can it be? Well, 8 years later, and, you know, we edited it down from I don’t even know how many words we had, but it’s gonna be a 400 some page book. Not a dense 400 some page book, but it’ll be thick, but easy to go through. Short chapters, sections, things you can go tactically, things you can do strategically, and I know we’re gonna get to talking about that in a minute, but, yeah, I think that covers authenticity, ease, and confidence.

31:56 Ed– I love the fact that you said, look, be clear, but then set it aside. One of the things that I hear a lot of people, especially with networking events or industry events, as they set these ridiculous goals of, I’m gonna walk away with 10 leads. It’s like, you have no control over that, number 1. Number 2, that’s way too much pressure. Yeah. How about, look, I’m gonna I wanna meet some interesting people and, you know, maybe start start some relationships. You know, the beginning of some relationships that are good relationships. Yeah. And then just kinda let it go and be out there and be yourself.

Patti-I mean, you the person who wants to have x number of leads and wants to have x number of business cards and do that, you know, they’re gonna become the most obnoxious person in the room, because everyone else is gonna look at them like, dude, chill. Yeah. Let’s just be people here. Let’s just I mean, honestly, and and, you know, I I tell people to to do this, like, when you’re trying to figure out where your best business comes from, go back and analyze, you know, what’s the pedigree of your favorite clients, where did you meet them, where and how did you meet them? One of my favorite clients was somebody on my cycling team when I was cycling a few years ago, and I had no expectation that that was gonna be a networking thing, but she called me at 9 o’clock one night, and just said, oh my gosh, we have some budget money. We have to use it up by the end of the year. You’d be perfect. Can you do a thing for blah blah blah in 3 weeks?

35:10 Ed– Tell me more, you just mentioned listening. I know you’re really big on that, a lot of people feel like you gotta have the gift of gab when really what you have to have is the gift of listening. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Patti-Oh, boy. I think the gift of gab definitely has its merits in that people who are comfortable talking to almost anybody. My dad was that way, some of my best friends are that way. Some people say I’m that way, and I think that’s great to to be comfortable talking to anybody about anything, I think that’s a wonderful trait, but if you’re not in turn doing your share of the listening, then it’s kind of gone out of control, and and there’s actually a rule about if you’re in a 1 on 1, socially or however, you should be listening 60% of the time and talking 40% of the time, And, Chris, the real geeky math people say, well, that’s impossible. Both people can’t be, you know, doing that. It won’t work if both people do that. Well, the point is be the generous one, you be the generous one who is willing to listen more than they talk.

39:54 Patti– People need this info and I’ll also say, I read a lot of other books about conversations, some really fantastic ones out there, but a lot of them are written from an extrovert’s point of view. And that’s not me. There’s a ton of the people that need a lot of people that need this book could be extroverts, you know, how do how do I manage my extroversion, but there will be ambiverts and introverts and shy people too who I think will get a lot out of this and feel, You know, that that, that ease and authenticity and confidence once they start practicing using some of these techniques. You know, I tell a lot of stories too about things that have happened to me and, you know, good and bad, things I did well and things I screwed up, and, you know, I just we tried to have fun with it and and make it amusing because people don’t really like reading huge dense books that are boring.

41:23 Ed– I’m gonna throw an interesting question at you. If you could somehow call your past self 10 years ago and you had some advice about this topic,you only had a few seconds. And you’re not gonna waste time proving to your past self that it’s really you. Let’s just assume that it was a given. What would you tell your past self?

Patti– I would have said that I would have hired the editor of this book is my good friend. We’re both fellow marketing communications writers. We’ve known each other for more than 30 years. Our kids are the same age. I would’ve said hire Susan right off the bat. Susan Pretty, that’s her name. And I worked with 2 or 3 other book coaches and editors, and I didn’t get the same enthusiasm, and I would say this to anybody of your people who are gonna write a book at any time. If you’re gonna bring in any kind of partner or editor or book coach, they need to have the same enthusiasm for the topic and for how you want to try to cover the topic and share the topic as you do.

44:41 Ed– So, tell me more about where listeners can learn about your book. Where can they and I believe you have a free chapter they can download?

Patti– Yes. If they go to, patidienucci.com, and then it’s spelled p a t t i, d as in dog, e, n as in Nancy, ucci.com or intentionalnetworker.com. Thus, they go to the same place. We should have a pop up that will allow you to find and receive a free chapter of the book, and we’ve had a couple we’ve picked out, we might rotate different ones in and out to just get, give people different tastes of what the book’s about. Chapters are short, but they have something in it that you can use, so that would be a great way to stay in touch. It will automatically, I’ll be honest, it’ll automatically put you into my blog description, my blog list, and I’ll be doing a lot more of that. I’ll probably be sharing things from the book for the next, you know, How forever. As long as I can type, I’ll keep putting things out there

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