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Every Conversation Counts: How to Build Extraordinary Relationships with Riaz Meghji

Even before our world shifted to one where working from home and communicating remotely was the standard practice for so many, we were already in the midst of adapting to a rapidly changing landscape of how we talk to one another. And with these changes a core aspect of our humanity, connection with one another, is getting lost in the shuffle. What can we do to rebuild the bonds of our social nature, especially in this challenging moment?

To help answer that question, we were joined for this week’s Virtual Speaker Series session by veteran broadcaster and author Riaz Meghji. He called our current state of office work shifting to Zoom meetings, Slack threads, and constant emails a “new choreography of communication” and believes that the coronavirus pandemic has only compounded the issues we’ve seen rising from what he sees as a “pandemic of isolation and loneliness.” Taking his experience as a long-time host and interviewer and examining the insights he’s learned, Riaz has published his first book just this week titled, Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships. Among the publicity Riaz has been doing for the new book, he spoke with Fast Company in an interview that further explores several of the ideas he discussed during his VSS presentation.

To begin the session, Riaz said that there are three important questions that everyone instinctively asks themselves when they first meet someone: Do you care about me? Are you listening to me? Can I trust you? To create a safe and open space for communication, we need to use our awareness of others’ needs and employ empathy to allow for deeper and more meaningful connections. Riaz reminded us that those connection can be with our employees, our coworkers, teammates, clients, friends and family. Humans are social by nature, and yet Riaz pointed to studies before the pandemic that showed many people – especially among younger generations – reported feeling lonely or isolated. But loneliness can arise at any time in life, and there has been research tying it directly to physical health issues, he said. So, as much as it can be useful and advantageous to be better and building relationships it’s also a key part of a healthy life.

To help us work towards building the tools that can help us be better at engaging those around us, Riaz outlined throughout his presentation the “Five Habits of Human Connection” which form the core of his book. Those habits are:

  1. Listen Without Distraction
  2. Make Your Small Talk Bigger
  3. Put Aside Your Perfect Persona
  4. Be Assertively Empathetic
  5. Make People Feel Famous

The first of these habits is one of the most critical and an important starting point for a real conversation with another person. Riaz said we can’t control all the distractions we have around us these days, but we can work to be more conscious listeners. He said we can prioritize other people’s priorities by listening for the cues we need while we talk. Maybe they are constantly returning to a topic that appears to be a point of concern or anxiety for them, or otherwise excited about a new project or goal. Pay attention to these details and make it clear you’ve heard this other person when they tell you what matters to them.

Following in this vein, Riaz said it’s important to move beyond clichéd small talk questions. To tap into the emotion beyond the surface, we can’t ask superficial questions. He said that a good conversationalist looks for stories, not just answers, and pointed to a set of three subjects that can guide us past the small talk: Trials, transitions, and triumphs. Focusing on drawing out stories around these subjects give us a chance to talk about challenges, change, and accomplishments that matter. Riaz said he would always try to “lean in with authentic curiosity” when interviewing someone, and if we can tap into that same idea it helps to forge the genuine connections we want to spark – and helps to make our discussions more interesting along the way.

Towards the back half of his presentation, Riaz focused on some advice to help with communication in business settings particularly. For example, when having meetings try to make sure multiple people speak. “Call people up, instead of out,” Riaz said and added that this means letting someone know in advance that you might ask them to help in a presentation, so that it’s not a surprise for them possibly causing anxiety or stress. A diversity of voices helps everyone to engage more, and gives room for varied perspective.

Further on the subject of virtual meetings and presentations, Riaz provided some quick point form pieces of advice to quickly form a connection with your audience – whoever they may be.

  • Turn off your self-view on the video screen. It’s important to try to forget about yourself when connecting with others. Seeing yourself on the screen is just another distraction.
  • Try to use a real background instead of a virtual backdrop if possible. People are easily distracted by virtual backgrounds, and by using our live setting on camera it gives us a chance to “speak with our space.” Maybe a book in the background sparks a post-meeting discussion, etc.
  • The camera can mute emotions. Be open and clear with your own feelings. Your openness gives other people the permission to share.

Wrapping up, Riaz highlighted the key message that underpinned his entire presentation: We need empathy now more than ever. Developing these communication skills can help us in our work, but the goal is not simply to give us a competitive edge in our business. Riaz said our influence on others is immense, and that we all have the ability to teach and inspire. Take on the challenge of reaching out to those around you with honesty, openness, genuine curiosity and support.  “Don’t hold back, because the people in your life might be looking for more from you than you realize,” he said

Riaz Meghji is a human connection keynote speaker and author of the book Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships. He is also an accomplished broadcaster with 17 years of television experience, interviewing experts on current affairs, sports, entertainment, politics and business. Along the way, he not only learned the power of a candid conversation, but also how to put it into practice.

Speakers’ Spotlight has been offering virtual presentations since 2009. We work with a range of speakers who are comfortable with presenting virtually on a variety of topics. If interested, contact us for more information.