How to Teach Business Learners to Socialize – Making Small Talk with a Visiting Client

In a previous blog we shared how to teach business learners to socialize. We began with a lesson on showing a visiting colleague your office. Today, we’ll share another socializing lesson for business learners. But this one will be oriented toward clients. We’ll show you a generalized lesson on teaching business learners how to make small talk with visiting clients. The elements of the lesson are presented below.

Context

As mentioned previously, we need context for these lessons. Try to prepare your general dialogue with a mind toward showing students how to make simple small talk with a client. For today’s lesson, this means a client who is perhaps visiting your office waiting for one of your colleagues. This will help class members understand how they can use English to engage the waiting client until their colleague arrives. We’ve given this a very specific context. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be adjusted or shaped to individual learners later in the lesson. However, what we want to accomplish at this point is to give business English students an idea of the language they can use in such settings.

Business Meeting In Busy Office Foyer Area

General Dialogue

For this context, I set it up as the client just arrived at the office and is standing in the foyer. You perceive he is waiting for someone and approach him. To get things started, I like to begin with a general dialogue that looks something like this:

Student A (Office Colleague) Student B (Visiting Client)
Hello, may I help you? [1] Yes, I’m supposed to meet Carl Binder this morning. We had an appointment at 9 a.m.
Oh, I’m sorry, he’s not here right now. He may have been held up in traffic. [2] I see. I’ll just wait for him over here [motioning toward some chairs]. [3]
He shouldn’t be more than 5 or 10 minutes. … Can I get you something to drink (coffee, tea, juice, mineral water)? No thank you, I’m fine.
I’m Betty by the way. … Carl mentioned he had a meeting with someone from ABC Education this morning. Yes, that’s me. I’m Anton Ivanovich. Nice to meet you.
He also said you were flying in from Moscow. Is that right? Yes, I flew in last night.
Oh, how was your flight? [4] Not too bad. Just a little long.

1. This is an excellent opportunity to teach learners how to approach people. They can use something like this, or “Hi! Are you waiting for someone?” Etc.

2. This is an opportunity to teach the present perfect verb tense to connect the past with the present.

3. When possible, try to include body language in your dialogues to develop more authentic interactions.

4. You can extend the dialogue a few more rows here. Ask learners what they could say to keep the small talk going until their colleague arrives. You can even add an extension on how to excuse themselves from their conversation (e.g. Well, it was nice to meet you, but I have a meeting to get to. Please excuse me.).

Go through the dialogue from both ends to get class members warmed up to it. You can do that by asking one or two to simply read it. After going through the dialogue, assign each student a role and ask them to go through it as if they were really having the conversation. If this is a private lesson, you’ll read one of the parts.

Modified Dialogue

After a couple of runs through the general dialogue, try it with some modifications. Remove some information and ask learners to replace it with their own specifics. You can get a better idea of what that looks like below:

 

Student A (Office Colleague) Student B (Visiting Client)
Hello, may I help you? Yes, I’m supposed to meet ____ this morning. We had an appointment at ____.
Oh, I’m sorry, ____ not here right now. ____ may have been ____. I see. I’ll just wait for him over here [motioning toward some chairs].
He shouldn’t be more than ____. … Can I get you something to drink (coffee, tea, juice, mineral water)? ____.
I’m ____ by the way. … ____ mentioned ____ had a meeting with someone from ____ this morning. Yes, that’s me. I’m ____. Nice to meet you.
He also said you were flying in from ____. Is that correct? Yes, I flew in ____.
____? ____.

As you can see, by removing some of the details from the dialogue, learners can not only input their own information, but also add their own more personalized responses.

No Dialogue

Now that they have the hang of it, do another run without a dialogue. It’s all right if this is repeated a couple of times during the lesson. Repetition helps drive it home and facilitates greater acquisition of the material. And, as you may notice, these dialogues are graded in their levels of difficulty. So, learners can do this in steps, with each step reinforcing the previous one. This also provides a way for class members to build up their confidence through scaffolding. For this final run, try to incorporate the ideas you discovered from your learners about their own individual contexts. If this is a group class, ask one of the role players to be the client that Student A might expect in their company. If this is a private lesson, you’ll need to take that role. As mentioned, when you go through it, try to include specifics that you learned from your student. This, of course, creates more authentic interaction. As an added twist, you can ask learners to develop their own dialogues for group classes. Or, for a private lesson, build one together with your student using his/her inputs.

Feedback

In my opinion, lessons are not complete without feedback. We even have a blog or two about the importance of feedback and how to give it. Therefore, after going through the dialogues and even in between them, offer feedback to learners. This could be in the form of pronunciation, grammar, and word choices. But please do not interrupt the dialogue to inject feedback. Let each dialogue play out, then go back and hit the points for improvement. At the end of the lesson, share areas on how they can improve and work on outside the classroom.

Final Words

Now you have another lesson for or at least a better idea of how to teach business learners. One of the important aspects of their work in international communications is knowing how to socialize. Today’s blog delivered a lesson idea on how to teach the English needed for such settings. This time, the possible language needed for interacting with clients who might be visiting your office. Next time, we’ll share one final idea for business English that can be used in networking.

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