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The Art of Conversation circa 44 BC


We keep talking about how marketing has changed and is changing. Fair enough. Maybe it’s time to take a look at what doesn’t change. Case in point: conversation.

All marketing is or should be conversation — ways to encourage it, make it more relevant and more comfortable for those engaged (your customers). There are rules, a kind of etiquette, that most follow and expect others to follow. Over the years, however, marketing has tended to ignore those rules; for example, ads shout at you, dominate the conversation and don’t let you get a word in edgewise… a bit like your mother-in-law.

Here’s the interesting part. The rules of conversation etiquette are universal; they cut across all cultural boundaries and have been in play for centuries. Centuries? Is that true?

Yes… have a look at Cicero’s rules for pleasant conversation, written in 44 BC. Still as fresh as a newborn babe and perhaps more relevant than ever in this technology age that allows for millions of conversations per second worldwide. Marketers — pay attention, these rules apply to you all the more, as the conversation you’re trying to start is often with a consumer who does not trust or know you.

Cicero’s Rules for Good Conversation

  • speak clearly
  • speak easily, but not too much, give others their turn
  • do not interrupt
  • be courteous
  • deal seriously with serious matters, gracefully with lighter ones
  • never criticize people behind their backs
  • stick to subjects of general interests
  • do not talk about yourself
  • never lose your temper


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