August 23, 2007

Networking: exit a conversation



I recently wrote about my three rules of networking, but rather than go general today, I'll go specific.

Exiting conversations at a networking event is one of the most awkward situations one can face; people are either uncomfortable leaving a conversation to go out into the unknown group of strangers, or they feel that it's impolite to walk away.

However, the purpose of a networking event is to meet people, make contacts and build relationships. The least effective networker will huddle in a group all evening with people she already knows, or walk around thrusting her card into others' hands without invitation.

Ideally, you will meet several people, have some good conversations, and start building a resource list for yourself and sharing resources with others. But how do you move around the room and meet people without looking like you're just collecting names? How do you exit a conversation when the timing is right?

You're in a group


This is one of the easier situations to exit. Here are some examples.

1. If the group is talking about a particular topic (say, their favorite local banker), I will touch someone on the arm to get her attention and quietly say, "I'll leave you to your banking conversation." As the group notices me leaving, they might say goodbye and I'll mention that it was lovely meeting all of them, ask for cards if I haven't already, and then I'm off.

2. There's always, "Excuse me, I'm going to get another drink." Done. Another good one: "Excuse me, I have to find the restroom." Just wait for a slight lull and make your move.

3. And the famous, "Oh, I see someone I have to talk to - excuse me." Notice that "excuse me" is always appropriate. You don't even have to have any reason to be walking away. Just "excuse me" is enough.

You're talking to one person

This is more awkward because you feel uncomfortable leaving that person alone. Remember, it's a networking event and you don't have any responsibility to keep someone company! They are also there to meet people and won't be offended if you walk away; you're allowing them to keep moving, too.

1. Use the above options

2. Bring a new person into the group. Grab someone you know as they walk by and say, "Kathy, I want to introduce you to Meredith. She's also a big fan of 'American Idol'." Get the conversation rolling and then use above suggested exit lines.

Where do you go next?

I hope you're not one of those people who, while you're talking to someone, is always looking around for someone "better" or more important. That's outright rude and the other person will know what you're doing. Please focus on the person you're talking to until the end of the conversation.

When you are ready to move on, make the rounds in the room. Walk in a circle on the perimeter or thread your way through groups on your way to the drink table or restroom. Scope out the room and determine who you'd like to talk to next.

Is there someone you know about through the media or through word of mouth that you'd like to meet? Is there someone in the room who's in your industry that you've never met? Is there someone in the room who provides a service that you need or want to learn more about? Do you see someone in a fabulous outfit or jewelry that you want to compliment? These are all reasons to strike up a new conversation.

I like to seek out the host. This is always a good option, because you have a built-in reason to talk to her: thanking her for hosting such a great event. If the host is already in a group, even better. A good host will eventually move on, because it's her job to speak to as many people as possible. You will be left with a whole new group of people to meet.

More later on how to enter a conversation and how to introduce yourself in a group.

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