April 29, 2010

Networking: Break into a conversation

The client I wrote about in this networking post has some new networking opportunities coming up and is still finding her way around these events.

Her concern this week is about joining conversations already in progress, especially at an event where she will know very few people.

Why does it seem rude to break into a conversation at a networking event, when we are clearly all there to meet people?

We've all been taught that it's rude to interrupt, and it's a hard rule to break. It just feels wrong. However, at a networking event, it's perfectly acceptable -- even desirable -- to break into conversation groups. If meeting people is your goal, you're going to have to force yourself to break the "interrupting rule."

Here are a couple of quick tips to make breaking into a conversation a little less painful.

1. Watch their body language

Scope out a few small groups before you decide where to jump in. The group you don't want to join is the one where people are in deep or heated conversation. You can tell this by how close together they are standing and how tightly knit the group (that is, they are all facing each other both with feet and faces, and there's very little space to break in).

The group you do want to join is the group where there's a lot of open space, where it's clear people are not intensely involved. People may be facing slightly away from each other or there may be a couple who who are less engaged in the conversation. This is a group that is more casually engaged, and your joining them will not feel invasive.

2. Look for someone you know

When choosing a group to join, the best group is the one where you know someone! Walk up to the person, make yourself known by gently touching the person on the arm or shoulder, and slip into the group alongside her or him. The person you know will generally introduce you to other group members, so this situation is like gold, baby!

3. Listen

Take a few minutes to just listen to the conversation. It's okay to introduce yourself when you join the group; say something like "Hi, I'm Martina Navratilova, tennis champion. Please continue... I don't want to interrupt." And then listen to see what's being discussed and where you might be able to jump into the conversation -- with helpful resources, of course.

Be patient. Networking will pay off in the long run. Take the time to build relationships and you'll see the benefits of dealing with the short-term pain of introducing yourself to strangers!

Here are a few more helpful posts on networking:

It takes two to make a conversation

Five favorite networking tips

Do you have my permission?

What not to do when networking

Networking: Exit a conversation

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

whitney elizabeth said...

these are such great tips because sometimes it's hard to know when to "cut in"...but if you don't, then you'll wind up in the corner all night by yourself!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Whitney. It's one of those times where there's nothing else you can do -- you have to be assertive or you just won't meet anyone. It does get easier, though!

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