When you go to your next trade convention show, you will want to network with as many people as you can - which means you have to leave many conversations. How do you do this gracefully?
Here is an example of an awkward exit, and some tips on how it could have been handled better. The other night at a networking event I ran into someone I had met at another event. We were chatting, but during a somewhat awkward pause he looked at his plate and said "these stuffed mushrooms are really good. I'm going to get some more." He simply walked away, went to the buffet and started filling up his plate. I stood there for a minute wondering if I should follow him, stay where I was and wait for him to return or find another person to talk to.
After standing there for a few more moments, feeling rather stupid, I realized he was not coming back. I wondered if I had said something wrong or maybe, horrors, I had halitosis. I felt foolish for standing there thinking he would return.
What went wrong here? As I reflected on this, I realized this man, I'll call him Chris, was finished talking to me but had no idea how to gracefully end the conversation. He attempted by giving a plausible excuse, but he did not make it clear the conversation was over.
The most important rule when ending a conversation with someone, whether at a networking event, party or out and about, is to be gracious and kind to your conversation partner. Even if the person was the biggest bore or had the worse halitosis it's important to not communicate displeasure with them. And, you must clearly end the conversation so you're partner isn't wondering if you're coming back.
What could Chris have done differently? At the very least he should have said to me, "wow, these stuffed mushrooms are really good. I'm going to get some more. It was great seeing you again. Enjoy the event."
Or "I'm going to freshen my drink. I enjoyed our conversation. May I have your business card? I'd love to stay in touch."
Or, "It's been really nice talking to you. I don't want to keep you from mingling with others. Enjoy the event."
Or, "Arden, have you met Mary? She is also into biking. I bet you two have a lot in common."Then make the introduction and exit the conversation.
All of these options are kind and clearly convey the conversation is finished. I would have known immediately Chris did not want me to follow him, nor wait for him to return after chowing down.
We really shouldn't expect to talk to someone for more than five minutes at a networking event. That's usually about how long we can sustain small talk with a stranger. So, expect to enter and exit several conversations at an event. Just be sure to exit conversations graciously, so that the person saves face and doesn't wonder if they said or did something wrong.
A few other tips. When you're talking to someone, give them your full attention and never scan the room looking for your next conversation partner. Even if the person you're talking to isn't a potential client or doesn't offer what you're looking for don't just give up on the conversation. You never know who they know or if there might be partnership opportunities in the future.
If you're walking into a networking event or party and you don't know anyone, look for groups of three or more, because they tend to be more casual groups open to newcomers. Or introduce yourself to someone standing alone. Most likely this person doesn't know anyone either and will be grateful you reached out.
Make networking about others not you. Be gracious and kind, and you will have much more success.
This has been a guest post by Arden Clise, President of Clise Etiquette. Ms. Clise is a business etiquette consultant, trainer and coach. She is also the Etiquette columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal. Arden has a great newsletter on Business Etiquette tips, click here to sign up.