I think we’ve all experienced this situation…
You’re at a networking event and have enjoyed getting to know someone, but then your vibrant conversation comes to an abrupt halt and is replaced with an awkward silence.
I used to have this a lot! Have you?
Each time it happened, I felt paralyzed. I wanted to move on and meet more people but didn’t want to risk offending the other person by walking away, suggesting I was bored of them.
In this situation, you have three choices:
1. Stand there smiling awkwardly waiting for inspiration to strike you with the perfect question that will reignite the conversation.
2. Use the “I’m just going to the bathroom” excuse, and then dive in the opposite direction and avoid all eye-contact with them for the rest of the event, or
3. Try out one of these alternative tactics….
The Head Honcho Approach
With this approach, you seek out the person you most want to speak with first and connect with them before anyone else. That way, if you get stuck in a conversation with them for the entire event, it’s happy days – you wanted a deep connection with them anyway!
For this to work, you need to do your homework. Research the event and its attendees, work out who would be most valuable for you to connect with – or your top 3-5 as often not everyone can make it on the night. Think ahead to some nuggets of information, stories or contacts those people would be most interested in and prepare these in advance, ready to drop into the convo as relevant.
Note: Watch their body language when you speak to them. While you might be happy to hang out with them all evening, they might have a different agenda, so listen and watch out for signals that it’s time for them to move on and start a new conversation.
The Card Exchange Approach
This approach is very simple.
You smile, thank the person for the conversation (ideally mentioning their name and part of the conversation that you particularly enjoyed), then ask if you can exchange business cards so you can stay in touch. It might sound something like this:
“It’s been great meeting you this evening – and thanks for that tip about making shorter videos, I’m going to give that a try! Would it be OK to exchange business cards so we can keep in touch?”
Voilà, you’ve shown that you’ve not only enjoyed the conversation, but taken some real value away from it, you’ve expressed a desire to stay in touch, and you’ve made a clean, friendly exit.
The New Friend Approach
This approach is very simple. Instead of excusing yourself to go to the bar or the bathroom – you offer to take your new friend with you:
“It’s been great getting to know you. I guess we should really get to know some more people as it’s a networking event. Shall we find a new group together?”
This is great as it offers the other person options. They can say yes, and meet more people with you, or they can go their own way. Simple and no one is offended, your new friend, remains a friend.
If you already know other people in the group, you can offer to introduce them to your new friend.
“I’ve seen that my old colleague is here, so I’d like to say ‘hello’ – would you like me to introduce you?”
The Pro Approach (my favourite!)
This is my favourite way to leave a networking conversation as it has a real impact, and for all the right reasons. It combines elements of the above approaches but has one added element that works really well.
As above, start by thanking the person for their conversation…
“Thanks (add their name), I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you this evening.”
Make a comment about something you’ve spoken about, e.g. “I’ll check out that networking group you mentioned and let you know how I get on.”
Move onto… “I’m aware this is a networking event, so I don’t want to monopolize your time further…”
Then say – this is the genius part! – “But before I do, what kind of contacts are you hoping to meet this evening? If I meet anyone that meets that profile, I’ll be sure to introduce you!” If you feel comfortable, lightly touch their elbow when you say this, it will come across as all the more warm and sincere.
This parting note has many advantages: they will be happy to let you go and mingle as you’ll be helping their networking efforts; it will invite them to do the same for you; it will make you stand out as someone they are happy to have met as very few people say something along these lines; and it makes you look incredibly considerate and professional.
Finally, finish by leaving the door open: “Great! And I’ll be in touch to arrange meeting up for that coffee.”
Networking is not about merely collecting as many business cards as you can – it’s about starting relationships. That’s what makes this such a powerful technique, as the fastest way to build relationships is to help the other person first.