You’ve done it! You're in a conversation at a networking event. You feel like it’s going well and you’ve enjoyed chatting with them. The whole time you’ve been a little nervous because you never know how to wrap up conversations and often feel like you get stuck in them. [click to tweet] Going to networking events can have its challenges. For some getting into a conversation is difficult, for many wrapping up a conversation gracefully is the real challenge.
How do you know when to move on?
Are you feeling distracted and unable to focus on what your conversation partner is talking about? Are you having difficulty maintaining eye contact with the person speaking and keep looking over their shoulder at that person who looks like, no definitely is, your ex (or boss, person you want to date or work for, best friend from 3rd grade, etc.). Notice this is happening. Become aware of yourself in the room, this will help you know when it’s time to wrap up the conversation.
Bored or boring?
Self-awareness will help you realize that you are tired (or hungry, worried about the meter running out on your parking space, etc.). None of these distractions have anything to do with whether the person you’re speaking with is boring. These are about you and what’s going on in your body and mind. If you need to use the restroom and the person you’re speaking with is telling an exciting story, you won’t register the same enthusiasm you usually would. You would appear distracted. If you kept checking your phone to see if the babysitter has texted her check-in. You would appear bored. Again, this has nothing to do with the person you are speaking with. These are signs that you should wrap things up so you can deal with whatever is distracting you. If you notice these signs in the person you're speaking with – it doesn’t necessarily mean you're boring, but it does mean you should wrap things up.
What if you really hit it off with someone and you’re having an amazing conversation? Wonderful! That’s excellent. Even so, you’ll want to have a sense of how much time is passing. Your goal (and likely theirs) was to meet or reconnect with several people at the event, so squirreling away with one person for most of the night isn’t advantageous for either of you. Tell them you’ve really enjoyed the conversation and would love to stay in touch. Invite them to attend an upcoming event you have on your calendar or ask where else you might run into each other.
End on a high note
The key here is to leave them wanting more. Whether you’re having a really great conversation or after a few questions realized it wasn’t going anywhere – you want to leave them feeling good about you. Then when you see them later in the evening, they will naturally be inclined to introduce you to the people they are standing with.
Ask to be introduced
If you’re new to a space, a great way to wrap up a conversation is to ask to be introduced, “Do you know anyone here you think I should meet? Great. Will you introduce me?” This works best if you’re speaking to someone who’s a regular at these events, but it could work if they even know only one other person in the room. This allows them to be a connector. They’ve learned a little bit about you and can use that information to try and make a great match. Results will vary, but this method will help you get closer to making the best connections possible in that room.
One other thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to decide if it’s time to move on – how many people are you speaking with? If there are three or more people in your group you can slide away when others are talking with a gesture and a murmur. You don’t need to look each person in the eye, shake their hand, and tell them you’re walking away. You just say, “I’m going to go mmmm…” trailing off as you walk away. Easy as that. Take notice though of when there are only three of you, because if someone other than you walks away there will only be two of you. At that point you need to decide whether it’s time to wrap up the conversation by asking to be introduced (or offering to introduce them). You may also want to invite someone else to join you, which would then allow you to step away once they became engaged in conversation.
Grip, grin, and go.
What if it’s just the two of you and you’re ready to move on? What do you do and say to exit gracefully? It’s a three-step process that needs to be done without interruption. [click to tweet] Start by shaking their hand (grip), then with a smile (grin) say something nice (e.g. “It was great to see you here.” “I enjoyed meeting you.” “Pleasure speaking with you.”), and then walk away (go). If you’ve had trouble ending a conversation, it’s possible you interrupted this three-step process. Have you ever shook someone’s hand, said it was great to meet them, and then thought of something else you wanted to say to them? If you say it at that moment and you chat for a few more minutes, you’ve wasted the social cue of handshaking. It’s quite possible that when you once again shake hands, the person you are speaking with will interrupt with a comment or question. Yes, you’re now stuck a bit, but who started it? You have some control over how successful the social cue of a handshake is. Your hands and feet need to be in sync. If you shake hands, your feet need to walk away. You can always circle back to chat with that person again later in the evening or send a follow-up email.
Remember, the goal is to leave them on a high note so they are looking forward to seeing or hearing from you again. That is the basis of relationship-building, which after all is the point of networking.
In the comments
Share what you find challenging about networking. Maybe your question will end up as the topic of a future blog post!
Robbie Samuels has been recognized as a networking expert by Inc. and Lifehacker, and profiled in “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It” by Dorie Clark. Check out “On the Schmooze” his new podcast.