Ending a conversation at a networking event is sometimes a bit uncomfortable. How to handle this situation well?
We have all been there. You strike a chat with a stranger at the networking event, and whilst the conversation went well, you have hit the point that you’d like to move on. But how? Without coming across as rude, crumbling all the goodwill you have just build up? Or worse, you experience that the other person has not understood what networking is about, and rambles about their business, or tries to recruit you as a potential client. Sounds familiar?
Ending conversations the easy way:
The more prominent a networking event is, the less this is a problem. Professionals who network often are used to switch conversational partners throughout the event, so it is expected and okay to move on without a compelling excuse. Saying something along the lines of: ‘It was nice talking with you’ or ‘let’s keep in touch’ and handing a card is a good ending.
In this scenario, the business card exchange is a sign of concluding the conversation, marking the end on a positive note. There may not be an immediate next step identified, but the business card swap provides as a means that a future follow-up in any shape or form is, literally and figuratively ‘on the cards’.
When you speak with senior people on the networking floor, they may conclude the conversation even more swiftly. Often it won’t be them needing to end the conversation in the first place; other people are eagerly wanting to speak with them as well and politely but pressingly awaiting their chance to say ‘hi’. There are techniques to stay afloat in those situations too, but that is for another post later down the track.
And what if the ideal exit scenario doesn’t work?
When you attend networking events with people who are not used to attending them, chances are you meet people who haven’t thought through what networking means for them and how to do it. This happens at end-of-year functions, at free meetups, at local industry events, at conferences and tradeshows. Sometimes they just don’t want you to leave as they don’t want to stand alone. Or worse, you notice that your conversation partner takes their sales efforts offline and start selling to you. It is annoying and uncomfortable feeling ‘stuck’ with such a person, even though they have the best intentions. I have been in that situation many times. So I developed a strategy:
How to End conversations at the networking floor
In most situations, the business card exchange with an affirmative line that you appreciated the conversation is enough for the other person to understand hint it is time to move on. If you feel that they are too invested in telling their story, try to sum up the conversation to show you have listened. Something like:
‘Great to talk with you on what you do … and … in the … industry, I learned a lot from you today. It was nice talking with you. Thanks again for sharing your insights.’
Or whichever swing you may give to a brief summary.
The point is that people feel validated, which makes it easier for them to let you go. This approach is once again only useful and needed for those worst-case situations in which the other person seems to ‘glue’ onto you.
Another way that almost universally works in this situation is to say:
‘I’d like to have a walk around.’
Or even better:
‘I’ll let you have a walk around.’
In both exit-lines, the point is that you are ready to start talking with someone else. The latter version’s beauty is that the focus is not on you being selfish or ‘ditching’ your conversation partner. You twisted the message around: now it is you staying humble, not holding them back to talk to others. The outcome is the same, but the message feels different for you and them.
Final thoughts on ending conversations when networking
Think of talking with various people on a networking event like you would with people on a birthday party or barbeque: you also wouldn’t speak with the same person for the entire event, and that is okay. The only difference between these personal events and a networking event is that switching conversation partners at a networking event happens faster, and is expected. There are usually more people attending, and a smaller timeframe to talk with everyone than when going to a backyard barbeque or birthday celebration.
On the plus side, you don’t need an excuse to move on at a networking event, like going to the bathroom or needing another drink or having to make a call. You can use those excuses as well at a networking event if that feels more comfortable. I would, however, encourage you to try some of the other ways suggested in this post. It makes you a more professional networker. Try it and see how it works for you. You can always switch back to excuse-type exits if need be.