Exit, Stage Left…

snagglepuss_by_bennythebeast-d4nomxkAs I roam the country delivering workshops on Networking, one very common challenge my participants begrudgingly admit:  It is difficult to gracefully exit a conversation at a networking event!  Seemingly the antithesis of building strong connections, we’ve all been there… the conversation has gone on long enough, it’s reached a natural conclusion (or not!) and it’s time to move on… but how?

Let’s start by acknowledging this:  It’s difficult!  And, frankly, it may not get any easier than it already is to end an interaction without feeling guilty or like you are hurting the other person’s feelings.  My advice:  Move on!  It is a networking event, after all, and there are many potential connections to forge.  As such, consider some of the following ideas about how to politely end one interaction in order to make the most of your time there and build relationships with others in the room.

  1. “It’s been great talking with you.” This is my favorite approach.  You simply say, “It’s been great talking with you.  Enjoy the rest of the event.”  If you don’t already have their contact information, you might ask to exchange business cards and, if you intend to, tell them you would like to follow up to schedule a time to continue the dialogue.  (However, if you do not wish to meet with them, do not act disingenuously by teeing up a future interaction!) Then, shake hands and walk away.  Well done!
  2. “I need to refill my drink; can I get you anything?” Most likely, if you say you need to get a drink and offer to get them one, too, they will decline.  However, if they say, “yes,” go get them a drink, hand it to them and refer back to tip #1… “It’s been great talking with you.  There are a few other folks I’d like to say hello to; enjoy the rest of the event.”  Then, take your leave…
  3. “You need to meet…” This one can be tough, but effective.  I often refer to this approach as the “hand off” – it’s when you see someone else you know, call him/her over, make the introduction and leave the two of them to talk.  This concept is best when there really is a reason to connect the two individuals, you establish that for them in your introduction then say something like, “I’m going to leave the two of you to talk about that…”

Whatever approach you take, remember, in order to build meaningful, lasting connections, Networking is a series of touchpoints.  As such, even if you do depart from a conversation at an event, be sure to follow up – especially if you said you would.  Send an email, a handwritten thank you note, a LinkedIn message and/or invite your contact to reconnect over coffee at a later date.  Don’t fail to follow up in order to continue to cultivate the relationship.

Do you have a great way to effectively end a conversation?  Please share your ideas at CoffeeLunchCoffee.com.  Also, check out these two additional resources on how to gracefully exit a conversation:

Now, if you’ll excuse me…

4 thoughts to “Exit, Stage Left…”

  1. Hi Alana,

    I read once again your article in the FENG newsletter and take to heart your suggestions on networking. As an introverted accountant getting into the conversation at a networking event is the biggest issue for me. Looking forward to hearing more on that topic. Especially when every one else seems to be paired up and deep in conversations.

    My only technique that works so far for me is to get there early and talk to people before they get involved with people they know.

    When it is time to move on I have used the technique on getting a drink, but if I start with a full drink I am a bit hesitant and need some other techniques, especially when there is no one else that I know yet.

    Appreciate your insights and hope you continue the guidance you give us in the FENG news letter.


    1. Chris —
      Thanks for your comment. GREAT idea to get to the event early to engage with people before they become involved with others who they already know. Appreciate you sharing!

  2. I really believe that only #1 — the direct method of saying that I need to speak with other people — is appropriate and at all respectful. At a networking event, people understand that everyone is there to meet people.

    The drink refill method (#2) is too transparent, especially in a relatively small space where you walk a few steps, while still in full view refill your glass and then veer off to work the rest of the room. And if the other person takes up the offer of a refill and you then revert to #1, you look really slimy and untrustworthy.

    The hand-off (#3) almost never works; it can only work if those two people really have a greater substantive reason to be speaking to each other than either has to be speaking to you, and yet how often does it just happen that just at that moment such a person is approaching? In general, both of those people will be irritated that you used each of them to your own advantage. At least one individual whom I know, who believes that he occupies a position of great popularity and importance and who is very frequently in gatherings that people have paid significant money to attend, is so obviously a serial practitioner of the hand-off that I have played a little parlor game with friends along the lines of, “See X speaking to someone . . . . How many seconds do you think it’ll take for X to shunt him off onto some poor sucker?”

    1. R — Really appreciate your candid thoughts on ways to exit a conversation. Indeed, it is very respectful to simply tell the person you want to say hello to some others in room. As people get more comfortable with that approach to leaving a discussion, it does often prove most effective. Thanks for your remarks.

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