As I roam the world delivering workshops on networking, one very common challenge my participants begrudgingly admit: It is difficult to gracefully exit a conversation at a networking event.
Indeed, it’s hard! And, frankly, it may not get any easier. So, give these ideas a try:
1. “It’s been great talking with you.” This is my favorite approach. You simply say, “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.” 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,” get them a drink, hand it to them, refer back to tip #1, 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. 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, don’t fail to follow up and continue to cultivate the relationship. Now, if you’ll excuse me…