Networking events are a cost-effective way to meet other like-minded business owners who can help you grow your business.
But they can also be scary.
Scary because – what if you get trapped in a conversation you can’t see a way out of? What if you end up wasting all your time with one person who bores you to tears and is of little-to-no use to you or your network?
Admit it, this horrible thought has crossed your mind.
And you know it happens.
Maybe it has even kept you away from attending networking events. This fear of being cornered in a long-winded, go-nowhere conversation may be stopping you from promoting your business.
This is not acceptable behavior for an intelligent business owner.
You need to get past this fear.
Therefore, it is handy to have a few “exit strategies” that will help you get out of conversations that have run their course.
Do not think of it as being anti-social or rude. It’s more like moving on in a polite and professional manner so that everyone can get the most out a business networking event. There’s no reason to feel weird about it.
You want to get out of there, but you want to maintain your composure. So don’t say you have to go to the bathroom and hide there for the duration of the networking event, and don’t start nervously looking at your phone, either.
Stay calm. Be cool. Be professional. Be strategic.
Here are a few simple and effective ways to leave a conversation at a networking event without things getting awkward…
Attend events with limited open networking
“Open networking” is the portion of a networking event where you are expected to mingle and mix with others.
Most events are typically a mashup of open networking, a seminar or some talks, and maybe some kind of structured ice-breaking activity.
When the open networking segment of the event is limited to just a few hours (or even minutes), you are pretty much expected to end conversations quickly – or if time runs out, the conversation is ended for you.
Some events are ALL open networking, and if this makes you nervous, maybe get in a couple of practice rounds by attending a few structured events first.
If you are introverted or shy, do not feel like you should avoid open networking events altogether. You may be surprised to discover how many people are in the same boat as you. In fact, open networking events can prove to be extremely beneficial when it comes to expanding your network sphere and growing your business.
Bring a wing-man or wing-woman
If you are nervous about attending a networking event alone, bringing a wing-man or wing-woman is a great idea.
A wing-woman can help carry conversations, talk you up to other attendees, and help scope out business owners who would be beneficial connections for you.
And of course, they can bail you out when you are stuck in an idling conversation.
If you’re really smart, you’ll find a wing-woman who is a more experienced and confident networker than you are – sort of like a business mentor – and they can show you the ropes of successfully navigating a networking event. This is valuable “field” training for any business owner.
What you absolutely do NOT want to do is use your wing-woman as an excuse to not meet new people. A wing-woman is not a human shield. Do not hide behind the wing-woman. Remember that the purpose of attending networking events to meet new people, or reconnect with people you don’t get to see often – not hang out with your wing-woman.
The wing-woman is strictly there to assist when you feel like you can’t fly solo – and possibly also to carpool with, but that’s it!
Introduce them to someone else
If you feel that a conversation is coming to a natural close, consider offering to introduce the other person to someone else in the room.
You’d be doing them a service, and you won’t be leaving them “high and dry.”
You can use body language to signal to other business people at the event that the conversation is open to more participants. Examples of body language that would signal this would be turning your feet and shoulders slightly away from the person you’re talking to. Then, make eye contact and signal someone else to approach when appropriate.
Ask them to introduce you to others
Another way to add another person to the conversation is to ask for an introduction.
“Hey, I saw you talking to Sandy earlier. Could you introduce us?”
It’s that simple. Now you get to meet Sandy, and the person making the introduction will feel like they have added value.
Plan a follow-up meeting
If you feel it’s time to wrap things up because of time restraints, close things off with a promise to talk more later – but outside of the event.
Remember, it doesn’t do you much good to spend all your time with just one person at a networking event.
While you don’t want to flutter around the room “tagging” too many people either, because that just leads to superficial connections, you really should make it a goal to connect with 3-4 people per event, depending on the size of the event.
If you see great potential with someone you meet, offer to reconnect with them after the networking event.
“I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, but there’s a bunch of people here I need to say hello to before the event wraps up. Any chance we can go for coffee next week? I have some ideas I want to discuss with you in more detail.”
If you can, set up the next meeting right away (bring your calendar to the event in case this opportunity comes up) and leave your business card with them.
Think of the networking event as an opportunity to make introductions, then follow up later for more in-depth conversations. Don’t try to do everything all at once at the networking event itself. That’s too much too soon – you’ll come off as coming on too strong and you’ll limit your exposure. Remember, the most important part of networking is in the follow-up after the event.
Need a hand with your business brand? Contact Kim Speed at Purple Moon Creative today!