I’m In A Conversation. Now What?


Before MeetingAs wonderful as chatting with a connection at a networking event is, do not burn out the conversation. This is not to say that you need to use the event to get out handfuls of your business cards and collect handfuls in return. That is not productive either.

It just says that you should attempt to connect enough with the person so that you are both comfortable continuing the conversation another time. Perhaps that is at the next event. Perhaps that is over coffee the next week. Whatever the case, talk for 15 to 20 minutes, get their contact information and pledge to get back to them.

This will allow you the opportunity to meet and connect with other people. To this end, when you find a lull in the conversation, simply suggest to them:

“I would love to keep talking, but …

  • “I don’t want to occupy your whole time …”
  • “There are a couple people I need to connect with before the event is over;” or,
  • “I promised myself that I would meet three new, great contacts today … you make one and now I need to find two others.”

“If you do not mind, however, I would like to reach out to you later this week (early next week) and arrange a time where we can continue this conversation.”

The Golden Rule In Action

J (Giving)No doubt, interacting with others at networking events you are hopeful of getting things … clients, important contacts, and other information. Understand this: They are too. You can make an indelible impression on them by finding some way of helping them – even if only in a small way. So as they talk, run whatever they are saying through a filter that queries: “How can I add value to them?” This is the Golden Rule of Networking – Give first and get second.

There is nothing that says that you have to help them right there and now. If you can help them in that moment, great. If not, do not despair.

Just understand that you make the most of building that connection by trying to find some way you can add value to them later. It might be a referral. It might be a contact. It might be important information for them.

Networking Conversation

R (Conversation)

At a networking event, once you have exchanged names, conversation will likely ensue.  Engage In It.

In so doing, do not start the conversation directly focused on business or professional aspects. That can be off-putting and serve to create an uncomfortable situation. Rather, engage in some small talk. Inquire as to the origin of their name. Ask them about their impressions on the event itself. Get them talking on anything other than business.  This will serve to make the connection comfortable.

After a few minutes (or even several minutes of small talk), segue over to more professional topics. Ask about their business. How long have they done it? What did they do before? How did they get started?

Once the professional discussion has run its course, segue back to small talk. You can reflect on something professional they said, and tie it back to something within small talk.

As you engage in conversation, be sure to listen to what they have to say. Focus on them, and not your watch, or who is coming through the door, or anything going on around you.

You should express a genuine interest in what they have to say, especially if it is a topic that you set in motion with one of your questions. To do this, face up to them, make eye contact, and:

  • Make sounds and comments to indicate understanding (or simply nod your head) … “Oh, interesting.”
  • Ask questions to clarify things … “Now, when you [blank], do you mean…?
  • Echo back what they have said in summary fashion … “So you basically got into business because …”

As they talk look for things you have in common, whether they are shared backgrounds, similar experiences, or ways to relate to them. You can use these to interject or ask questions, as a means of keeping the conversation going.

Beyond Initiate Contact

P (Name Badge)

After initiating contact at a networking event (that is after making eye contact, smiling, and saying hello) one of two things will happen.

  • Nothing will happen, as they will just move along. So what? Don’t take it personal. There could be a dozen or more reasons why they did not stop and none of them related to you.
  • They stop and are open to expanding the mere contact into a more meaningful connection.

When this happens, ensure to do these three things…

  • Handshake … Offer your hand in anticipation of a handshake, the true first impression. The handshake should be firm, intersecting your thumb web with theirs. Do not make your handshake too hard – a bone crushing that might serve to imply dominance. Moreover, do not make your handshake too soft – a limp fish that might serve to imply disinterest. Make that handshake firm, but nothing spectacular. Remember, you are best to not be remembered for your handshake as opposed to being remembered for a bad one.
  • Offer Your Name … As you shake hands, offer your name. In so doing, be sure to enunciate you first name clearly. In addition, to further the connection, there are two other reasons as to why this is important. First, unless they are someone you know well, by offering your name you serve to eliminate any potential embarrassment to them for not remembering your name from an earlier encounter. Second, when you offer your name, they are likely to offer theirs in return.
  • Clarify Their Name … When you offer your name, if they do not recite theirs, ask them, “What is your name?” Whatever the case, if they offer their name (whether they did it initially or you had to prompt them), clarify their name aloud. For example:
    • “Hello, my name is Susan.”
    • “Great to meet you. Susan, correct?”

You might also consider clarifying what they prefer to be called (e.g., Do you go by Susan, Sue, or either/or?). These steps will help you better remember their name. In addition, it will subtly imply that their name is important to you.