I’m In A Conversation. Now What?

I'm in a conversation. Now what?

You’re at a networking event and you think, “OK. So, I’m in a conversation. Now what? Should I keep talking to this person or move on to someone new? How many people should I be meeting today?”

As 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 pass 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 15-20 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.”

Networking Conversation

Networking Conversation

At a networking event, after initial contact and the exchange of names, a networking conversation will likely ensue. Engage In It.

Keep in mind that you are there to make new contacts and connections, and not to sell your wares. 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 of the event itself. Get them talking about anything other than business. This will serve to make the connection comfortable.

After a few 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 say [blank], what 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 other ways to relate to them. You can use these to interject or ask questions as a means of keeping the conversation going.

Keep these suggestions in mind during your next networking conversation. If you follow this advice, the person you are speaking with will likely find you fascinating, despite the fact that they did most of the talking!

Beyond Initiating Contact

Beyond Initiating Contact

Once you are beyond initiating contact at a networking event (making eye contact, smiling, and saying hello) one of two things will happen:

  1. Nothing will happen; the person will just move along. So what? Don’t take it personally. There are many reasons why they did not stop and none of them are related to you.
  2. They stop and are open to expanding the initial contact into a more meaningful connection.

When this happens, ensure to do these three things:

  1. Offer Your Hand: Offer your hand in anticipation of a handshake, the true first impression. The handshake should be firm, intersecting your thumb web with theirs. Not too firm; a bone crusher might serve to imply dominance. And not too soft; a “limp fish” may be interpreted as disinterest. Remember, it is better to not be remembered for your handshake than to be remembered for a bad one.
  2. Offer Your Name: As you shake hands, offer your name and be sure to enunciate your first name clearly. There are two reasons why this is important. First, unless it is someone you know well, offering your name serves to eliminate any potential embarrassment if the person doesn’t recall your name from an earlier encounter. Second, when you offer your name, they are likely to offer theirs in return.
  3. Clarify Their Name: If the person does not reciprocate when you offer your name, ask, “What is your name?” Regardless of how you came to know the person’s name, clarify it aloud, saying something like, “It’s great to meet you. Susan, right?” or “Hi, Susan. Do you go by Sue or Susan?”

So, as you move beyond initiating contact, these steps will help you better remember their name. In addition, it will subtly imply that their name is important to you, which it is.