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The Networker #17: Leaving Conversations at Networking Events – Without Feeling Rude

3 May, 2023
Read time: 3 minutes & 15 seconds

Today I address the challenge 1 in 5 of you have shared to the question I pose when subscribing to The Networker – “what is your biggest networking challenge?”

And that is – leaving a conversation at an event, without being or feeling rude.

​Let’s dive right in.

You’ve been there right?

You walk into an event, head to the coffee or the bar.

You get chatting to someone either in the process of getting a drink, or the first person you see as you lift your head up to navigate the room.

Next thing you know you’ve been there for 5 minutes.

10 minutes goes by.

20 minutes.

Now you’re starting to think you’ve only got so long to network.

You’ve caught a glimpse of someone you want to catch up with or meet.

And another person out the corner of your eye.

You desperately try and avoid doing the dreaded look over their shoulder.

And all you can think is how you’d like to exit this conversation and move on. Without seeming rude!

​Sound familiar?

The Problem

Firstly, it’s quite normal.

To feel like you’re being rude or coming across rude by instigating the exit of a conversation.

You’ve only just met this person and you’re keen to make a good first impression.

​But let me serve you up a slice of reality pie to put your mind at ease.

The Reality

​Everyone is there for the same reason.

Everyone has booked and chosen to attend a networking event with the same purpose and agenda.

To connect and reconnect with new and existing connections.

And moving around conversations is a natural part of the process to achieve that, and to maximise your time networking.

So I’m here to tell you when you’re in a conversation, you’re not obliged to stay with them throughout the event.

Or for longer than you both need to.

And more times than not it’s down to you to take control of the situation.

Because it’s likely you’ll be doing the other person a favour.

As they’ll be feeling similar to you. Not wanting to be rude and leave, but also maximise their time at the event.

So being able to read the room, navigate and take control of this situation, means you don’t just help yourself, but the other person too so you don’t monopolise their time at event.

Nice one. You’ve just earned yourself some mental brownie points from them.

But how?

Network Like Paddy

I first truly noticed this years ago through an Australian friend of mine, Paddy, who is just brilliant at leaving conversations.

I first noticed in when Paddy came to England to stay with my family, and he’d be meeting a lot new people at social gatherings.

He was a magician at getting out of conversations without it seeming rude.

And he said something to me that stuck with me.

He said; “I’m usually doing them a favour by wrapping up the conversation and moving on, as they either don’t want to be rude or don’t know how to. So I just take the lead.”

How to Exit Conversations

So how do you take the lead like Paddy?

With honesty, politely and assertiveness.

Try this at your next event:

​Wait for a break in conversation and say:

    • “It was great meeting and speaking with you, but I don’t want to keep you from meeting other people.”
    • “Lovely meeting you, but I’m conscious of time and wanting to get around the room. Let’s connect after the event?”
    • “I really enjoyed our conversation, but I see someone I need to catch up with. Great to meet you.”
    • “I’d love to continue our conversation, but I don’t want to keep you from mingling with others too. Let’s exchange cards and follow up after.”
    • “Thank you for sharing your insights, great to meet, but don’t let me keep you from networking with others. It was great meeting you!”

And if you’re really struggling. The old needing the toilet or topping up your glass should be last resort!

Tailor this exit to the conversation as appropriate. And personalise it with their name.

Even mix and match different phrases should you need to, or feel more comfortable.

But try not to overthink it.

The key message to takeaway is that they are likely thinking the same and wanting to maximise their networking too!

Before exiting the conversation, it’s worth considering which of the two paths it could go afterwards:

1. You want to continue the conversation with them after the event.

Great, the event is not always the place to do it. A follow up call or meeting is. Exchange cards and make a note to follow up.

Or event arrange it there and then (most people have their calendar on their phone these days). 

2. You don’t want to continue the conversation or see a reason to.

This is totally fine!

A problem I see at networking is the feeling that you need to set up a follow up meeting and conversation with everyone you meet.

You don’t.

Thank them for their time and allow them to move around the room.

And if you’ve ended the conversation but not planned where you’re going to next, you may have found yourself wandering aimlessly around the room.

Stop. Don’t get your phone out to try and look busy, desperately refreshing your emails.

Go and speak to the organisers at the front desk or around the room. Ask them if they point someone out or introduce you. Or if someone you are looking for is in the room.

It’s in their best interests you are having as productive event as possible. Use them.

They’ll help you maximise your time if you need some pointers.

The Wrap Up

Remember, everyone is there for the same reason.

If you are open and honest with wanting to move on from a conversation, most (if not all) will understand.

And you’ll be doing them a favour.

Keep a couple of go to phrases up your sleeve. Before you know it you’ll be a natural like Paddy.

And if you are on the receiving end of this, respect the fact someone is wanting to move around the room and maximise their time.

They haven’t come to the event just to speak to you.

If you want to continue the conversation, ensure you make that intention known and follow it up.

And again, don’t overthink it. It’s human nature to feel rude.

But trust me, you’re not.

​The minutes you spend wishing the conversation would end are minutes you, and they, could be spending with others.

That’s all for this week! 

What Is The Networker?

The weekly newsletter for business owners and sales leaders to level up their networking.

1 networking tip, trend or tidbit – every Wednesday morning.

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