Get out of an awk­ward net­work­ing con­ver­sa­tion

Los Angeles Times - - JOBS -

The first time I at­tended a net­work­ing event, I had home­made busi­ness cards that pointed to a per­sonal email ad­dress, and I had vir­tu­ally no ca­reer to speak of. I barely had a col­lege de­gree, and the con­ver­sa­tions I had hinted that I didn’t have a job: “So if you hear of any­thing….” I’d trail off, leav­ing an awk­ward si­lence.

I was one of those peo­ple you prob­a­bly wanted to slowly back away from at a net­work­ing event. Why? I was re­ly­ing on the rest of the net­work­ing pro­fes­sion­als to help me find a ca­reer fo­cus, as well as a job, in­stead of com­ing to the event with a pol­ished game plan and know­ing what I wanted.

If you had been stuck talk­ing to me that night, here are the tips present-day me would give you to get out of that awk­ward net­work­ing con­ver­sa­tion: 1. Ask what take­aways the other per­son is look­ing for.

A net­work­ing con­ver­sa­tion can go on for­ever if you’re not care­ful. You’re gen­er­ally look­ing to find some com­mon ground with the other per­son to see if there are any mu­tual projects or peo­ple you can in­tro­duce your con­ver­sa­tion part­ner to, or vice versa. But if your con­ver­sa­tion has cov­ered ev­ery­thing from the weather to sports to lo­cal restau­rants, it might be time to look for a con­ver­sa­tion closer.

Be di­rect and ask what has brought them to the net­work­ing event tonight, and what take­aways they’re hop­ing to get out of the event. Are they look­ing to make con­nec­tions in the in­dus­try? Learn more about dif­fer­ent roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties? Find a po­ten­tial job op­por­tu­nity? Peo­ple come to net­work­ing events for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and find­ing out how you can — or can’t— help your con­ver­sa­tion part­ner will give your con­ver­sa­tion more struc­ture, as well as a po­ten­tial con­clu­sion.

2. Em­pha­size your own goals and take­aways.

If the con­ver­sa­tion is stalling out, it’s prob­a­bly time for you both to move along and meet other peo­ple. Did you come to meet a cer­tain speaker or in­dus­try leader? Are you here to share your busi­ness cards or ex­tend an in­vite to an event of your own? If you’re spread­ing the word about your own ca­reer goals, make sure you’ve done so with your cur­rent con­ver­sa­tion part­ner be­fore you exit the awk­ward in­ter­ac­tion.

You might say “Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any ques­tions— here’s a card with my con­tact in­for­ma­tion.” Then, when you give them your card, re­it­er­ate what you took away from their side of the con­ver­sa­tion, too. Wish them luck on their fundrais­ing plans for that start-up farm that grows pineap­ples in Ne­braska— then, be po­lite and get their con­tact in­for­ma­tion. Af­ter all, this is a net­work­ing event and you have spent time get­ting to know each other. Then, ex­cuse your­self and sim­ply say you’d like to make the most of your time at the event and have a few more peo­ple you’re con­nect­ing with tonight. End the con­ver­sa­tion with a hand­shake and a clean exit.

3. Act nat­u­ral.

Net­work­ing events can feel so un­com­fort­able for so many peo­ple be­cause the in­ter­ac­tions feel forced, awk­ward or you get stuck talk­ing to some­body who ei­ther makes the en­tire con­ver­sa­tion about them­selves — or forces you to make the en­tire con­ver­sa­tion about your­self. The funny thing is, we prob­a­bly have sim­i­lar in­ter­ac­tions through­out our days even when we’re not net­work­ing. But some­thing about a “pro­fes­sional net­work­ing event” makes peo­ple feel stuffy or un­com­fort­able.

This is a great time to re­mem­ber that 1) re­al­is­ti­cally, job op­por­tu­ni­ties and net­work­ing can hap­pen any­where, any­time and 2) you’re still in­ter­act­ing with nor­mal hu­man be­ings even when you’re wear­ing a blazer and a name tag. Show your per­son­al­ity, make jokes, share anec­dotes, ask for ad­vice and bring up dream jobs— these are the ways you’ll stand out in some­body’s mind and be a net­work­ing con­nec­tion some­body would want to fol­low up with. And if de­spite your best ef­forts the con­ver­sa­tion is dy­ing a slow death, use the old trick the rest of us swear by: Ex­cuse your­self to go the bath­room.

WOULD YOU FEEL BET­TER OR WORSE IF THE NET­WORK­ING EVENT HAD MANDA­TORY ICE BREAK­ERS TO KEEP CON­VER­SA­TIONS GO­ING?

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