BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
Once you start enjoying small talk, it all becomes a little easier. Asking questions, listening, understanding how to introduce yourself – when you have these skills down, you can usually handle most, if not all, networking situations.
But how do you get into a conversation? And scarier, sometimes, how do you get out?
There are a few easy ways to both find a conversation to get in to (and get into it!) and to get out of a conversation when you need to.
This is arguably harder than getting out of a conversation. You have your elevator pitch all ready, you’ve planned your conversation topics, and you have lots of curiosity questions. You walk in…and freeze. Everyone is talking to everyone else, and there aren’t even any single people you could try to talk to. Now what?
Look for an open group
When you’re looking for a group to go up to, pay attention to their body language. If folks are standing in a tight circle with their heads down and shoulders curled, you might want to avoid that group; they are probably discussing something personal to the group, and won’t be the easiest for you to chat with. If you see a group where people are facing both their smaller group and out toward the larger audience, gesturing openly and not full of serious faces, go for it!
Say hello, and look around
The first thing you should always do when you meet someone for the first time? Say hello! Introduce yourself, and get their names. Then stop: look around. Find something to talk about! The room, the food, the music, the drinks, the crowd – anything you can see and comment on (and not in a snarky manner – keep it positive!) is a great place to start conversation with a new group that doesn’t feel like a job interview. For example, there might be a cool plant – asking about it, if anyone knows what it is, if anyone else likes house plants…and then start listening and asking curiosity questions. Boom, you’re out of the gate, and the rest is conversation.
Oh, we’ve all been there. The conversation that just keeps going, and going and you’re going to spend the entire night talking to this person or pretending that you just got a very important phone call that you have to step outside and take.
Instead of lying to the person you’re talking to, there are a few ways “out”:
Propose another time to follow up, give a card
You know you are done with this conversation, and it’s nothing against the person you’re talking to. Maybe you have someone else to talk to, or maybe you just want to move along. You don’t need a reason! There is a very simple way to end a conversation with someone you just met: thank them for their time and propose your next follow up. I’m a fan of transparency – mainly, when you full on state, “This has been such a great conversation; I would love to set up time to chat more.”
Simple right? You can now exchange a card and follow up afterward. You don’t need to over-explain, or offer excuses. Done and done, and leave. If that doesn’t work, you can do it in conjunction with the next tip to…
Find a need, give a card
Best foolproof way out of a conversation? State a need. It’s hard to argue with, “I need to go to the bathroom” or “I need to grab some food” or “I need to talk with my coworker over there.” The phrase, “I need” is both assertive and firm – and few can dispute a need. State your need, thank them for their time, offer a card and a time to follow up.
Getting in and out of conversations doesn’t have to be creative – it can be as straightforward as the ideas above. Or even more so as in, “Hi, I’m Jen – I don’t know anyone here! What’s your name?” and “We’ve talked for a while, and I want to meet a few other folks tonight – can we talk again soon?” Keep it real, and good luck!