3 Steps to Avoid Getting Stuck in Conversations

Highway exit sign: Freedom next exit

Gracefully wrapping up a two-person conversation can be awkward, especially if you’ve had some trouble doing so in the past. You may think it’s the other person’s fault that you’re stuck in a conversation. They are obtuse and completely missing that you’d like to wrap things up.

If you often find yourself stuck in conversations, there’s a possibility that you’re the one causing some confusion with social cues. Exiting a conversation gracefully is a three-step process that needs to be completed without interruption. [click to tweet] 

Grip, grin, and go.

  1. Grip: Start by shaking their hand
  2. Grin: Then with a smile say something nice (e.g. “It was great to see you here.” “I enjoyed meeting you.” “Pleasure speaking with you.”)
  3. Go: Then walk away.

My Philosophy of Abundance

Sunrise with phrase: Philosophy of Abundance

Philosophy of Abundance is something I’ve been practicing personally and professionally for the last decade – with some amazing results. Nearly 10 years ago, when I was founding a grassroots organization in Boston called Socializing for Justice (SoJust), I began to incorporate what I called the “Philosophy of Abundance” into my personal and professional practice. It has become a mantra that I’ve shared through Socializing for Justice, my professional speaking business, and my professional and personal networks.

But what is the Philosophy of Abundance and how do you practice it when faced with the uncertainty of diminishing budgets and limited time? [click to tweet]

The Philosophy of Abundance illustrates that you benefit when you share knowledge with your community. Spending time and money is often based on the model of scarcity: the more given away, the less you have. Conversely, giving away knowledge does not deplete you of knowledge. In fact, it opens up endless possibilities. [click to tweet]

What does this look like in practice?

Are business cards dead?

man and woman exchanging business cards

You did it! You hit it off with someone at a networking event and the conversation is going really well. This person seems like a really great person to stay in touch with. As the conversation winds down you’re wondering whether you remembered to bring business cards with you.

But wait, are business cards still necessary in the world of apps and smartphones? [click to tweet]

I believe the answer is yes.

It’s a physical reminder. When you receive or share a business card it acts as a physical reminder of your conversation and any follow-up you hope will happen. That won’t happen if you write yourself a note in your phone, send yourself an email, or use an app to exchange contact cards.

Get it in writing*. Before passing your card, jot a note on the back about what you talked about or the resource you hope they’ll remember to share when they get back to the office. Do the same when you receive a card – and also add the date and name of the event. This will increase the odds that you’ll actually do the follow-up you said you’d do.

My networking event pet peeves (likely yours too)

photo of dimly lit event

I’m sure you would agree that not all networking events are created equal. Too often, it feels like the decision to have a networking event was the result of not wanting to hire a speaker – and that’s the end of the discussion. [click to tweet]

What should a convener do to enhance their guests’ ability to make great connections at an event?

Maybe I’m starting to show my age (41 on 9/16/15!), but I really appreciate it when a room is lit well enough that I can actually see my fellow guests. Dimly lit rooms may work great when you’re trying to get everyone to dance, but if the purpose of the event is for guests to talk to each other than adjust the dimmer switch just a bit.

Music level
“What? Could you repeat that?” Ever leave a networking event knowing you’re going to wake up hoarse and feeling like you’ve been singing your heart out at a concert? Being able to see and hear fellow guests is a really basic need and one that many conveners seem to disregard in an attempt to have a more festive environment. It’s important to define the purpose of the event and recognize it can’t meet multiple goals and do them all well. So if it’s an after party that you want at the end of the conference, then clearly communicate that. If you expect your attendees to want to stick around to keep chatting with each other and exchange business cards, then plan the space differently.

Name tags
The template for name tags should be decided well in advance of the day they need to be printed. This is not a task to leave to a volunteer or intern to create last minute. Some common mistakes:

Stuck in a conversation? Graceful exit strategies that work

photo of 2 women talking

You’ve done it! You’re in a conversation at a networking event. You feel like it’s going well and you’ve enjoyed chatting with them. The whole time you’ve been a little nervous because you never know how to wrap up conversations and often feel like you get stuck in them.  [click to tweet] Going to networking events can have its challenges. For some getting into a conversation is difficult, for many wrapping up a conversation gracefully is the real challenge.

How do you know when to move on?

Are you feeling distracted and unable to focus on what your conversation partner is talking about? Are you having difficulty maintaining eye contact with the person speaking and keep looking over their shoulder at that person who looks like, no definitely is, your ex (or boss, person you want to date or work for, best friend from 3rd grade, etc.). Notice this is happening. Become aware of yourself in the room, this will help you know when it’s time to wrap up the conversation.

Bored or boring?
Self-awareness will help you realize that you are tired (or hungry, worried about the meter running out on your parking space, etc.). None of these distractions have anything to do with whether the person you’re speaking with is boring. These are about you and what’s going on in your body and mind. If you need to use the restroom and the person you’re speaking with is telling an exciting story, you won’t register the same enthusiasm you usually would. You would appear distracted. If you kept checking your phone to see if the babysitter has texted her check-in. You would appear bored. Again, this has nothing to do with the person you are speaking with. These are signs that you should wrap things up so you can deal with whatever is distracting you. If you notice these signs in the person you’re speaking with – it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re boring, but it does mean you should wrap things up.

My stickiest networking tip: Croissants are Better than Bagels

left side of image shows people standing in a u-shape at a networking event, right side shows people standing in a closed circle

What I’m about to share is a tip from a very memorable section of my Art of the Schmooze training.  A year after attending my session, sometimes even two years later, I’ll run into a past attendee and they’ll excitedly point at their feet and say “Croissant! Croissant!”

What are they talking about?
Let’s say you’ve arrived at a networking event, you’ve circled the room looking for an opening for your first conversation, but you’re surrounded by those tight networking circles. I call those shoulder-to-shoulder huddles “bagels” and they are nearly impossible to break into. If you are like most people you’ll be looking for an easy opening and might be drawn to the person standing by themselves against the wall. Unless you’re a regular and can introduce that person to someone when your conversation ends, you’re best bet is to engage with folks in those bagels.

Now imagine you’re one of the people standing in a typical networking bagel. If you took a small step back with one foot and turned your torso slightly, you’d create an opening that would make it easier for someone to join your group. That is the croissant we’re looking for.

How do you  stand so you’re easy to approach?

The downside to being a unicorn

photo of rainbow vista with quote: Always Be Yourself, Unless You Can Be a Unicorn, Then Always Be a Unicorn

Let’s say for a moment you could be a unicorn. [click to tweet] What would your day be like? Are you picturing rainbows and sunny skies? More likely you’d spend your day hearing, “Wow! A unicorn. I’ve never met a unicorn. What’s it like to…” followed by lots of curious questions.

Many of us have had this experience. We’ve walked into a room of strangers feeling awkward and out of place. We’ve felt like we’re the “only ____” in the room, different from everyone else is some important way. We are momentarily grateful when a stranger approaches us and begins a conversation. We’ve been saved from standing by ourselves! We begin to second guess how fortunate we are when out of the gate, one of their first comments is…

  • “Wow! You’re so tall. How tall are you?” [click to tweet]
  • “You hair is so… can I touch it?” [Hand already entangled in your hair]
  • “You’ve got such great skin. Beautiful mocha color. So lucky.”
  • “I’ve never heard of anyone with your name. So exotic.”

These all seem like compliments, but in practice they are calling out difference. The result is you are more likely to feel “othered” than welcomed. Especially if the feature (height, hair, skin color, accent, name) that they just commented on, is the same feature that always gets commented on by strangers.

Stop Wasting Time Networking

close-up of woman holding stack of business cards

Whether you’re looking for new clients, job hunting, or seeking donor support for your organization – everyone will tell you that networking is key. But is it? In theory yes, but in practice [click to tweet] networking has lost a lot of it’s magic and has become formulaic:

  1. Go to a networking event
  2. Shake hands with random strangers
  3. Collect a few business cards
  4. A month later find those cards in a pile in the corner of your desk
  5. Carefully move them to a drawer
  6. Find business card pile several months later and have no idea what event you met them at or why you kept these cards
  7. Toss cards in recycling bin
  8. Head out to yet another networking event that evening

If this sounds familiar to you, than you need to stop wasting time networking and start to focus on relationship building. The difference is knowing your intention and purpose. Go into an event  thinking about what you can “get” and you’ll be spotted from a mile away and people will avoid you. Relationship building is not a one time transaction. [click to tweet]

When will women win the right to pockets?

man and woman exchanging business cards, she is in a formal dress with no pockets

Every time I present my Art of the Schmooze session about how to increase your networking success, I know there are women in the audience who think my strategy for keeping track of business cards is an impossible feat. I have (1) a pocket for the cards I’m handing out, (2) a pocket for the cards that I definitely want to keep track of, and (3) a pocket for the cards that are just handed to me without any conversation. Yes, three pockets.

Despite the growing popularity of ginormous sized smartphones (Samsung Galaxy s6, iPhone 6 Plus) women’s professional clothing still only has “for show only” pockets that would barely hold a pack of gum, if they have pockets at all.

Seriously, women won the right to vote in 1920. When will they win the right to pockets? [click to tweet]

Day to day this is an issue. When it’s time for a meeting, men just head down to the conference room, secure that they have everything with them. Women need to do a last minute check to be sure they’ve grabbed everything – phone, keys, pen – and put them where? Their choice tends to be (1) to hold everything in their hands, until they can put them down on the conference room table or (2) stuff them into a bag, which they then have to keep an eye on and remember not leave behind under the chair.