Have you been in this situation before?
I have and find it can be slightly awkward at the best of times.
Let’s set the scene, there are 20+ people in the room in groups of 2 – 5 people spaced out around the room with 2 – 5m between each. You’re having a reasonable interesting conversation with someone at a networking event.
Via whatever means you started talking to someone, maybe by introduction or deliberate approach.
All going well, the first 5 minutes is introductions and the who you are, what you do.
The next 5 minutes you go a little more in depth and work out if there is a free flowing conversation.
After about 10 minutes or so it seems like they are a great person but it doesn’t seem like there is going to be a lot of opportunities to do business with the person or they just aren’t very interactive in the conversation…
Maybe they would like to go find someone else to talk to as well?
You’ve mentally decided it’s time to find another person to talk to.
Chances are your body language is betraying your thoughts anyway.
What to do then.
Simply saying bye and walking away is awkward, possibly even rude, you might have to be in the room with the person for a while yet and you wouldn’t like being left feeling like a dork by yourself either.
Here are a few suggestions I’ve tried that worked ok.
Thanks for the chat, lets mingle
Wait for a pause or lull in the conversation then thank them and split.
Thank the person for speaking with you and drop a statement about mingling further.
Thanks for chatting with me Fred, it’s been good to find out more about what you do.
Maybe include a specific reference so Fred knows you were listening actively.
If you really didn’t enjoy or find it interesting then just thank them for their time, no need to tell fibs.
Fred will probably mirror your sentence with something like, yes, thank you too.
How about we make the most of the morning and go mingle with some of the other people here.
It’s fair to expect Fred will either agree or if he really wants to keep talking he would ask another question.
Since you are at a networking function this shouldn’t seem weird.
This works if there is more than one person, maybe 2 or 3 others at most.
I have to catch up with [other person]
You are keen to catch up with someone you know at the function. It would be best if this was actually true and you will need to at least moderately know the person you want to talk with.
This is a variation on the thanks and mingle strategy.
Go with a thank you of some sort, you have after all just absorbed the past 10min or more of the persons time.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Fred.
Then the departure statement, something like:
I hope you don’t mind but I’m keen to catch Jeff before we leave and I just noticed he is free.
Expect that Fred is going to let you bow out and will say something like yep talk soon.
Schedule a followup
This is an idea from Ivan Misner on businessnetworking.com/how-to-leave-a-conversation-at-a-networking-event
Assuming you see potential in a followup meeting with someone then simply announce you would like to.
Go for the thank you first
It’s been interesting getting your thoughts on [something Fred said] and I agree it is [confusing/valuable/helpful/etc]
I’d like to chat further but could we schedule a catch up later this week?
If the other person wants to do so then you should get a positive response. If they don’t they might just say like email me or something non-committal. Don’t push, it’s possible they are really busy or are going on holidays or aren’t ready to do so.
Leave others to continue talking
Are you starting to feel like a third wheel in the conversation?
Maybe there are three of you and the other two people are deeply engaged in conversation and you are feeling like an outsider or intruder?
If they are deep in thought you might get away with something like.
Hey uh, I’m just going to top up my coffee but please continue and I’ll see you round.
Your own level of casualness and style of language will surely affect sentences like this, simple put, make a very basic excuse and quietly depart without interrupting the conversation. If you make a big fuss that will be like a handbrake on the existing conversation which is the last thing you want to do.
In a bigger group, say a circle of 6 or more you might just turn to the person beside you and excuse yourself to the bar/bathroom/coffee etc without making a scene.
If you can catch the eye of someone else in the room and maybe wave that could give you a visual out as well.
Introduce to another person
This works best if you know a few other people in the room.
You’ve listened to the person talk, you know something about what they do and can guess at the sort of prospect or person they might want to network with. Let’s introduce them and you’ll be their hero for the day!
Fred, you mentioned that you help real estate agents train their staff how to cold call prospects. How about I introduce you to Mary, she is the owner of XYZ Realty and may be a keen to meet you?
Watch for a slight pause as Fred processes the fact you are offering to help!
Expect a positive response (unless Fred already met her or already is a client etc).
Start walking towards Mary and make a neat introduction, Fred is bound to follow.
Mary, I’d like to introduce you to Fred. We’ve been discussing how he helps real estate agents with cold calling and I recall you had an agency and thought it might be helpful for you to discuss what Fred does.
Roll with it, if it feels positive simple say something like:
Great well, I’ll leave you to talk some more, thanks.
Time to go
Maybe its time for breakfast, to get back to work, for another meeting or you have a client to see.
If there is some reason you legitimately need to head for the exit then wait for a soft pause in the conversation and say thanks and give the reason you need to be going.
It’s been good speaking with you Fred but I really must get going to my next appointment.
Expect that Fred will acknowledge your statement and say something like.
Likewise, I need to get back to the office myself.
Or something else non-committal that bids you well with your day.
Maybe a last resort and potentially could be used as an interrupt if necessary.
Something genuine like needing to use the bathroom or make a call or prepare for a presentation.
If you are the guest speaker at an event then this will be fine and reasonable.
Sorry to interrupt Fred but I must excuse myself to use the bathroom before the meeting starts.
Sorry to cut you short Fred but I just remembered that I have to return a call before breakfast.
or something else that is a reasonable excuse for breaking up the conversation.
Experiment and be honest
Try some variations on those, I find the thanks and mingle is the easiest to work with and feels the most natural and pleasant because it makes sense at a networking event and chances are the person you are talking to doesn’t want to be stuck talking with you all morning either.
Above all, be honest, if you need to leave for an appointment then say so, don’t stand there getting agitated or waiting for the person to give up speaking with you while you look over their shoulder.