Startup Networking Pro-Tip: How to Exit a Conversation

Posted on September 30, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Last night I went to Charlie O’Donnell’s Shake Shack 3 event.  As I bounced from person to person, as is the protocol for networking events like that, I stumbled upon a few very creative solutions to an often awkward occurrence.  What do you do when your conversation with someone has expired, and you want to go talk to other people?  It’s very difficult to gracefully say “okay, I’m done talking to you because I’d prefer to be talking to someone else, I don’t know who, but I’m going to walk around because I’m sure there is something better than prolonging this conversation.”

So, the most creative exits to an unproductive networking conversation that I heard last night were:

1)   “I’m going to circulate a bit, very nice to meet you”: This came from a 60 year old super experienced guy.  There was something about the word “circulate” which was unapologetic about his purpose of doing business at the event, and yet classy and not at all ingenuine.  Left me feeling great about being “event dumped.”

2)   “there are a couple of people here that I really want to hunt down”: Again, recognizing explicitly a purpose beyond socializing,  this exit said “it’s not that I don’t think you’re interesting, I just have a very specific goal”

3)   “I am on a mission to find [explicit name of person]”: Same gig as above

Personally, I tend to wait it out until someone else comes over, taps me on the shoulder, and I sort of  “break off” from the group I’ve been talking to.  It’s a much more passive style of moving through an event, where I probably don’t meet as many new and interesting people as I could, so I think I am going to take a page out of these creative networkers’ books, and be a little more active about how I move through a crowd in the future.  Had I done this last night, maybe I would have met the one person I was hoping to see there: Marco Arment, you are going to be my [explicit name of person] at whatever the next thing I go to is.  I am slowly becoming obsessed with Instapaper.

Nothing earth shattering here, just some reflection on being thrown into a 300 person professional pinball machine.

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7 Responses to “Startup Networking Pro-Tip: How to Exit a Conversation”

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there was another recent blog post I read which presented the idea of “I’m going to go talk with that group over there. Why don’t you join me?”. can’t find the URL right now, but it was linked off of a story.

I think handing your business card / contact info when you exit the conversation to circulate is a nice touch. It implies that you’re happy to follow up, you just really want to use the opportunity to meet some other people.

i don’t have business cards, but i’m with that philosophically

At most once in every networking event, you can stop and think of something. Do a subtle facepalm, look sincere and tell the person “I don’t want to let you go or anything, but last night I forgot to ask if [insert name] will be dropping by here. I’ve got to send [him/her] an urgent text to remind [him/her].’

You can use that once per event, and once only ever with the same person.

THE best way of ending a conversation is to put on a “brainwave” expression, say something like “Funny you should say that. I just thought of something. Can I introduce you to [insert name]?” and, assuming [insert name] is not currently occupied, lead the person over and make the casual introduction. Then separate whilst these people are engaged in the new conversation.

Best to have worked the room, shaken a few hands and obtained some names to begin with, though, if you’re to make this tactic work.

The best graceful exit is to literally snatch a passer-by and drag [him/her] into the conversation, then excuse yourself using the excuse that you have to refill your glass or coffee cup and conveniently forget where you parked them.

If you don’t mind acting like a wingman to someone else at times, with practice you’ll have no problems in taking over and exiting conversations at will.

top stuff – will definitely come in handy that the next networking event.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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