This is the sixth in the “Limited Networker Field Guide” series.
Name: The Cacophonous Chatterbox
Environment: Anywhere they can find someone to talk to.
Behavior: The Chatterbox is an unintentionally deceptive specimen. At networking events, he first appears friendly and helpful. He is more than willing to answer any questions you might have — discoursing on long personal anecdotes which illustrate the point at hand. The danger of this particular bird is that he uses networking events as a means of sating his desire for social interaction and, while not intending to harm, will feed from your precious time to the amount you allow him. If you aren’t careful, he can back you into a corner and spend an entire Chamber lunch talking about his favorite topic — himself.
Broken Rules of Good Networking: Ask, don’t tell and Events are for meeting, not for marrying. The main purpose of attending a large networking event is to meet new people or touch base with people you already know. These are relatively short interactions — probably ten minutes or so, at most. It is not the right venue to have a long, in-depth conversation. Save that for the coffee or lunch you will schedule when you follow-up after the event. Also, the in-depth conversation should have two sides. If one person is doing ninety percent of the talking, then they aren’t asking enough questions. In fact, at that point it isn’t so much a conversation as it is a monologue.
Counter-Measures: The Chatterbox will never leave of his own accord. He is getting what he wants from you — a captive audience. Unless you are actively enjoying the conversation, it is completely up to you to save yourself. At this point I recommend you deploy your carefully practiced exit strategies. Be gentle and gracious, but firm. At the first opportunity (usually when they are drawing in a breath, but you may actually have to interrupt), simply say, “Bob, I have been really enjoying our conversation. Unfortunately, I promised myself that I would reach my networking goals before lunch was served, so I’m going to have to let you go for now. Thank you again for your advice.” You can also use the “I need to go use the powder room” or even “I see John over there and I really need to have a private word with him. Would you please excuse me?”
Unless you truly wish to extend the relationship, under no circumstances should you ask for their card. It’s not nice to lead them on. Also remember that they will talk with everyone and you really don’t want your faults being the topic of their next diatribe.
How We Can Help: The Chatterbox doesn’t limit their behavior to large events. They will also show the same plumage during a one-to-one meeting. In this case, try to keep the conversation focused. While it’s good to find out some aspects of who they are, you may need to interrupt them periodically to keep their responses to the point. If you can at least keep them focused on describing aspects of their business and the challenges they will be encountering in the coming year, you might have some chance of being able to find ways to help them. Unfortunately, unless your needs coincide with theirs, they are never likely to ask about how they can help you. As a result, you are unlikely to see reciprocal activity on their part. For that reason, you should be careful about expending a lot of your time with a Chatterbox. While we should always give for the purpose of giving, there are a lot of people out there who would appreciate what you have to offer. There is no harm on expending your time and effort on those who would be likely to take an interest in you in return.