One of the challenges of networking at an event is that you will be tempted to spend your time speaking with people you already know. Now, this isn’t entirely bad. After all, you should, whenever possible, touch base with your existing connections. The downside is that if you don’t meet any new people, you won’t be able to extend your network and it will begin to stagnate.

Of course, acquaintances and friends aren’t your only challenges in this area. Sometimes you’ll meet a new person and hit it off. Then, because they aren’t comfortable meeting new people, they will latch onto you and never let go.

So, what can you do to stop this from happening? How do you make the graceful exit? Here are a few ideas.

  1. State your goals. I know you are already setting your networking goals before you walk into the networking event, right? Simply let your conversation partner know about your goal and ask them to excuse you. Assure them that you’ve enjoyed chatting and you are looking forward to catching up later. Perhaps you could even schedule a coffee or lunch right then and there. This is one of my favorites because it’s altogether possible that they might be willing to help you with your goals.
  2. Make an introduction. If the other person is new to the venue and you already know a few people there, go out of your way to introduce them to one of your acquaintances. When they get into a conversation, you can easily excuse yourself. This is another of my favorites because you are really helping out the other people while freeing yourself up for more networking.
  3. Apologize to them. Acknowledge that you may be taking up too much of their time with your conversation. You might be preventing them from accomplishing their networking goals. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them with their networking.
  4. Schedule a one-to-one. If you do want to continue the conversation at a later point, ask them if they brought their calendar and then go ahead and set up the appointment right there. When you are done with that, there’s a natural expectation that you will be parting ways for now.
  5. Use an excuse. Here’s where you can use the “need to use the restroom” or “need to refresh my drink” explanation. Most people will understand entirely. Of course, you should make sure that the excuse you use is true. Having someone catch you in a mistruth is far worse than being trapped in a conversation that might go on forever.

I’m sure there are many other techniques for gracefully exiting the conversation. The very best of them show respect for the other person and may actually benefit them in the long run. Remember that what you want is to extricate yourself without harming the potential relationship before it’s had a chance to start.

Photo credit: heathbrandon