Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Networking 101 for Law Students & Lawyers, Part Three, Specific Concerns cont'd

Ending a conversation & moving on. While speaking with a group of three law students for several minutes recently during a women lawyers happy hour, one of them looked me in the eye, smiled, extended her hand and in a confident voice said something like "Thank you for sharing your networking advice. It's been fun talking with you." I laughed and acknowledged her directness as she stepped away to talk with other people. The rest of the group shook my hand and moved on as well. The law students had learned how to end a conversation so that they could meet more lawyers at the event.

Until they practice it, a lot of people are uncomfortable being this direct. For some people it at least feels better to offer an excuse to end a conversation. But many people never gather the courage to disengage from conversations at all. Instead they forgo circulating, meeting and getting to know other people even though that is often the purpose of the event or at least standard behavior during the networking time or cocktail hour at an event.

At the other extreme, some lawyers I know take a very direct route and simply say "excuse me" and leave the conversation. People have said this to me and personally I find it a little jolting. Therefore, I prefer to acknowledge the other person with whom I have been speaking. It feels polite and like something my mother would approve.

Tips for exiting a conversation.
  1. After you, not the other person, finish saying something -
  2. Smile
  3. Shake the other person's hand
  4. Look the other person in the eye
  5. Say something like "It was nice to meet you. I enjoyed learning/hearing about . . . . Thank you." You are acknowledging and thanking the other person.
  6. Move away confidently.

Be confident and direct. Be pleasant. Be gracious. But above all, be yourself. Therefore, if it was not nice to meet this person, follow steps 1-4, tell them you hope they enjoy the rest of the event, and then move away confidently. Say hello to start talking to someone standing alone or join a group where someone steps back to make room for you.

Exiting a conversation can feel unusual and it takes practice. But like other aspects of networking, and like public speaking, it gets easier with practice.