A client recently mentioned how uncomfortable she felt networking at conferences. When I asked her for more details, I discovered that she’d actually made useful contacts and really enjoyed some conversations. So what made these situations so awkward for her? Her answer: “I just don’t know how to end a conversation and move on. I don’t want to offend the other person. What can I say?”
Networking events aren’t actually my favourites. While I wouldn’t be at a loss for words (I’ll share some ideas below), I did wonder whether there are special techniques for ending a conversation really professionally. I decided to do some research.
One idea out there is to get a friend to rescue you. The two of you agree on a signal for your friend to come and get you. I’m really not convinced this works. I can imagine it leading to some very Mr Beanish situations where I’m scratching my left ear so “subtly” that my conversation partner is beginning to wonder whether I’ve got fleas. Meanwhile my so-called friend is completely oblivious, happily knocking back the wine and deep in conversation.
And then there’s the suggestion that you say you’re off to refill your plate or glass. Again I don’t like the idea. Firstly, wouldn’t it be polite to offer to get your conversation partner something? But if they accept, then you’re back to square one. Secondly, if you just use it as an excuse and you don’t actually go to the buffet, what sort of impression does it make if the other person notices? Even if they don’t, what sort of feeling does it leave you with?
Perhaps there aren’t actually any perfect strategies. Let’s just keep it simple and honest.
What should your parting words do?
Ideally, the person you’ve been talking to should be left with a positive impression of you and a pleasant memory of the conversation. When saying goodbye, you can show your appreciation by telling the other person that you enjoyed talking to them, perhaps also mentioning what you particularly enjoyed. On no account should your conversation partner be left with the feeling that they’ve bored you and you’re now moving on to someone more interesting or more important.
Your exit phrase needs to come at the right time. There’s a knack to noticing when a conversation has run its course. In general, it’s better to finish a conversation too soon rather than let it drag on. After all, there may well be an opportunity to speak again later.
The end of the conversation is often the most natural time to suggest staying in touch and ask for contact details. So your exit phrase should create a link to future contact, if that’s what you want.
And, of course, your words should sound sincere and natural.
So what exactly can you say?
Here are some simple but effective phrases for most situations:
- It’s been great getting to know you. I’m going to mingle a little more now. If I don’t run into you later, I hope I’ll see you at another event soon.
- I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I need to say hello to a few more people while I’m here. I hope you have a wonderful evening.
- It’s been great speaking with you and perhaps we can talk again later. But would you please excuse me for now? I’ve just seen someone I need to catch up with.
The phrases above are perfectly acceptable for ending the conversation in a friendly way and moving on. But you could also add one of the following, if you like and if it fits.
Saying what you particularly enjoyed about the conversation makes it more personal:
- It’s been great to hear about your experiences in Hong Kong.
- Thank you for telling me about … That was really useful.
- I’ve really enjoyed hearing about … I feel like I’ve learned a lot.
If your conversation partner was someone you already know, but haven’t seen for a while:
- I’m so glad we bumped into each other here. It’s been really good talking to you.
- Isn’t it great that we ran into each other after all this time?
Chances are your conversation partner is in the same situation as you: they want or need to talk to other people too. So why not finish the conversation by saying that you don’t want to monopolise their time?
- I’m sure there are plenty of people you need to speak to here. So I won’t take up any more of your time right now.
- It’s been lovely talking to you, but I don’t want to take up all your time.
Suggesting a future meeting.
With any luck you’ll meet someone you’d like to stay in contact with. Here are some ideas for suggesting a future meeting.
- I’d really like to talk about this more with you. Perhaps you can give me your business card and we can meet up for a coffee sometime.
- This is such a busy event. I’d love to continue our conversation some time soon. Is it ok if I get in touch next week to arrange a meeting?
- I’m afraid I need to head off now, but it’d be great to talk about [topic] in more detail. Can I have your contact details so that we can set up a meeting?
- I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. Will I see you at the [event] next month?
Practise a few phrases that appeal to you until they come naturally.
By the way, have you ever been in a situation where the other person was so talkative that you just didn’t get an opportunity to make your exit? Interrupting a long monologue with a transition word such as ‘well’ or ‘anyway’ often works here. It signals that you want to wrap up the conversation and can create a gap for you to say your parting words.