At this point, you have a couple of choices. You could stay and allow the other person to monopolize your time, but that would be self-defeating, because you won’t be able to network with anyone else. You’re there to expand your connections so you can get bigger-network benefits like having access to thought leaders and referral sources. You could also wrap up the conversation quickly. That’s easier said than done, though: After all, you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings or sound foolish in the process.
Related: 10 Rules for Successful Networking
Take heart. This is one of those awkward moments that every professional runs into, including the extroverts who seem to be able to talk with anyone. The more you’re around people, the more likely you’re going to have to initiate a conversation exit. Don’t think that an online encounter saves you, either. It can be just as tough to know when to hit the “Leave Meeting” button.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a masterful networker to learn the art of closing a discussion. Anyone can learn and apply the following techniques. Feel free to apply any or all to the dialogues that deserve a respectable ending and not an uncomfortable one.
Have a Few Go-to Ending Phrases
Savvy chess players memorize a litany of preferred moves that they use under different circumstances. These moves become part of their overall toolkits and allow them to navigate matches. You should have a similar lineup of conversation enders that are tactful and reliable.
For instance, let’s say you’re at a networking event, and you’ve fallen into a “talk trap.” One way to extricate yourself gracefully could be to say, “It’s been nice to meet you. I promised my family/client/coworker that I’d check-in, though, so I need to step away.” It’s tactful, it’s simple to remember … and it’s hard for the other person to refute.
Just make sure you don’t use your end phrases with the same people over and over again. Can’t figure out an ending phrase? Eavesdrop on others’ conversations. You’ll hear wonderful conversation-enders that you can add to your lineup. Just remember that you want every ending to leave a positive, lasting impression.
Introduce Your Conversation Partner to Someone Else
This tried-and-true method for ending any discussion works wonders, especially at conferences. If you see someone else you know, wave them over. Then, introduce them to the person you’ve been talking with. Although you have to stick around a bit, you can smoothly leave the new conversation after a few minutes.
To take this tip to the master’s level, make the introduction as personalized as possible. “Jake, I want you to meet Molly. She’s an avid skier, just like you and your fiancé. I’m sure you two could swap wonderful places to hit the slopes.”
A secondary advantage to this type of closer is that it gives you something to talk with either party about later. You never know: Molly or Jake may one day thank you for introducing them because they discovered they could refer customers.
Ask for the Other Person’s Contact Information
“I’ve enjoyed our discussion, but I have to go. Could I grab your email so we can stay in touch?”
It’s a terrific way to conclude a conversation, particularly if your back-and-forth has hit a stall. Just pull out your cell phone and you can write down everything before leaving.
This “closer” allows you to close on a highly active note. It also gives you the opportunity to exchange information. Even if you’re not sure you’re going to get in touch with the other person again, you’ve done your due diligence. Additionally, you’ve helped yourself avoid a long, drawn-out goodbye.
To be sure, your conversation partner might hesitate to fork over key information. In that case, pipe up with something along the lines of, “Not a problem. We’ll exchange emails another time. It was great talking.” Just go with the flow, because not everyone wants to give out contact info, even if they’re at a social event.
End With Complete, Unexpected Transparency
When all else fails, being genuine always prevails. That is, you can be perfectly honest when closing some conversations. “I’m not great at ending discussions, especially when I’m enjoying them. But I want to make sure I say hello to a couple of other people tonight. So let’s plan to circle back later.”
Not all conversation partners will get the hint initially, even though you’re not really hinting. You might have to repeat yourself to get the point across. However, being open keeps you in the driver’s seat and also allows you to showcase a bit of humility, personality, and charm.
One caveat: If you try this strategy, be sure to smile. Putting forth a serious face can make it seem like you’re anxious or annoyed. Ultimately, you want people to know that you’re a pleasant, upfront person. You just can’t stick around for more chit-chat, that’s all.
You can’t avoid conversations. They make the world go round, and they afford you the opportunity to build out your network, potentially boost your paycheck, and raise your social cred. However, you aren’t doomed to get locked into boring, long dialogues every time you step out. Keep your conversation closers in your back pocket and use them accordingly. You’ll leave every event feeling more confident.