There are some people who can talk with anyone – my brother-in-law is like that. Put him in a room with a bunch of people he doesn’t know, and he excels at connecting with them without awkward silences.

But for many of us, that is unfortunately not one of our strengths. I’m a prime example of that. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been speaking with someone, only to have the conversation taper off and leave you standing there wracking your brain to come up with something to say?

*Hand raised*

But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Let’s consider two ways that we can turn this around:

Solution One: The Graceful Exit

In some cases, the person that you’re talking to isn’t the right person to be networking with – either you’re not finding that chemistry that tells you that you’re making a good connection, or you realized once you started speaking with them that they may not be a good future resource for one reason or another.

A silence can offer you the perfect opportunity to make a graceful exit from the conversation, because it’s a natural stopping point. Tell the person you’re speaking with that you’re going to grab a drink, or just say that it was nice speaking with them, and shake their hand. Then, you are free to move on!

Solution Two: Mental List of Topics

The other solution to an awkward silence is coming prepared. If you’re like me, and your brain draws a total blank when there’s a conversational pause, it can be a lifesaver to have a list already prepared. Come up with five possible topics that you can introduce at this point – it can be anything from asking about the event you’re at (“Is this your first time at an XYZ networking event?”) to talking about sports (“Did you see the NFL team game this weekend?”).

The key here is that if you introduce something not related to the event at hand, it should be something you’re passionate about. Otherwise, it will become clear that you’re not well-versed in that area, and the conversation will likely die off quickly (again).

Another key here is to ask open ended questions that will invite further conversation – while the above two suggestions are really yes or no questions, they invite follow up that will help to drive the conversation. If someone has been to an event before, you can ask them when they last attended, or what brings them back. If they haven’t, find out what they hope to gain from it, or what drew them there in the first place.

Similarly, with other topics, ask what they like or dislike about something, follow up with probing questions (while not being too nosy!). It can help to write a few of these down beforehand, so they’re in your mind and will be fresh when you run out of things to say. Being prepared like this can help you get over the awkward silences more quickly, so that you can keep the conversation progressing!

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about some of the issues that can come up when you’re networking – what are some others that you’ve noticed? How do you handle some “networking negatives”?

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles recruitment, member retention, and a high level of service to members. She is engaged in the legal industry to stay on top of trends, both in law firms and law firm networks.

In her role as Executive Director, she develops and facilitates relationships among ILN member firm lawyers at 90+ law firms in 67 countries, and seeks opportunities for member firms to build business and relationships, while ensuring member participation in Network events and initiatives. These initiatives include facilitating referrals, the management and execution of the marketing and business development strategy for the Network, which encompasses all communications, push-down efforts, and marketing partnerships, providing support and guidance to the chairs and group leaders for the ILN’s thirteen practice and industry specialty groups, the ILN’s women’s initiative, the ILN’s mentorship program, the management and execution of all ILN conferences, and more.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

During her previous tenure as Director of Global Relationship Management, the ILN has been shortlisted as a Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer for 2016 and 2017, and included as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network since 2011. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry, and was recently included in Clio’s list for “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was recently chosen for as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February of 2009.