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?
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”?