How to Handle the Most Awkward Networking Moments
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Years ago, I shared the spotlight on stage at an event with a woman I’m going to call “Jackie,” well, because that’s her name. I was very intimidated by Jackie because she was my former boss, very serious and a top executive of a hotel chain.
Pretty intimidating! To make matters worse, Jackie wore very large glasses that made her eyes appear huge. It made me feel like she was looking directly through me rather than at me. All the more intimidating.
Well, we presented to the audience that morning. Jackie did her segment and I did mine. I thought we presented ourselves well, but wasn’t sure if our messages worked together. During our break, I wanted to let her know my thoughts over lunch so we could make adjustments before getting back on stage.
Over lunch, I was considering how to have this conversation with Jackie. Instead of sharing what was on my mind, I let her talk while I ate. And as she did, I bit down on a string bean and a stream of hot water shot right onto her eye glasses and dripped down into her soda.
And for the first few moments, I pretended that it did not happen.
Through this awkwardness, her stare was cross-eyed focused on the water that was on her lens. I desperately held back the laughter and said, “You saw that, huh?” She said, “Yeah.”
I said, “OK, now what?”
We burst out laughing. She took her eye glasses off to clean them as I got her a new soda.
Even after I returned with a new soda for her, I could not stop laughing. I never discussed my concerns from the morning. In fact, I forgot that I had concerns. It didn’t seem important anymore.
When we got back on stage in the afternoon, we were awesome. And I mean awesome.
When meeting, speaking and working with others, sometimes awkward moments present themselves. It’s almost always funny afterwards. At least it was to me!
Here are some of the most common awkward networking moments I have experienced and some suggestions about how to handle them.
How do I start a meaningful conversation?
Introduce yourself and then say, “May I share a quick story?” Then share a story about something that recently happened to you. Don’t get too personal and don’t spend more than a minute or two with your story. Just be real. Then ask if they have had a similar experience. You may feel a connection after sharing stories. Then ask questions about their work, goals, connection to the meeting or event and what they’re looking to accomplish over the next 90 days. They may ask you similar questions, “How about yourself?” Now you’re having what the experts call a, “meaningful conversation.”
How do I introduce others and gracefully walk away?
After introducing those you meet to one another, give them the chance to talk about themselves. If it’s appropriate to stay there as they speak, then stick around. If not, let them know that you’re excited about connecting them and that you’re going to allow them to get to know one another. People love to be introduced to one another – especially if there is a good reason to do so. It’s a nice skill to master! In fact, the more introductions you make, the more introductions you’ll receive.
What should I do if I forget someone’s name?
Just ask! “I’m sorry; I forgot your name.” Be apologetic and self-effacing. Keep in mind that you probably didn’t “forget” their name. You simply weren’t listening to it because you were focused on the next thing you were going to say. To avoid that, repeat the person’s name back to them. If it’s a common name, like Tom, associate this person with someone you know named Tom. If it’s an unusual name, ask for the proper spelling and make sure you’re pronouncing it correctly. In fact, practice by using that person’s name when speaking with them. They will be appreciative that you’re looking to get their name correct. Keep in mind they have been dealing with having an unusual name their whole life, so make the experience they’re having with you a good one.
How do I ask for a business card?
Offer to exchange business cards and explain why it would benefit both of you. Remember, networking is a we-thing, not a me-thing. Make your conversation collaborative and a benefit to both parties. “Does it make sense to exchange cards (or contact info)? We could set up some time to continue our conversation and explore ways of helping one other.” If you need to write something on someone’s business card, be polite and ask permission.
How do I know when to end a conversation?
Don’t monopolize the other person’s time. Most networking conversations are usually six to eight minutes (without looking at your watch or phone). If there is not a good connection with the other person, keep your conversation on the shorter side – just a couple of minutes. But if you feel a good connection, try to keep the conversation in the eight-minute range unless it’s appropriate for you to have a longer discussion. If you’re not sure, simply ask. “I’m enjoying our conversation, but I don’t want to hold you up either. Are you alright if we spend a few more minutes chatting?” Remember, this is only if you feel you have a good connection. Again, the conversation should be collaborative – focused on helping and referring one another – not selling that person your product or service. If you don’t feel you have a great connection and there is no reason to continue speaking to each other, simply say, “Nice to meet you today. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you at this event. Otherwise I’ll see you again soon. Good luck!”
What can I do if I’ve done something embarrassing or stupid?
As Lieutenant Dan said in the movie Forrest Gump, “Two standing orders in this platoon. One, take good care of your feet. Two, try not to do anything stupid, like gettin' yourself killed.” Or by saying something stupid that will make the situation awkward. An apology will handle most mistakes – unless it’s disrespectful or mean-spirited. Discussions about income, politics or charged positions you have about anything that is going to create a conflict should be avoided. The goal when meeting others at an event is to make a good impression and begin a meaningful business relationship – not prove how smart or successful you are.
What if I’m speaking with someone and someone else interrupts us?
It depends. If you know you can circle back with the person you were speaking with later, say goodbye and mention that you will find them later. Another approach might be to mention to the person who interrupted that you’re wrapping up your conversation soon and ask that they give you a few minutes to finish. This will let them know that they are interrupting without creating a conflict or awkward moment.
What if we just don’t click?
You won’t click with everyone. In fact, if you’re a good networker and have a nice conversational way about you, you’ll probably connect with about one third of those you meet. And by connection, I mean there’s interesting conversation to be had, the conversation is effortless and you’re having fun. Just keep the conversation short and sweet. If you’re not “feeling the love,” just say, “Nice to meet you.” Offer to be a resource at the event and move on. They will be relieved too! Always be respectful, polite, open-minded, forgiving and a good listener. This will go a long, long way!
Just take good care of your feet and don’t do anything stupid.
What are you most awkward networking moments? Let me know by commenting on APViewpoint.
Michael Goldberg is a speaker, author, consultant, boxer and ”knock out” networker. He has helped financial advisors, brokers, agents, reps, wholesalers and other sales producers generate hundreds of thousands of dollars to their bottom line. His firm, Knock Out Networking, LLC, is renowned as a speaking and training resource in the financial services industry. Described by clients as a “spark plug,” Michael is a master at invigorating and engaging audiences. His “knock-out” style is “in your face” and high energy. His content is “real world” and can be applied immediately. Michael speaks at conferences and associations, runs sales meetings, and delivers “results-driven” programs on networking, referral marketing and sales presentations.