How and When to Join a Conversation Group

Have you ever gone to a networking event and found yourself unable to break into a conversation group? You are standing there waiting for the right time to break in, but it never seems to come so you are left feeling awkward, uncomfortable, and possibly even snubbed. The Public Speaker, Lisa B Marshall, explains the steps to joining an in-person conversation group at a networking event.  

Lisa B. Marshall
3-minute read

Today's blog post comes directly from a reader, Sheryl S. She wrote to ask for advice comfortably joining a conversation group.  

Hi Lisa,

I have never been able to completely master or handle this situation: in a conversation of more than two people, say three for instance, the other two start talking then ignore you and don't include you. How do you handle this?

For example, I have gone to several local educational meet-ups, for instance gardening or business networking events. When the speaker finishes, people in the room get up and talk to one another randomly. I find that the people will talk to each other like I am not even standing there, even if I make eye contact and introduce myself. It doesn't happen every time, but when it does I want to be able to handle this with professionalism.

Why do others do this? Clearly, it's not that they didn't like something I said or didn't agree with me, because I didn't even get a chance to speak yet!!! What's the deal here? Is this a power play? I find it rude, unwelcoming, and distasteful. But it’s not so much that it happens that’s the question, rather how to handle it when it does. Do you just walk away and move on?

Your feedback is appreciated.  Thanking you in advance for your time.

Sheryl S.

Hi Sheryl,

Thanks for your question. It turns out this is a very common question that I often get asked during my in-person networking seminar. In that seminar, we go over the mechanics of joining a conversation group at a networking event and then the everyone practices. It's a lot of fun!  

And here’s how I typically respond to this question:

First, it’s important to understand that, when you are in close proximity to a stranger, you should start by making a personal connection. Research confirms that we need to start with warmth (a smile, a nod, listening, a handshake, etc.). It allows us to establish a connection. You first have to be liked and trusted before someone will full engage with you or be influenced by you.

When you walk up to a group, you need to smile and look at your potential conversation partners in the eye (as you already know).  Then, carefully observe the body language. Are the members making a space for you to join the group? Are they greeting you, smiling at you, showing any signs of warmth?  Do they turn their entire bodies - including their hips - toward you, or are they only looking your way?  If you see no signs of warmth or engagement with you, they may be having an important conversation that is personal or private.  If so, it's best to make space for that and walk away.

However, another consideration may be that these particular people are just uncomfortable and awkward conversation makers. They are so worried about making conversation with the current conversation partner they don't even realize their behavior is being perceived as rude. Because conversing with strangers makes many people uncomfortable, they don't always behave in the kindest, most compassionate, most inclusive manner. I don't think most people are purposefully rude, I believe just don't know how to smoothly incorporate others. It's best to just find a more welcoming group.  I always recommend looking around for the group that is laughing and having a good time. Or better yet, look for someone who seems to be alone. And don't let any negative interactions affect your welcoming attitude. Just start again: exude warmth, make a connection, and converse. Remember to always make your initial interactions easier by ending your very brief self-introduction with a question. This way, you are making it easy and natural for someone to respond to you.  

Let me know how this works for you!

This is Lisa B. Marshall moving you from mediocre to memorable, from information to influence, and from worker to leader! I invite you to read my best-selling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk, and invest in your professional development via my online courses Powerful Presenter, Expert Presenter, or Influence: Maximize Your Impact.   

As always your success is my business

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.