business entertainingWe’ve all been there – you are hosting an event with clients and prospects, it cost far more than you anticipated, but you just knew it would lead to business. The event is moving along nicely, but no real business has come up and you don’t know how to move past small talk to business without coming across as pushy. Unfortunately, this all too common experience can make or break the success of an event and can make or break an opportunity to pursue a client.

In these situations, timing is everything. You can try laying out a canned pitch to kick off the event, however, hose often goes unheard and are never brought back up. Instead, it’s usually better to wait and let conversation happen organically. Start with some small talk, discuss weather and family, and try to steer the conversation to business. In a perfect world, your client will bring it up, not you. But don’t let the night get away from you. As the event winds down, you will have responsibilities and will be limited in your ability to talk in a meaningful way. Clients may also need to leave early, squashing your opportunity.

If the conversation never seems to come around to business, reflect on your conversation skills. In these situations, listening is imperative, both to listen for an opportunity to bring up business and to show you have a genuine interest in what is being said. The more you focus on the other person, the more confident they will feel and the more open to talking they will become. In many cases, by simply listening and focusing on the client, you will get to the subject of business without having to push.

During the conversation, let the client lead. You should have specific objectives that you want to cover, however not everyone will be on the same page as you at that moment. Most business, ultimately, is not closed at events or dinners. It is closed in the days after during a follow-up. If a client is only interested in a superficial conversation about business, that is fine. Hit your key talking points and move on.

Finally, remember to follow up. If you committed to sending information, be sure to send it. If not, be sure to reach out to thank the attendees for their time and offer to answer questions. During this follow up, you can also reiterate your key points and ask for a commitment. This is usually when a client will be more willing to make a decision, and by letting them lead the conversation at the event, you will have a better chance at gaining commitment now.

Talking business during dinner or at an event can be very difficult. But by focusing on the client, waiting for an opportunity, then only going as in depth as the other person wants, you will find far more success.