- What brings you here?
- Have you attended events like this before?
- How did you find out about this event?
- How did you get involved in this organization
While it will seem scary (or outright terrifying) the first several times, most people, especially those at a networking event, expect to meet new people and are receptive to having conversations with someone they haven’t talked to before. Plus, no one is alone in being alone — many people attend networking events by themselves and are hoping for someone to break the ice (and that awkward incessant staring at their cell phone) and approach them. This is where the art of conversation comes in. You and those you coach can begin with these simple steps:
- Make Eye Contact: Looking a person in the eye is a sign of respect in Western cultures and projects confidence.
- Ask Questions: A huge part of mastering small talk is posing open-ended questions to demonstrate care, and interest in, the other person — this builds rapport.
- Nod and Smile in Affirmation: Doing so shows openness, warmth, and attention.
- Exchange Information: Whether it’s an old-school business card, a digital business card, or a LinkedIn connection, make sure to get the contact information of the person.
Projecting a positive attitude and putting on a smile makes a huge difference in creating a lasting impression — whether it is a three-minute conversation or a 30-minute conversation, positivity matters. When starting out, using this straightforward formula of introducing yourself (or having your student or lawyer introduce themselves) to at least one new person per event could be a great feat. As you or they get more comfortable and attend bigger events, new goals should be set. Before attending an event or conference, figure out how many new people you’d or they’d like to meet and, if time permits, review the advanced attendee list to identify specific people with whom to connect.
Rather than winging it, having a plan can help calm nerves and makes the time spent networking more worthwhile. Plus, making that one new connection should give a familiar face to ease any networking nerves at the next event.
Even the most personable and charismatic people miss a major opportunity when they meet a bunch of new people and then forget to follow up or do so far too late after the initial encounter. Mastering initial introductions is critical, but without effective follow up, any networking efforts will most likely go nowhere. Instead, coach those you support to prioritize following up within a week after meeting someone and do so yourself — even if it’s only to remind them of meeting at the networking event and asking to stay in touch.
The most important part of following up is customization. Whether it was a networking event you went to or you are coaching your student or lawyer through, the first step is to research the person met, including their role and organization (using their contact info), and identify whether there is a specific ask to make. Then craft the outreach so it is tailored to that specific individual including any ask of them. Be succinct and get to the point by reminding them who you (or your student or lawyer) are, your qualifications, and what you’d like any next steps to be (e.g., a call, an introduction, serving as a resource, etc.). Both LinkedIn messaging and email are ideal avenues for follow-up, with calls being more appropriate for people you know better or who have encouraged you to do so.
What NOT to Do When Networking
Dipping a toe into networking does not come naturally for most of us. No matter how tired, distracted, or unenthusiastic you or those you support may feel, you (and they) want to be remembered in a positive light. The legal community, while extremely large in numbers, really is a small and tight-knit community, so if all else fails, coach your students and lawyers to remember to be kind to everyone and treat others as they want to be treated and do so yourself. Reputations will follow a person from law school and from job to job, so avoiding these connection disruptors are key to staying top of mind for all the right reasons:
- Being on a phone or otherwise noticeably distracted during a conversation.
- Continuing to push a conversation when someone is showing disinterest.
- Dominating the conversation.
- Waiting too long to follow up.
As seasoned legal marketing and business professionals, the most common disconnect we see when it comes to business development and leadership potential is a lack of confidence in, or familiarity with, networking.
With hybrid events becoming the norm over the past few years, there are many ways to dip toes into the networking waters and meet new professional contacts. If you still find that you or your students or lawyers are not ready to jump into in-person networking, first try a virtual networking event, which can be less intimidating to tackle.
Ultimately, the earlier you and the students and lawyers you counsel start getting out of your comfort zones and building your networks, the better. Remember, while legal skill set and ability remain critical to success, in today’s legal market, it’s not the only thing that manifests a successful career. Following these easy to implement networking tips is an ideal way to start to take the trajectory of your legal career into your own hands. Youcontrol your future so what are you going to do with it?