October 23, 2012

How to Work a Room to Expand Your Network

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November/December 2010 Issue | Volume 36 Number 6 | Page 47


How to Work a Room to Expand Your Network

Did you know that it may take as many as 10 to 15 active contacts to land just one new client? While you can get introductions to new contacts or nurture existing ones in numerous ways, don’t underestimate the value of working the room at large events.

Everyone needs to keep growing their network to help advance business development efforts, and one-on-one interactions, online communities and small forums can be important components of that. But also useful are conference receptions, industry forums, chamber of commerce events and community social gatherings, where you can make face-to-face connections with multiple people at the same time. Although many people find it difficult to network at these larger events, doing so is often necessary to further existing relationships and to meet new people in your niche or industry.

So, assuming that you plan to attend a few such events in the coming year, here are steps that will help you connect with the people who can send you business or otherwise serve as valuable resources.

Prepare Yourself

If you take a little time to prepare in advance, it becomes easier to work the room once you’re there—and the better prepared you are, the easier it will be. Here are several steps you should take prior to attending larger events:

  • Set a goal for yourself. Think about what you want to achieve at this event and what types of connections you wish to make.
  • Try to find out in advance who else will be attending. Request a registration list if one is being publicly shared.
  • Call a few clients or other contacts and ask if they’re going or would like to join you. Also, if they know other people who will be going, ask if they would introduce you to one or two of their contacts while you’re there.
  • Prepare some conversational icebreakers. These can be questions or comments about the event’s topics or sponsors, or remarks about news or sports items of the day that might be of relevance to people in attendance. Just remember to avoid questions about religious or political views.
  • Practice your 15-second elevator speech. In other words, be ready with an interesting self-introduction, focusing not on your title and practice but on what benefits and solutions you offer clients and colleagues. Make it more interesting by tying what you do to a recent news story or current event.
  • Bring plenty of business cards and a pen, and have them easily accessible. Be sure to wear clothing with an internal or external pocket and an easy place to put your name tag.

Greet, Meet and Connect

Once you arrive on-site, it’s time to work the event. There are a number of things to keep in mind to do this most effectively:

  • When you arrive at the registration table, review the list of registrants or look at the name badges if they’re laid out alphabetically on the table. Introduce yourself to the hosts or sponsors of the event, thank them for putting it together, and tell them why it benefits you. Also, if there’s someone specific you want to meet or reconnect with, ask the host to let you know when that person arrives.
  • As you walk around the room, acknowledge the people you see. Don’t turn away from or walk by someone without saying hello, especially if you’ve met the person before.
  • Don’t stand alone or sit at an empty table. Take the initiative to go up to individuals or groups and connect with them. Look for someone who is standing alone, or someone you know who is with a group and can introduce you to others.
  • Whether you are speaking with someone you just met or someone you knew before, be sure to introduce others as they approach your group.
  • Don’t interact only with people you know, and especially not other lawyers from your firm! If you do meet up with someone you know well, only stay with them long enough to catch up and introduce them or be introduced to someone else. Then branch out to say hello to others and continue to work the room.
  • When you’re being introduced to new people, listen carefully so you’ll remember their names. Try to associate the person’s name with something or someone else that will help you remember him or her.
  • Remember that body language conveys a lot. To look friendly and welcoming, you should smile, keep your arms comfortably at your side, and make and maintain eye contact. Give a good, firm handshake when greeting people.
  • Be an active and avid listener. Don’t interrupt or try to convince others of your point of view or impress them with all the things you know. Instead, focus on the other person’s needs, interests and concerns. Be genuine. People like to talk about themselves, so let them do it.
  • Don’t hand out your card without first making a connection with the person. Quality, not quantity, is the goal. When you receive a business card, pause to look at it and see if there’s anything that generates further discussion. Jot a note on the back to remind you later of a highlight of your conversation.
  • Don’t spend too much time with any one person, even if you have much in common to discuss. Suggest a date for a specific follow-up activity such as lunch, coffee or a phone call, and then move on. Just remember to say goodbye to each person in a group before leaving it.
  • If the event involves open table-seating, be strategic when it’s time to join a table. Identify a couple of people you met during the networking portion and ask them to sit with you during the meal or, alternatively, ask a client or other current contact if you can join them at their table. Even if you are assigned a table, try to sit right next to people who are likely to be helpful contacts for you.

Follow Up with New Contacts Immediately

The value of networking at larger events can be quickly lost if you don’t take steps to connect with those you met as soon as possible. Just as it can take 10 to 15 contacts to land a client, it takes multiple touch points to convert new acquaintances into more valuable relationships, so you should begin immediately. While communicating with new contacts in the first 48 hours is best, strive to do so within at least two weeks after the event. (After that, it becomes awkward to get in touch with someone you only met at that particular function.)

Effective follow-up means taking these steps:

  • Send those you met an e-mail telling them you enjoyed meeting them, and make reference to a topic you discussed or an interest you “share, when appropriate. Attach your vCard for easy download into their contact database.
  • Make sure their full contact information gets entered into your contact database. You might even create a special category that enables you to sort your list by the event at which you met them to help jog your memory.
  • If they live locally and you had a mutually engaging conversation, suggest an in-person get-together for a follow-up talk. For those who aren’t local, put them on your calendar with a reminder to get in touch monthly with something of interest.
  • Do a search on Google and LinkedIn to look at their individual bios and profiles. Consider setting up a Google News Alert on those who work for companies you want to follow.
So, to summarize, the better you prepare and the more often you arrive with a few specific objectives, the more likely you are to be successful at networking events. As with all effective business development, become a pro at asking questions, be genuinely interested in what others do and have to say, and look for ways to offer value and make connections for others. You’ll find that working a room and following up with your new contacts becomes easier and more productive, too.

About the Author

Susan Saltonstall Duncan is President of RainMaking Oasis, Inc., a marketing and management firm that provides planning, consulting and training tools to lawyers and law firms. Contact her at (860) 434-5600.