Let’s face it… most of us do not naturally love to network. The networking concept has connotations of forced, insincere, and transactional communication. From those who spend half of an event in the restroom to avoid conversing with strangers, to those who come fully prepared and know the name of your cousin’s cat, networking is something we all must learn to do because it plays an extremely important role in your business development and personal relationships. As a legal professional, networking and increasing your exposure to new groups of people is crucial as you never know where your next client, referral, or co-counsel will come from. Like any skill, the more you do it, the ‘easier’ it gets. Although networking can be an intimidating experience, I hope that the following before, during, and after tips will make your next event a little more enjoyable.
Have topics in mind that you can discuss. Before the event, take some time to brainstorm things you can discuss in casual conversation with other attendees. From tv shows to favorite foods, there really is no ‘limit’ to what you can bring up in conversation (although I’d advise staying clear of controversial topics such as religion and politics). A ‘safe’ option is always to discuss the organization or host who is responsible for the event, so do some research on this prior to attending and you’ll be sure to have something to say.
Feel confident. This is likely to mean something different to everyone. Whether you repeat positive affirmations to yourself in the mirror, or get dressed up in your favorite outfit, if you feel good internally, you’ll be less focused on yourself and more focused on the people around you. At the end of the day, that’s why you’re there!
Ask people about themselves. People like talking about themselves, and it often initiates an easy flow of conversation. As you ask others about their lives, listen attentively. Something may come up that can serve as common ground between you and there you have your first point of connection. As soon as you have something concrete in common, use that as a building block to start the relationship. After your conversation, try to remember a couple of key facts about the person you just met as this will be of great use to you after the event.
Relax and smile. If you are relaxed, the people you talk to will relax, and everyone will feel better for it. When conversation feels natural, you’re more likely to enjoy the event. It is scientifically proven that smiling decreases stress, so do everyone a favor and smile. It’s simple, but effective. Additionally, you will appear more approachable, and this may increase the number of people who come up to you and initiate conversation (relieving you of some pressure). Relax, breathe deep and smile. It will improve your body language and enjoyment.
Follow up. Whichever the method you use to do this should be personal. If you’re active on LinkedIn (which you should be), send a request to connect and maybe even include a note to make the online interaction seem a little more personal. If you exchanged email addresses, send an email, and try to reference something you discussed or took away from your conversation with that person. This will show you were engaged and alert during your interaction, which serves as a positive reflection of your character. The follow up note may also be a time for you to help or benefit your new contact. Think of a resource such as an article, or something else creative that could be of interest, or remind them of a service you can provide if they ever need it in the future. Be careful not to use the follow up message as a sales pitch. Write a personal and friendly note directed at your new acquaintance with the connection as the focal point of the exchange.
Look for your next networking opportunity. One down, many more to go. Networking is a skill you will utilize in many aspects of your life and in more ways and places than you can imagine. Be proactive in your search for these events and opportunities because your business development targets, or even future friends, might be in attendance.
Networking is a skill and learning a new skill can take time. However, networking is an inevitable part of life that will contribute to your success both personally and professionally. It is worth devoting time to find strategies and practices that make you feel most comfortable. I challenge you to make simple networking goals for your next networking event to weigh your ROI on your efforts. Sometimes we just need a win to help us see the positive side. Embrace YOUR networking strengths, your smile, and your follow-up, because all you need to network successfully is you!