Networking is a term that many people have an uneasy relationship with. Most of us want to seem enthusiastic and interested in the opportunity to schmooze with influential peers, but let’s be honest – for most of us, the idea of networking leaves us filled with a sense of dread. For lawyers, more comfortable in front of a screen than in a room full of strangers, networking is an essential business skill to master.
The problem lies in the idea we have of networking. The term has become somewhat tainted, but networking is still a valuable part of your personal development – and it doesn’t have to be an awkward bragging exchange. To truly gain value from networking, it’s important to think #humanfirst (like we do at Obelisk Support) – go in with genuine desire to learn, meet like-minded peers and be ready to talk about you, your life passions and goals. Here are some alternative networking tips from The Attic to help you learn to love the process…
Breaking the Ice – Introductions
Quite simply – don’t overthink it! A simple “Hello, I’m…” and smile goes a long way. If you are attending a talk or seminar as them what they thought of the discussion and take conversation from there. You don’t need to offload your career history; listen first: Ask them who they are, where they’ve travelled from, what brings them here and reciprocate with answers of your own.
Remember to say your full name! Why? Well first, so you can be distinguished from the two other Sophies in the room, and it also makes it more likely for people to commit your name to memory. When it comes to work talk, don’t just provide a job title and company name – briefly explain exactly what it is you do and why it interests you.
Don’t ‘Work the Room’ – Work With People
Aggressive and obviously strategic tactics to get around to everyone you might think is of influence are an immediate turn off. As always in life, authenticity is key. Don’t try to be something you are not or what you think people want you to be. Whatever level you are at, you are in the process of building yourself up – just like everyone else in that room, whatever level they are at. So be open and honest, and focus on the quality of connection, rather than quantity.l If you are worried about coming across as insincere or if it all still seems too contrived, listen to these anti-faking networking tips from Marie Folero:
– Networking is lifelong practice, see it as a regular habit not just a performance at an event
– Be totally present with each person you are speaking to, it’s not about getting around to the next person
– Be honest about your availability and don’t make promises you can’t keep
– If you have discussed follow up contact/further introductions, take action right away instead of waiting
Providing Value and Gaining Value
You need to ask yourself not just what you are looking for but what you can offer. As previously mentioned, you shouldn’t have to promise the world or pretend to be what you are not – just show yourself to be genuinely interested and motivated by your work. You want to hear about what interests and motivates people and their passions, rather than a list of achievements or a job title. Others will feel the same. This is the foundation of real connections in work and life – the mutual sharing of ideas and inspirations and telling the story of what led us to where we are today.
This TED event talk on active networking talks about how most of us have the wrong idea and approach to networking. He provides some tongue in cheek observations on how we make snap judgements based on appearance, and explains how we often overlook the real value of meeting people and getting to know them, no matter how much ‘relevance’ we think they might have.
Cement Those Connections
Of course, it’s all very well having great, energising conversations at an event, but what should you take away from that? If you feel you have more to learn from and/or teach a person, you need to make sure you establish follow up contact. So ask outright: ‘Where can I find out more about you and your company? ‘Do you use Twitter?’ ‘Can I send you an email with more information?’ Some people don’t hand out business cards anymore. They just connect with you on LinkedIn on the spot.
If you do use business cards (and nice stationery is memorable in many ways) don’t consign those business cards to an elastic band and a dusty drawer, as Mark E. Sackett says! Track and log the contacts you meet – use an online address book, or Outlook, and be sure to add notes of interest that you learned about them while talking to them. This will help to prompt you to include conversational points in your follow up emails, and keep the rapport going.
Where to Network – Offline and Online
There is the question of how useful large events created especially for networking really are. For example, this article on abovethelaw.com advises against them, saying “Instead, go to things that matter. Go to talks and seminars and presentations that are actually about something (besides “networking”).” It all goes back to the question of why you are there; if it’s not going to be of real value to you as an individual it’s not worth doing. The best events to go to are the things that genuinely interest and excite you – as that will ensure you bring the best version of yourself to the occasion. It could be better, then, to make a pledge to regularly attend industry relevant talks and speaking events where the opportunities to network are the side product, not the focus aim. Consider more informal soft skill focused groups – eg Toastmasters, which have a relaxed atmosphere to help build confidence and public speaking skills. Offering yourself up to speak at events is another way of creating more opportunities for networking, so it’s something to consider if you haven’t done it so far!
Remember you can also network online – social media used to be more commonly referred to as social networks after all, so it is time to take it back to basics. Check out our article on managing your presence on LinkedIn for online networking tips.
The bottom line is it’s not just about broadcasting yourself. Think of social media as an ongoing networking event – as intimidating as that sounds it doesn’t mean you have to be posting and messaging people all day long (those are habits that will very quickly get you muted/unfollowed anyway!). It simply means your social media are an open channel which you need to use regularly and interactively to discover and nurture relationships.
Finally, if you can’t find the right group or event for you – create your own!
Sometimes, things simply won’t happen unless you create the opportunity for yourself, so if you see a lack of events or online groups that fit your current situation – be that as a freelance lawyer, someone who is returning to work or is in the middle of a career change – it’s time to make it happen. With online platforms such as Meetup it’s easy to set up a small monthly lawyers breakfast/lunch group in your local area.
Get out there, relax and happy schmoozing!