Networking is so uncomfortable for some of us. So how does one get good at it? How do some people breeze through it and really enjoy it? Do they come up with things to talk about because their lives are more interesting? Did their parents forget to teach them not to talk to strangers? Are they just naturals?
Some people probably are just naturals. After all, a big part of networking is being genuine and some people are more open and talkative naturally. The rest of it is just practice and confidence, and you know from experience that confidence increases with practice. The law school provides us with a lot of great networking opportunities. If you’re either skipping them or attending but not making connections, you’re missing out. As much as you may not want to do it, the opportunities are there because it is important.
Networking moves you from being a piece of paper in a stack of resumes to “a great guy that Dave knows” or from being a brand new green associate among many to one who is getting referrals and bringing in new clients.
So what do you have to do? How can you get better at it?
Change your attitude. Think about the real definition of networking: a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. – It recognizes that both sides are bringing something valuable. That’s right. One of the best things you can do is go in thinking about what you can offer, not just what you may get. Yes, you need a job, but they need great new associates. Yes, that lawyer is an expert in tax, but she has a question about her friend’s divorce and you just finished family law. See where I’m going with this? Go into it thinking about what you’ve got to offer.
Be willing to work at it until it comes naturally. Prepare like you would for a class or interview. Look at who is going to be at the event, learn some things about them or their group, and have some open-ended questions in mind as conversation starters. You don’t want to get stuck talking about traffic and weather.
Find the bar. Yup, really. Don’t get drunk, but get a drink so that you have something to do with your hands, and sip it. And hang out near the bar. Everyone will go there and you’ll have a chance to strike up conversation with people coming and going.
Balance your talking and listening. This is tough. You’ve always learned that you should get people to open up and talk and that people love to talk about themselves, and it’s true, but you owe a little sharing, too, and you do need to let them know some things about you. Try to keep the convo balanced by asking open-ended questions and responding with more than yes/no even if someone else’s questions aren’t as good as yours.
Smile. This seems so easy, but it’s worth saying again because when we get nervous, or when we are listening intently, we tend to frown a little. Consciously think about it and keep smiling!
Quality – not quantity. You may believe that you are supposed to talk to every person in the room or hand out as many cards or make as many new acquaintances as you can, but no. Talk to a few people and make real connections. Networking is about a support system. You will go to other events and meet everyone eventually. Build a good foundation by making a few quality connections.
Bring a wingman. Start the event with a friend. You’ll both feel more confident right away and you’ll never be stuck without someone to talk to. As you both get more comfortable, you’ll be able to break away and both speak with other people.
Be yourself. Yes, you want to put on your best, but hopefully you are developing relationships and people will get you know you eventually. If you start out being yourself, people will see that you are genuine and like you more for it.
Follow up. Depending on who you meet and how formal or informal the event, follow up with the people you met with a phone call, note, or (when appropriate) social media contact. People should know that you enjoyed meeting them, remember them, and would enjoy seeing them again. Offer something to them without expecting anything in return. It doesn’t have to be big, you could attach a link. “Check out the article I found about (that subject we were discussing)” or something similar can jog their memory of you and set you apart from others who may also follow up.
Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of your networking events so that they are a little less painful and eventually, even fun!
Are you a natural? What advice do you have for the rest of us?