Keys to great networking
Understand the operative root word in networking – ‘work’
It is called networking for a reason – because it is work. It requires dedicated time and effort in initiating communication, responding to others, and taking that extra step to set yourself apart from others. Good networkers not only maintain consistent communication, they also provide value in return to their contacts. This could include an introduction to someone already in your network whom they’d like to meet or forwarding an article related to their industry or practice area that may be of interest to them.
Consistently attend networking and industry events
Developing effective communication skills requires regular attendance at events where you can practice when and how to approach professionals you wish to invite into your network. The more events you attend, the more comfortable you will become at initiating stimulating conversations with other professionals which could mature into prosperous, long-lasting connections. Make networking part of your professional schedule; if you prioritize it the same way you prioritize other obligations, it is less likely to fall off your agenda.
At its core, networking is simply communicating with others to build professional friendships. So be curious about the people you are engaging with. Talk about careers, hobbies, passions, and lives generally. Don’t shy away from social or non-work-related topics – perhaps you will find that you both enjoy a particular genre of music, literature, or a certain sport, etc. These interests are as likely (if not more likely) to build a solid relationship as the fact that you have similar professional interests.
Be observant, engaging, interesting and curious. If you find it difficult to start a conversation, look for visual cues that can help. For example, you can mention something you like about the venue. There are numerous visual cues that lead to conversation starters if you are observant, and noticing those things others don’t can make an impression.
You can help others approach you by providing visual cues that will help them identify things that interest you. Wear a pin that identifies something you care about – a sports team, college, or organization – or other clothes/accessories that are both professional and eye-catching that can draw attention and lead to interesting discussions. Style and color are your friends!
Consider networking with a buddy
If networking makes you uncomfortable, consider buddying up. A companion can help with messaging and make conversations more fluid – and if you don’t like to talk about yourself, your partner can speak about you instead. But remember that this doesn’t work if you end up only speaking to each other.
Practice listening and understanding more than speaking
One thing that can distinguish a lawyer looking to create new relationships (and not in a good way) is talking more than listening. If you’re not giving the person you are introduced to an opportunity to tell you about themselves because you’re too busy talking, then you’re missing out on an opportunity to make your audience feel valued and important. It’s fine to talk about yourself – in fact, you need to so they know what makes you interesting and unique. However, focus more on learning about the person you’re talking to by asking questions and listening to the answers. Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote – “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Remember that it’s not all about you
Networking is a two-way relationship. You need to be open and available to help others in the same way you hope that others will someday help you. There are several ways you can accomplish this. Keep an eye out for things that they find interesting – for example, news related to their profession, hobby, or passion – and forward those their way. Read things they publish – from social media posts to articles – and let them know when you find them especially helpful or enjoyable. It’s these little things that create positive associations and the desire to help you succeed. That way when the right opportunity presents itself, you will be the first person they think to contact. And when someone needs assistance and you can provide it, do so graciously. Over time, this will result in you becoming a reliable and trusted ally.
Use social media carefully
There are social media platforms that exist solely for networking purposes, and these platforms can be extremely beneficial in initiating and developing effective networking relationships. They can provide a great deal of information about a person’s educational and professional background which you can use in deciding how best to initiate a connection with a potential contact.
When inviting someone you’ve never met to become a connection via social media, personalize your introductory message as much as possible. For instance, you can say that you’ve noticed they attended the same law school as you and you wish to connect with fellow alumni or acknowledge an insightful comment they made on a webinar. Simply saying “Hello, I’d like to join your network” does not convey the authenticity you should display in a first contact attempt and may not appeal to your audience.
Consider technology in helping you network
Although exchanging paper business cards is customary at networking events, technology increasingly allows greater opportunities to connect beyond just passing a card with your contact information. More professionals are using digital business cards that offer more flexibility and advantages than paper business cards. Some business networking apps even have a “Find Nearby” feature that allows you to connect with lawyers and other business professionals in close physical proximity to you at the event you are attending. Technology also allows you to book follow-up meetings on the spot, should the opportunity present itself, so make sure you have your calendar app open. Technology also offers more opportunities to connect with people who share the same interest that you do. So, if you find you aren’t connecting at traditional networking events, use technology to find and meet up with people.
Never try to hard sell at a networking event
This may sound counterintuitive, but many professionals (lawyers included) attend networking events with the idea of reaping a reward right then and there – whether it’s a job offer, a new client, or another career-developing opportunity. If they’re not successful, they will largely consider their attendance as time wasted. This approach is not only likely to result in disappointment, but also risks making people uncomfortable and unwilling to forge a relationship with you. Bear in mind that networking is about relationships, NOT sales.
Play the long game
Great relationships are rarely developed overnight – a truth very apparent when it comes to networking. Having a pleasant conversation at a networking event doesn’t automatically equate to developing a worthwhile connection, so don’t be impatient moving forward. Appreciate that quality networking is a gradual process that takes time, commitment and perseverance. It’s important to strike a balance between staying on a new contact’s radar and simultaneously respecting their space and busy lifestyle.
Always follow-up with a ‘thank you’ after the initial meet
It can be easy to have an interesting conversation with someone you just met while exchanging smiles and business cards. However, a mistake many networkers make is never following-up with that person after the initial introduction. Continuity in dialogue is the key to great networking, and some do it better than others. Be sure to follow-up with new contacts within 24 hours of meeting them with a quick email, text or phone call, letting them know how much you enjoyed their company. Try to include something specific that they said in your first conversation with them. When you consider the number of people we all talk to in a day, this can be helpful for remembering exactly who you are.