‘Tis the season! You know the one – when every other day holds the promise of a networking opportunity, as you take clients to holiday lunches, send out your holiday cards, and attend all of those lovely parties.
The parties are what bring me here today, because I’m here to tell you about a key to networking that I’ve observed over the past nine years with the ILN.
Now, I’m not talking about letting loose and forgetting that you’re in a professional setting – on a side note, don’t forget to turn off any devices that might allow you to post photos to a social site when you’re at a holiday party.
But I am talking about letting go of business for a moment. Because, paradoxically, that is where you will find your strongest professional relationships.
What do I mean? Let’s look at a couple of examples.
As you may know, we host four conferences a year. These conferences are a mix of business presentations and programming and social activities. Our delegates often assume that these social activities are to show off the local city and to give them a bit of fun (and they are), but the main purpose of them is actually to facilitate those personal relationships that make business happen.
When you’re getting to know someone over dinner in a city that you’ve never been to before, you might talk with someone who lives there, or has been there before, and learn what new things to see. You might try a new dish that’s very local, and out of your comfort zone, and laughing over your trepidation in taking the first bite can bond you to the colleague sitting across the table.
You might end up sitting next to someone from an entirely different culture while horseback riding in the deserts of Arizona, an activity you may not do in your every day life. You may find yourself in a small group of people going to a fish spa for the first time, laughing as the fish get at your feet. You may capture some hysterical photos of your new friends as you’re out feeding giraffes, and one tries to nibble on their hair – and you’ll probably send that photo along with a note when you get back to your office.
These unique experiences are all bonding opportunities.
They break the ice, and lead to conversations about family, about your practice, about your story as a lawyer. People get to know you, and they get to like you.
And when they have business, you’re the first one they think about.
You don’t have to go all the way to a fish spa in Singapore to bond with someone, though – holiday parties are a great opportunity too. Let’s take a look at something that happened to me yesterday – I was attending a holiday lunch for marketing professionals in New Jersey. There were a few people that I knew already, and many that I didn’t. One woman was doing what I like to refer to as "drive bys." She would see someone that she’d never met, introduce herself and talk for a couple of minutes about what she does and ask about what they do, and hand out her card, taking their card, before moving on.
Yes, it was a networking event, but it was also a holiday luncheon – the reward for a long year of hard work and a chance to kick back and relax with each other a little bit.
Contrast what she did with what the majority of those in the room did – laugh with each other and talk a mix of business and personal – who had gotten their holiday shopping done (or even started), who was still suffering through the year end planning, etc. The bonding that took place in those conversations creates warmth and comfort – the same warmth and comfort that you’ll seek out when you need assistance with something professionally.
You may assume that you need to always be talking business in order to make something valuable to you professionally. But some of the best professional relationships I have and that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing among my attorneys have come from these rich personal relationships that we and they have nurtured.
So my call to you this holiday season of networking is to kick back and relax a little – you might just find your professional life a little busier for it!