Let’s talk networking.
Merriam-Webster defines "networking" as:
the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business"
My favorite part of this definition is "the cultivation of productive relationships." That’s exactly what I like to focus on, cultivating relationships. There are many, many ways to do this, but today, I’d like to talk about something we’ve adopted here at the ILN that might work for other organizations and firms. We call it "Speed ILNing"
Speed ILNing is a business iteration of speed dating – for those of you not familiar with what speed dating it, it’s a matchmaking system, whose purpose is to help you meet a large number of people in a short time. A speed dating event normally consists of an inner and outer ring of seats, facing each other. At the start, individuals are paired up, given a few minutes to introduce themselves, and then when the time is up, a bell rings, signalling that one of the rings of people gets up and moves to the next person.
Now, in speed dating, there are score cards, and match ups following the event, but we don’t go that far. We’ve done a couple of these now, and the way that they work for us is to take the conference room (generally set up in a u-shape) and put chairs facing each other on both sides of the table. We then have half of the delegates sit on the inner "u" and half on the outer. Only those in the inner u will move.
We give them a few topics, in case they’re not sure where to start (as an aside, with our group, they pretty much never use the topics) and let them go. The most difficult part is getting everyone to finish up their conversations and move to the next pairing when the bell rings (and yes, in case you’re wondering, they usually let me have the bell).
We’ve gotten some great feedback from our group on these events, and I love them too – here’s why I think they work:
- Exposure: Because I’m in the Administration of the group, I pretty much meet everyone at our conferences naturally. I either get the chance to speak with them during a conference event, or they seek me out to assist them in some way with the logistics of their attendance. So it’s easy to forget that not all of my attorneys are getting outside of their core group. Plus, as we know, everyone has a different style for networking, and we’re not all comfortable meeting new people at say, a cocktail reception.
So although our attorneys are rarely clique-y, even the new attendees will stick with the people they meet early on. Speed ILNing gives them the opportunity to be exposed to the other attendees at the conference and can kick off a discussion that can easily continue.
- Knowledge: One of the main challenges we have is meeting our attorneys’ needs to really get to know each other and their practice areas – since they refer business to each other, this is a fairly essential component of what we do. Speed ILNing gives them a few minutes to understand what someone else’s practice is about, and figure out if there might be some synergies.
And, I have no proof of this, but I think it helps to get that information to sink in a little bit better. When you meet someone, hear a quick couple of things about them and what they do, I think that will be what first comes to mind when you think of them later. We all give nicknames to people in groups, and I think this type of networking supports the formation of monikers like "Bob the IP guy," or "Jim the energy specialist." In my book, anything that leads to that type of automatic connection between person and practice area is a solid win.
- Interaction: It’s easy to fall into the trap of non-participation during a conference when you’re in a room full of people. Yes, even my lawyers will rarely ask a question from the audience (depending on the speaker). Speed ILNing makes everyone a part of the conference, and nobody can just snooze in the back. It gets them interested and engaged in something that can truly benefit them, without being a cheesy icebreaker (hey, we all know those work, but my attorneys HATE them). Plus, it’s structured for them, so if they’re very shy or don’t know what to talk about, we’ve offered them a few topics to start with.
To me, the noise level of the room is what says it all – my attorneys are never as loud collectively as during a Speed ILNing session. I know other organizations have used this tactic as well, and I can see how it would even apply among lawyers at the same firm who may not know each other very well.
We could take it a step further, and have the attorneys "rate" each other on cards after each interaction, so that we could determine what additional meetings to set up among them, but so far, we like the way this is working.
One of the key notes I’d like to make though, is the importance of follow-up. Kicking off a relationship through these Speed ILNing-type events is great, but it can’t end there.
- Get each other’s business cards – make note on the back some of what you spoke about.
- Connect to that person on LinkedIn as soon as you can, and make sure to personalize your invitation to them.
- If you don’t get a chance to speak further during the conference, arrange time for a call to continue your conversation.
Relationships, even business ones, need nurturing, so it’s important to keep the conversations going in between face-to-face meetings as well!
My next challenge is to figure out how to do this virtually, among the attorneys who are not necessarily in the same room together on a regular basis. My initial thought would be to set up random pairings on a quarterly basis, and have those attorneys arrange a call (just one, so we would lose out on the exposure piece of this on a short-term basis). But I’m wondering if there might be another solution – so my question to you is how would you do it? And have you used a networking tactic like speed dating at your firm or organization?