On my calendar for today was an assignment to share with you all my thoughts on some best practices for networking. "But Lindsay," I can hear you saying, "we’ve been talking a LOT about networking lately!"
And yes, we have, but we’ve been focused more on where you can be networking, and how you can add networking into your daily life, but not as much about the nuts and bolts of actual networking.
So what works well? For some inspiration, I headed online and found that most networking suggestions focus around what to do if you’ve lost your job and are hunting for a new one. But it turns out that many of those suggestions can be applied to lawyers and legal marketers who want to connect at events as well (and let’s clarify, we’re not speaking strictly about "networking" events – networking can happen anywhere, from your child’s softball game to sitting at the airport).
Out of the tips that I saw, I’m sharing with you my five favorites here, drawing on this post from HowStuffWorks on Networking Tips for People Who Hate Networking and this post on 10 Simple Tips for Networking Success from US News & World Report.
One: Have a memorable business card
I know this one will be tough for the lawyers in the audience, because most of you will be more comfortable having a standard one-sided, cream colored card with lines and lines of writing on it.
But consider this, if you change the shape or the color of the card, won’t that be much more memorable when someone you’ve met gets home and goes to put their new contacts into their computers? It may even be memorable enough to stir up some interest at an event, encouraging other people to come up to you and say "I heard you have a cool business card, can I get one?"
I’m sure you’re feeling a bit doubtful about that right now, or even assuming that to make your card memorable you also have to make it cheesy or cheap-looking. But I’m here to tell you that you can have both a unique and classy card, because I do – I’ve gotten a number of compliments on my card, and it’s very memorable – this is the front:
And this is the back:
It’s wider than most standard sized cards, so it sticks out (literally) from the pile of cards that someone would collect at a networking event, and the bright colors both reinforce our logo and draw people’s attention. I absolutely love these cards, which are bold, without being too risky.
So give some thought today to creating a slightly bolder card – even just changing the size or the color of your card will help both you and the card to be more memorable.
Two: Volunteer to be part of the event
This is an idea that makes a LOT of sense – I’ve seen it work at our conferences with our host firms. When we have a conference in a city, our member firm in that city is our "host" – so everyone in attendance wants to meet and talk to the attorneys from that firm. Yes, it introduces new attorneys who are not regular conference attendees to the members, but it also gives the regular firm contacts the chance to meet everyone who is in attendance – and all they have to do is be social!
This can happen for any event – networking or otherwise. Offer to work the concession at your child’s sporting event. Volunteer work the registration table at your reunion. Offer to work the booth for your firm’s annual sponsorship. These types of opportunities will put you in front of the largest number of people at an event, give them a reason to seek you out, and give you a starting point to kick off the conversation. Plus, you’ll never feel at a loss for what to be doing while you’re not chatting with someone, which can easily happen if you’re attending an event.
Sort of along these lines, something that’s worked well for me is hiding behind my camera lens. Yes, it can make me a bit less social sometimes, but it helps me to move around within a crowd, shows an interest I have to people that’s outside of the conversations that are normally happening, and also gives me a way to follow up – I’ll often send the photos on afterwards, either online or in the mail, which can give people a warm, fuzzy feeling about the event, and continues my connection with them. Consider whether you might have a hobby that would fit well into a networking/event scenario that would support your efforts to break the ice.
Three: Arrive Early
This might be counterintuitive for a lot of us, but it’s a great networking suggestion. What are the benefits of arriving early?
- If you tend towards being an introvert (like me), you won’t feel overwhelmed walking into a room full of people. You’re starting out with small groups, where you’ll feel more confident breaking in and introducing yourself. You’ll easily be able to spot someone who’s also a wallflower, and connect with them. You may even get the opportunity to chat with the event organizers, who will get to know you, and may then be able (and willing) to introduce you to the people they think you need to know.
- The people that you meet early on at an event will be fresher – they won’t have already had many "drive-by" conversations with other attendees, and be suffering the fatigue of networking. So they’ll be more likely to connect well with you, and remember you better later. If the event is a cocktail one, this is also the time of the evening before everyone has been drinking, so you’ll have the benefit of their totally sober memory, as well as the conversation starter of offering to grab them a drink.
- You’ll be catching people as they’re arriving and not when they’re leaving, so they won’t be as rushed. If someone has another event to get to, or even just wants to head home, they’ll be thinking about getting to that next place, and not really concentrating on your conversation. When you chat earlier on in the event with them, they’re still focused on being there and making the most of it.
Four: Do Some Due Diligence
These days, so much happens on the internet that you can usually find out both who is attending something, as well as a little bit about them, before you even get there. Friends hosting a party? Check their evite responses or who replied on Facebook. Networking group hosting a cocktail reception? Check their LinkedIn group to see who is talking about being there.
These lists won’t likely be comprehensive, but they’ll give you enough of a starting point that you can do a little bit more research. There may be three or four people there that you really want to connect with – look them up on LinkedIn and see what you might have in common. Perhaps you once worked for the same company, or went to the same university. Perhaps you share a mutual love for Arsenal or he writes a food blog, and you love dining out.
I agree that this can sometimes border on the "creepy," so you want to be careful about how you introduce things into the conversation. There are two ways you can do this effectively:
- Organically: Let’s say you learn some social or professional fact about someone prior to meeting them. You don’t want to say that you looked them up online, so find a way to naturally drop into the conversation a connecting fact about yourself. If you both went to the same college, maybe when the weather comes up (we all know it happens a LOT when talking to someone new), you can say, this time of year really makes me miss being on the Hill. He’d know immediately that you are talking about Hamilton (I’m sure there are other colleges that reference the Hill, but you already know that you went to the same one, so that’s the connection he’ll make), and he’ll ask whether you went there too, and you can go from there.
Or, let’s say you share a love of traveling. You can say that this weather makes you want to jet off to another country, where the weather is better. Mention a recent trip you took, which will indicate that you enjoy traveling, and take the conversation from there. The important thing here is to link all comments to you, so it doesn’t appear as though you’ve been stalking your conversational partner online (even though you have).
- Directly: Let’s say you want to be upfront about looking into someone’s background. The best way to do this without looking creepy is to send a connection request prior to the event on LinkedIn. Note in your invitation email that you appear to be going to the same event, and you’d like to get together for a drink (or whatever) while you’re there to chat a little bit more. That alerts the person that you’ve had a look at their LinkedIn profile, so anything you would mention during your conversation won’t come as a surprise to them later.
It’s also a way to self-select your networking targets a little bit – if the person doesn’t want to meet with you, or doesn’t respond to your request, it wouldn’t have been a worthwhile conversation anyway, and you’ve saved yourself some time.
Five: Be Specific in Your Follow Up
Obviously, there’s no point in learning about how to network better with people if you fail to follow up with them after you’ve met. You already know I’m going to mention connecting with them on LinkedIn, so I won’t bring that up again. But there are other things you can do as well.
Hopefully, you focused mostly on listening during your conversations (I omitted this tip, because I’m assuming that everyone reading this is savvy enough to know that you should let the other person do most of the talking), and this will give you some information to start with.
Let’s say that someone you spoke with is a huge fan of food and writes a food blog – perhaps you do some research and find a new hot spot opening up in town, and send her a quick email to suggest that you check it out for lunch, on you. Maybe someone else is into vintage cars, and you see that there’s a car show in your town in a few weeks – you could send him the flyer and suggest you meet up there (though, caution here, if you hate the idea of eating out or looking at old cars, these ideas are not for you – make sure that it’s something you have a mutual interest in, and not something that you’re affecting. You have to be authentic).
Your follow up could be as simple as sending an email to say how nice it was to meet them, mentioning something that you talked about, and asking to reconnect again soon (with a specific idea for the "soon," otherwise it will never happen). The idea here is to show your new connections that you were really listening and "connecting" with them on a personal level, and not thinking of them as another business card at an event that you picked up.
Feel free to add your favorite tips for networking in the comments below, and let us know what has worked for you!