Despite a lingering migraine this afternoon, I am bringing you a Two for Tuesdays post! Last night, I got thinking about some of the negatives that I’ve heard from my lawyers about networking, and how to combat those. Today, I’m bringing you two of the top complaints I’ve heard and some suggestions for solving them.
Networking Negative One: Awkward Silences
There are some people who can talk with anyone – my brother-in-law is like that. Put him in a room with a bunch of people he doesn’t know, and he excels at connecting with them without awkward silences.
But for many of us, that is unfortunately not one of our strengths. I’m a prime example of that. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been speaking with someone, only to have the conversation taper off and leave you standing there wracking your brain to come up with something to say?
But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Let’s consider two ways that we can turn this around:
Solution One: The Graceful Exit
In some cases, the person that you’re talking to isn’t the right person to be networking with – either you’re not finding that chemistry that tells you that you’re making a good connection, or you realized once you started speaking with them that they may not be a good future resource for one reason or another.
A silence can offer you the perfect opportunity to make a graceful exit from the conversation, because it’s a natural stopping point. Tell the person you’re speaking with that you’re going to grab a drink, or just say that it was nice speaking with them, and shake their hand. Then, you are free to move on!
Solution Two: Mental List of Topics
The other solution to an awkward silence is coming prepared. If you’re like me, and your brain draws a total blank when there’s a conversational pause, it can be a lifesaver to have a list already prepared. Come up with five possible topics that you can introduce at this point – it can be anything from asking about the event you’re at ("Is this your first time at an XYZ networking event?") to talking about sports ("Did you see the NFL team game this weekend?").
The key here is that if you introduce something not related to the event at hand, it should be something you’re passionate about. Otherwise, it will become clear that you’re not well-versed in that area, and the conversation will likely die off quickly.
Another key here is to ask open ended questions that will invite further conversation – while the above two suggestions are really yes or no questions, they invite follow up that will help to drive the conversation. If someone has been to an event before, you can ask them when they last attended, or what brings them back. If they haven’t, find out what they hope to gain from it, or what drew them there in the first place.
Similarly, with other topics, ask what they like or dislike about something, follow up with probing questions (while not being too nosy!). It can help to write a few of these down beforehand, so they’re in your mind and will be fresh when you run out of things to say. Being prepared like this can help you get over the awkward silences more quickly, so that you can keep the conversation progressing!
Networking Negative Two: I’m Not Getting Business/This Person Doesn’t Benefit Me
This networking negative is one I hear more frequently, and the issues are linked, which is why I mention them together. Let’s look at the second complaint first – "this person doesn’t benefit me."
I’ve heard this before – someone invests time in speaking with someone and learning more about them, only to find out that they’re in another unrelated industry. It feels like the networking effort has been a waste – but I’m here to tell you that it’s never a waste.
If you connect with someone and get along with them, it doesn’t matter what industry they’re in, or whether they can give you business. You are enhancing your reputation simply by speaking with them, and you never know where your next referral will come from.
Consider the following scenario – you speak at length with someone that is not in a position to give you business (and vice versa). They really like you as a person, and you exchange information, but you doubt it will be useful. Later that evening, the person is speaking with someone else at the networking event, and finds out that he or she needs a lawyer with your qualifications. Your new friends becomes a connector, and says, "I just met Bob, who is the perfect person to help you with that. Let me introduce you, since he’s here tonight too."
We can’t predict where our next introduction, referral, or even reputation amplification will come from, so every connection we make is valuable. Plus, it’s just not very nice to go through life wondering what people can do for you – think about what you can do for them, and you’ll be happier AND find yourself with business!
Related to that is the idea that you’re not getting business through a networking event or organization – and this complaint requires digging a bit deeper.
There are some cases where this happens because you’re not in the right organization, and no matter how much effort and care you put into it, you will never get business from it. If your main purpose is business networking (and not, say, volunteering), then you’ve identified that it doesn’t work for you, and you can move on to investing your energy elsewhere.
But to do so, you first need to ask yourself some key questions:
- How long have I given the organization/event to work? Did I go to one event and leave without business, and now I think it doesn’t work for me? Or have I been going to events regularly for years without success? If it’s the former, you need to give it more time – networking is a marathon, not a sprint. You will rarely, if ever, go to one event and come out with business.
- Did I speak with multiple people at the event, or just one? Did I introduce myself to new people, or stick with the same group that I’m comfortable with?
- Did I arrive late and leave early? Or did I come early, chat with the event organizers to see if they could introduce me to key people after I shared my goals with them?
- Did I arrange to follow up with the people that I met at the event, by connecting with them on LinkedIn, arranging to meet for lunch or to have a phone call with them? Did I send them something after the event to remind them of our conversation?
- Did I set goals for myself for the event (such as meeting five new people) and meet those goals? Or did I stay a wallflower wondering if someone would introduce themselves to me?
- Did I talk about myself and my practice the entire conversation, or did I ask questions that could help me identify where I could perhaps be the solution to someone’s problem?
We all like to think networking is as easy as walking into a room, chatting to some people and being friendly, and walking out with more business. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
But if you put a little bit of extra thought into the before, during and after of any networking event, you can make it work for you, and address these negatives of networking easily!
Does anyone else have any networking negatives and solutions they’d like to share? Post them in the comments!