By Raj Selvadurai • July 11, 2012•Careers
The dreaded networking event. For most people it conjures up images of, to quote my colleague Julie Locke in a prior Lateral Link blog post, “boring cocktail events filled with people in suits wearing name tags, carrying wine in a plastic cup, hoping to engage in at least one awkward conversation so they appear to know somebody.” But, with a little preparation and follow through, networking events can actually be fun and rewarding.
My training in the art of networking started early in life under the tutelage of the King of Schmooze – my Dad. A former used-car-salesman turned tax attorney/CPA with his own business, my father is always networking. Thus, when my mother decided to run for judge, my father was her biggest supporter and encouraged my involvement in the campaign process. By twelve-years-old I had attended countless networking events, thrown candy from floats in numerous parades, gone door-to-door to get signatures and votes, and shook more hands and kissed more babies than anyone I knew. That experience taught me a thing or two about working the room. Throw in two degrees in clinical psychology and a four-year stint as a marriage and family therapist before law school, and I have come to understand what it takes to be a successful networker.
Here are my five tips to make the most out of every networking event:
1. Get the list of attendees ahead of time. This is something I try to do before I attend anything – a wedding, a BBQ or a networking event. Most events require an RSVP for attendance so reach out to the event organizer and ask for the attendee list beforehand. Google the attendees or look them up on LinkedIn to determine a few targets - people you would like to meet. This also happens to help me remember people’s names, a skill which I admit is one of my weaknesses. But, if I have seen Bob Smith’s name on the guest list, Googled it and jotted down some information about him, then usually when I meet Bob Smith at the event, I am more likely to remember his name. If you are a law student seeking employment after school and you are interested in the law firm Smith & Jones, check out the guest list to see if any Smith & Jones attorneys will be attending the event. If you are an established attorney, determine whether any potential clients will be in the room. Once you have a list of targets try to figure out if you have anything in common with them. Maybe you went to the same undergraduate or law school, or maybe you are both connected to Jane Smith on LinkedIn or you both like running marathons. For better or worse you can find out a lot about a person by Googling them. Armed with this information you have a topic of conversation ready for when you meet your targets.
2. Don’t just talk to the people you already know - or even better - attend the event alone. I know what you are thinking - Networking events are bad enough and now you are saying I can’t go to the event with my friends and stand in the corner talking about the Real Housewives of Kalamazoo? Not if you want the event to be a successful networking endeavor. Going to an event alone forces you to meet people because you don’t have the safety net of your friends surrounding you. Now how do I meet someone you ask? I like to make a game of it. If you have done your homework ahead of time, then you already know who is going to be there and have figured out any connections you may have to the people you would like to meet. Go stand by the food table or the bar. When one of your targets comes by to grab a bacon wrapped date or glass of Pinot strike up a conversation with them – talk about the event topic, a current event, or if at a loss for anything else to talk about – the weather. Or, if a connection of yours happens to also know your target, ask for an introduction. Then you can always start a conversation with “how do you know so-and-so”? Set a goal for yourself – I want to have a meaningful conversation with 3 of my 5 targets. If you achieve your goal – reward yourself in some way.
3. Participate in Q&A. At a panel event, a great way to get noticed so that people end up approaching you instead of vice versa is to ask questions of the panelists during the Q&A session. This can be a bit nerve racking but again it is something you can prepare for ahead of time. Research the panel topic and come up with a few thought-provoking questions. The panelists will appreciate that you got the discussion going and when you stand up to ask the question the attendees will notice you. If one of your targets happens to be on the panel, asking him or her a question during Q&A also gives you a great reason to go speak to the panelist afterwards and automatically gives you a topic of conversation.
4. Listen more than you talk. This is a skill I learned during my days as a therapist and it works wonders at networking events. People love to talk about themselves. When you meet people at an event ask them questions about themselves (what do you do, where are you from, what do you like to do in your free time, what did you think about the panel, have you taken any good trips lately, how bout dem Bears, etc.) then sit back and listen. It is amazing how much more interesting they will find you the more they tell you about themselves. Be sure to pay attention to what they are saying and remember a few details (they have three daughters under 3 years old or they just got a new puppy or they are training for a marathon). I find it helpful to jot down this information after the event – perhaps on the back of their business card – then you can mention the detail again when you follow up.
5. Follow up. This is where so many would-be-great networkers fail. You did the hard part. You researched the guest list, you put on your suit, attended the event alone with a great attitude, met one of your targets, asked questions, listened to his or her answers and jotted down a few details about his or her life on the business card. Then what happens? You throw the business card in a pile of all the other business cards you have collected over the years where they sit and gather dust. The next part is crucial. You. Must. Follow. Up. The numbers vary but they say (whoever “they” are) that it takes about 7 to 12 touches or impressions before you really make a connection with someone you meet. Now I’m not sure if those numbers are accurate and the quality of the impression is likely a factor as well but you aren’t generally going to get a job or land the big client right there at the event with your nametag on and a spring roll in your hand. So take that next step and reach out to the person again. Shoot him or her an email inviting them to coffee, send them an article about training for that marathon they told you they were thinking about running, or recommend a great restaurant for them to try when they are in Chicago next month.
If you are in the Los Angeles area you can practice these tips on July 25th at 6:00 pm at the screening of Miss Representation presented by Lateral Link and Ms. JD and sponsored by O’Melveny & Myers.
Register here! http://laterallink.com/gen/screening-miss-representation
Katy Lewis is Managing Director for the Midwest Region of Lateral Link Group, LLC and can be reached at email@example.com.
Lateral Link Group LLC is a legal recruiting attorney placement firm and networking forum founded in December 2005 and is the Exclusive Legal Search Firm Sponsor for Ms. JD. The company provides free career services to "Members" in the form of an online job database as well as traditional off-line recruiting and networking services. Lateral Link works with both law firms and in-house legal employers in the United States, Asia, Western Europe, and Middle East.