Nearly a year ago I sparked a conversation with an attorney I had just met at a bar association event. When I approached this attorney, I had no idea where the conversation would lead or whether it would lead to anything at all. Fortunately, it ended with an offer for an amazing speaking opportunity. That conversation also resulted in a strong professional connection. That experience reminded me of the power of networking and made me wonder how many young lawyers miss out on valuable opportunities because they hate networking or see it as something unsavory.
Networking is a powerful thing and is truly an art that can be learned and mastered by anyone, no matter your personality type. In this article, I will provide practical tips that you can utilize to make the most out of your next networking event. With the holidays fast approaching, these tips will be great to try at your next holiday party or bar association event.
Before we go any further, I would like to give one preliminary piece of advice—think positively! If you dread networking, you will never get any better at it. Research regarding the power of positive thinking has established that thinking positively about a skill-based activity, such as networking, can actually help you build better and longer-lasting skills. When you think an experience will be positive, it is much easier for you to identify the positive aspects of the experience once it is over. The more positive examples you can associate with networking, the more positive the networking experience will become for you. If you take one thing away from this article, it should be that positivity is a powerful tool.
Consider Flying Solo
Consider attending networking events on your own, especially if you are uncomfortable with networking or are new at it. If you take someone with you for moral support, you will find yourself talking to them and using them as a crutch instead of meeting new people. Flying solo will give you the freedom to work the room and make the most out of each conversation that you start. You should not spend the entire event talking to the same person. It is best to make as many new connections as possible to increase the chances that you will meet someone that you truly connect with.
Develop Your Elevator Speech
Before you even leave your house to attend another event, spend some time to develop your own unique elevator speech. This will help you in any social situation, not just professional networking events. It is difficult to walk up to someone you do not know in a foreign environment. It is even more difficult to do so when you have absolutely no idea what to say to them or how to start a meaningful conversation. This is where elevator speeches come in handy. An elevator speech is a concise, easy to remember (and understand), blurb about who you are. I find that as young lawyers, we tend to struggle with this professionally because we are still developing in our profession. The key to a good elevator speech is to keep it short but meaningful and to use it as a means to invite additional questions and conversation. If you simply say I’m a lawyer at ABC Law Firm, it is more likely that the conversation will stall or completely end. Where you work, without more information, is simply not engaging enough to start or sustain an entire conversation. It is important to include information in your elevator speech that describes how your work connects you with others. For example, I often include the fact that my role counseling employers on labor and employment law matters helps prevent unlawful discrimination. Consider reframing your work in terms of how your works connects you with others when you develop your elevator speech. This type of framework allows for more engaging and meaningful conversations, which are more likely to lead to stronger connections. It is also important to continue to edit and revise your elevator speech as your career evolves. You want it to be a meaningful snapshot of who you are, not just what you do for a living.
Listen More, Talk Less
It may sound counterintuitive, but you definitely want to listen far more than you talk when you are networking. This is because one goal of networking, among others, is to learn more about the people you are meeting. Once you have walked up to someone at an event and delivered your elevator speech, you want to encourage that person to talk about himself or herself. People love to talk about themselves, it is a natural tendency which you can benefit from when networking. You want to learn what you can about that person both personally and professionally. This will help you find common interests and ideals which will help build stronger connections through the initial conversation and subsequent interactions. This will also help if you are bad at remembering people’s names. I struggle with that myself and find that knowing another unique fact about a person that I can relate to or connect with helps me to remember a name.
I am by no means suggesting that you carry a notepad around with you at your next networking event. However, you should collect contact information from each person you meet. You should also take notes about each person you meet. Before I went to my first professional conference, one of my mentors taught me a very neat and intuitive trick. He told me to write notes about each person I connected with on the back of their business card. When I attended the conference I followed his advice and wrote notes on each business card and then expanded upon them in a notebook when I went back to my hotel room each night. I have been able to use that information to continue to develop the connections I made at that conference. The knowledge that I collected helps when I sit down to write out my holiday cards or when I send out an e-mail to someone I do not see regularly. This advice is also important because you will need your notes to make use of the next tip.
When you make a connection with someone at a networking event you should make it a point to follow-up with them in some way after the event has concluded. This follow-up strengthens the connection. LinkedIn is a great way to connect with people because it can provide a wealth of information and can give you more opportunities to find shared interests through the content that is shared, liked and commented on. I also suggest e-mail as a means of follow-up. Although it may be unfathomable to some young lawyers, there are plenty of people who simply do not use LinkedIn or any type of social media. You do not want to miss out on relationships with those people. Therefore, it is a good idea to send a quick email to each person you meet at an event. This will open up the lines of continuing communication and relationship development. The email does not have to be long but it should be meaningful. It should reiterate something you discussed when you met in person or include something about a shared interest. If someone tells me they like Harry Potter, in my email I might check in with them to see if they plan to see the new Fantastic Beasts movie. It is so simple yet so meaningful and such a great way to strengthen connections.
The tips shared here will help you network more effectively and when repeated will help you build your network and advance in your career. Networking can be tough, especially when you are new at it. However, effective networking is a necessity to every legal career. Effective networking can lead to both professional and business development opportunities.
Patrice M. Turenne, an associate with McCausland Keen + Buckland, focuses her practice on litigation, with particular background in employment disputes. She has represented employers in discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims, including those involving Title VII, ADA, ADEA and FMLA. In addition, she has handled complex commercial, premises liability, professional liability and property damage matters.