You’ve heard about the importance of networking, you’ve seen a few tips about gearing up to network, now it’s time to take it to the next level: actual networking. Really, what is “networking”? It’s about connecting with others through a commonality: a chosen career, a volunteer opportunity, a cause you’re both passionate about. That connection needs to be maintained in order to thrive, but it also needs to be created. These next networking tips are helpful for anyone getting ready to network, but I’m providing them here especially for the introverts out there.
The most important aspect of networking is to prepare. You prepare before meeting with a client or opposing counsel, so be deliberate and prepare for your networking event. Here’s how!
- Research people. Take a look at the RSVP list for the event, and research ahead of time a few of the people likely to be in attendance. Find out if they practice, what they practice, where they practice, maybe some professional boards they sit on or causes for which they volunteer. Perhaps you’ll even come across similar interests beyond the reason for the networking event! This way, you’ll be more comfortable approaching them at the event. Put that research to good use and strike up a conversation with those fewpeople. (You don’t need to research the whole RSVP list, just 3-4 people.)
- Research topics. You’re a lawyer; you’re trained in research, so put it to good use outside of billable hours. Research some topics likely to be discussed by the group, and pick one that you could use to spark a conversation. This can be as simple as: you’re going to attend a Section meet-and-greet event after work; is there a recent case that just impacted that Section’s area of law? Hopefully, you’re attending an event that you have interest in, so it follows that you should pick a topic (or two!) that interests you. Having true interest always helps in working to overcome the hesitancy of a new group.
- Use the buddy system. Sure, maybe it reminds you of the third grade teacher who always admonished you to use a buddy when leaving class during the period. Yet, it is effective and relevant even today as an attorney. It takes practice to gear up and approach someone new, often to even greater extent in the professional realm than the private one. If using the buddy system helps you feel more comfortable during the networking event, great! Beware the pitfall of bringing the buddy that is actually a safety blanket! If you find yourself spending all your time just chatting and catching up with your buddy instead of networking with others, you need to find a new networking buddy.
Are these tips going to make you the most popular professional in the Pacific Northwest? Probably not. They are a starting point, action items to provide a foundation for your networking. The next time a reminder pops up from your calendar for a professional event, give these a try!