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Lawyers typically dread attending events like annual bar association fundraisers, CLE conferences — or any gathering where there will be a large number of attendees. In short, they dread the type of event where their “working the room” skills are put to the test. To make connections that bring in new clients, though, you have to spend plenty of time outside of your office — and, sometimes, your comfort zone.
“Everyone else seems to be having a great time. Am I the only person who is miserable?”
Trust me, you are not the only person who would rather visit the dentist than attend the cocktail-hour portion of a large event. If I had to venture a guess, I’d estimate that at least 90 percent of attendees feel exactly the same way. Many lawyers are introverts by nature and are probably as miserable as you are. The few who seem to be having a good time may have indulged in a few too many.
“I’m a complete failure if I don’t leave here without a dozen business cards.”
Most lawyers who attend these events never leave their comfort zones. The only people they talk to are the people they already know — often colleagues from their own law firms. Most leave without meeting anyone new and without pocketing any new business cards. If you leave with only one business card, you are probably way ahead of everyone else.
Here’s a simple plan to meet at least two new people, whether you are attending a cocktail reception, a luncheon or dinner, or a live lecture. It should be within almost anyone’s comfort zone.
1. Sit at a table of strangers. Whenever I attend a luncheon or dinner, I intentionally wait until the last minute to find a seat. I want to sit at a table where I don’t know anyone. Depending on the room’s acoustics and the conversation around the table, I can try to introduce myself to everyone. But that’s not necessary, as long as I meet the people sitting on either side of me. Ramping up your courage and introducing yourself to those two people should be well within your comfort zone.
2. Find a long drink line. Think of that long drink line as an opportunity, not an inconvenience. Never choose the line where the only person you will meet is the bartender. While waiting in a long line, take the time to meet and share a few words with the person in front of you and the person behind you. Successful networking can be as simple as that.
3. At the presentation, sit between strangers. Avoid the strong temptation to sit in the last row in the corner, where you need binoculars to even see the speaker. You don’t have to sit in the front row, but you should make an effort to find a seat near people you don’t recognize. Here again, introduce yourself to your neighbors on either side.
This approach to “working the room” would hardly be a key tactic within an attorney’s personal marketing plan — after all, you are meeting people randomly rather than strategically. It certainly is a long shot that any of these people will turn into actual clients or referral sources. But, as any horseplayer will tell you, you can win on long shots, but only if you place bets on a lot of races. In other words, the simple effort to consistently keep meeting new people should eventually lead to new business.
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