Face-to-face contact remains the top networking tool to reach business clients and professional referral sources such as other lawyers. Just showing up at the chamber of commerce meeting or national convention of lawyers in your specialty and hoping business results is not a plan. Effective networking requires preparation.
1. Hit List
Be clear about why you are going to this event. Who will be there who can send you business? Many organizations publish a list of registrants in advance of an event, or there may be an online membership list. If you can’t find a list of names, contact the organization. Go through the directory and create a “hit list” of whom you want to meet. Include enough information in your notes to help you find the person once you get on site, such as where the person lives and which committees the person belongs to. For a top hit, you may even want to search the Internet for news about the business or search the court docket.
You can find these people in even the largest gathering. For example, as you work the room at a cocktail party, notice if people share a trait with your target. “Oh, you’re on the coverage committee? Do you know Geraldine General-Counsel?” “You’re from Pittsburgh? Do you know the head of the regional office there?” Don’t be shy about asking someone to point out your target or even introduce you. In very large gatherings where attendees move from place to place, ask a staffer at the registration table where your target is at a specific time. Then go there.
2. Prepare Your Elevator Speech
Much has been written about how to formulate an effective elevator speech. Introduce yourself with a few words that communicate the benefit you deliver to clients. Don’t forget to smile. People want to talk with someone friendly, not a sourpuss.
3. Create Conversation-Starters
People love to talk about themselves, so have some questions ready to get them started. The best conversation-starters build on the theme of the get-together, help you gather information about this person’s needs, and show off your own expertise. Some variation of “What is your organization doing about that new development?” is a good choice. “How many children do you have?” is not.
4. Arrive Early, Stay Late
Networking is indeed work. You are there to meet people. Make sure you arrive early and plan to stay through the end of the event. If this is one of those organizations where attendees hang out at the bar into the wee hours, add that to your itinerary, even if you are drinking club soda. In fact, it’s a good idea to minimize your alcohol intake to increase your attention and effectiveness.
5. Dress for Networking Success
Wear clothes with adequate pocket space for an ample stash of your own business cards and a second pocket for cards you collect. To write notations on the cards, carry both ballpoint and soft-point (for glossy cards) pens with you. Avoid mixing cards by putting yours on the side of your dominant hand and others’ cards on your non-dominant side.
Keep your hands free. If everyone is carrying the same conference bag or portfolio write your name in conspicuous characters on yours and leave it in a corner to pick up as you leave. Don’t leave valuables in it. Women, use a cross-body strap or backpack style purse.
Wear comfortable shoes. You may be standing for hours. This is not the place to break in a new pair. Women, choose flats or shoes with low chunky heels.
Success results from preparation and hard work. Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Get the maximum benefit from a networking opportunity by laying the groundwork.