Whether you live for or dread working the room, here’s how to make the most out of your next event.
We’re all familiar with the tiny appetizers, drinks, awkward introductions, complaining colleagues, over- and under-confident people, and faces without names or titles. So, who do you speak to? How should you speak to them? What should you talk about? Looking out to a sea of unknown people can be overwhelming. But there are things you can do to have an easier time working in the room. Networking events can sometimes be hard to navigate, but they are especially important for lawyers at every level.
Know yourself and your audience.
Like anything in life, planning and preparation help to put the mind at ease. When it comes to networking, knowing beforehand who will be in attendance, who you want to talk to, and what your goals are will make you much more equipped to find success. Though there isn’t always an opportunity to research guests ahead of time, take advantage when there is. Finding out who people are, where they work, and what they’re working on before meeting them face-to-face will make it easier to anticipate who you might connect with or get advice from regarding ongoing & future projects and experiences.
By its very nature, smiling will not only make you more approachable, but it will also boost your own mood. Several psychological studies have reaffirmed the conventional wisdom that smiling can actually make you happier. Research also shows that people innately find others to be more likable when they smile. One study even found that if you smile when you meet someone they are more likely to remember you later.
Commit to mingling.
When you get to an event, it can be tempting to find the people you already know and retreat into your bubble of comfort. Unfortunately, that’s not networking—it’s just hanging out with your friends. To truly expand and enrich your network, get outside your comfort zone, meet new people, and add to your web of influence.
Make sure you don’t physically stay in the same spot for too long.
People are going to gravitate toward others that appear most confident and approachable. Chances are that if you’re sitting at a table flipping through your phone, you aren’t going to project either of these.
Instead, move around the room a bit and give yourself as many opportunities for interaction as possible. Sure, you may have a few people you know you want to chat with, but make sure you’re open to at least starting a conversation with anyone. If the dialogue isn’t fruitful, it’s okay to smile, say, “It was nice to meet you,” maybe exchange information if it makes sense, and then continue to move about the room. You may feel awkward doing this but just remind yourself that if you’re feeling this way, there are probably a lot of other people in the room that are feeling the same.
Prepare warm-ups to break the ice.
Meeting someone through someone you already know is the warmest and most comfortable way of starting a conversation. But what if you don’t know anyone? How do you break the ice? Searching for the right words at the moment can be difficult for anyone. The truth is, simply introducing yourself by name and asking someone else’s name is all you need to get a conversation started.
If you prepare yourself with a few simple stock questions, it will be easier to keep it going. Try these:
- Where do you work?
- What do you do there?
- How long have you been working there?
- Where did you work prior to that?
- What prompted the transition?
Of course, these don't have to be your questions—find what’s comfortable for you.
Give a few compliments here and there.
Try complimenting the person you’re speaking with—perhaps about something they wrote or something they said that resonated with you. It seems cheesy, but everyone loves a compliment. In fact, one study revealed that when you compliment others, the people around you are likely to experience something called spontaneous trait transference, meaning they’ll actually start to think of you as having the traits you compliment others for having.
Be genuinely interested.
Be intentional in your questions, and avoid the temptation to ask questions just for the sake of asking them. Ask open questions that require thoughtful answers, and make sure to really listen to them. Focus on learning about others, rather than sharing about yourself. In the words of Dale Carnegie, be interested, not interesting.
At the end of the day, networking is a two-way street. It isn’t about selling yourself and trying to figure out how everyone you meet can help you, but rather figuring out how you may be able to help them. And it doesn’t have to be too hard: prepare yourself, think of questions you could ask anyone, be interested in other people, and connect.