The last couple of weeks of the year offers a fine time for several activities. Finishing the last work of the year and getting bills out is task critical, but not the only one on the list. Attending holiday gatherings and talking with clients and other contacts to express your appreciation and good wishes for the new year is likely at the top of the list. (If it isn’t, perhaps you should reconsider.) Recreation, relaxation, and re-energization may be on the list for many, which presents a good chance for starting 2009 ahead of the game.
Networking is always a popular topic for lawyers who are engaged in rainmaking, and the reason is simple: the people who know, like, and trust you will have an enormous influence on your success in practice. And there’s no time like the holidays for networking, because so many organizations and groups arrange holiday gatherings.
If you’re an introvert and the very thought of attending a holiday gathering to develop business relationships makes you want to dive for the nearest rabbit hole, keep breathing. Networking doesn’t have to be painful — not even for introverts. How’s that?
Good networking involves relationship-building. Most frequently, networking establishes the opening stages of a relationship that will mature over time. Introverts can excel in establishing these relationships because so often, networkers are eager to talk about themselves, but introverts tend to be more comfortable asking questions and letting their conversation partner talk. Introverts will distinguish themselves by focusing on the other person. Ask questions like these:
- What is most exciting in your business right now?
- What concerns you most about what’s going on in your business or industry?
- What do you want to see happening for you in 2009?
Asking questions and listening with genuine interest to the answers you get will benefit every networker in two ways: first, it takes the spotlight off the introvert, and second, you’ll have an opportunity to learn so much about the other person that you can connect him with beneficial resources, which he’ll appreciate. Of course, you’ll need to say something about yourself as well (more on that in the next post) but you’ll find it much easier to talk about who you are and what you do after you’ve established rapport with a conversational partner.
A few additional thoughts on how to network well:
- Be prepared with something to say. Know what the bignews story is, the key sports results, and have a thoughtful comment.
- Be prepared to introduce yourself in 30 seconds, without stumbling. Use the template, I am [name], I do [kind of work] with [kind of client] so they can [get specific results]. Use clear words without jargon and invite curiosity. If it’s boring to say, it’s boring to hear.
- Carry business cards and have them easily accessible…..
- ….But don’t offer indiscriminately them at the beginning of a conversation. It’s far better to chat for a while, to know someone about the person, and then to ask for his or her business card. What if, horror of horrors, they don’t reciprocate and ask for yours? Not a problem. Send them one when you follow up after the event.
- When someone offers you a business card, look at it before you put it away. A card is the tangible representation of the person with whom you’re speaking. Look at it, accord it due respect, and then carefully put it away.
- Pay attention to the conversation. Don’t be one of these “power networkers” always looking over the shoulder of your conversational companion, looking for someone more interesting.
- Listen. That deserves a separate bullet point. When your companion is talking, that’s your signal to listen to what they’re saying, not to be composing your witty rejoinder. It’s easier to be interested than interesting, and it’s also more attractive.
- Think about how you can help the person with whom you’re talking. Make a contact, offer a lead, or just ask how you might recognize a terrific potential client/customer for her.
- Set your intentions before you go (i.e., I will leave with 3 business cards of people I plan to contact again). Aim for quality over quantity.
- Follow up with your contacts after the meeting.
To make the most of a networking event, you must follow up with the key people with whom you speak. Don’t overlook standard follow-up tactics like sharing a meal or coffee, a golf game, or a sporting or cultural event. Think about other opportunities as well:
- Check this article for 15 non-golfing ways to build business relationships.
- Follow up with some of the people you meet at a networking event with a handwritten note, tailored to the recipient. Then follow up on your follow-up with articles, resources, and the like, that are relevant to that person. Not so much that it’s obnoxious, but enough to make the person feel that you’ve really taken an interest in who they are and what they’re doing.
- Reserve a table for 6 or 8 for lunch or dinner after your event (if it’s a cocktail party, for example) and invite several of the people you meet to join you.
The most important approach to making the most of the holiday gatherings you attend is to engage people. Don’t hang around with the same people you see every day or every week: make it your goal to meet new people, to reconnect with those you no longer see regularly, and to set yourself up with some new business relationships to grow in the new year.