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Networking Emergency Tool Kit

Everything you need to make the most of conference season.

Conference season is getting underway and many of us are preparing to make the most of the opportunity to meet face to face with our clients and potential clients.  We can be the best lawyer in the world but if we don’t take advantage of the chance to foster relationships, we may find our dream clients heading to the competition. In this blog post, we offer some tools and suggestions for raising your networking game.

Conversation Starters:

Many of my clients – from the most junior to the most senior – ask me if there are a list of questions to kick-start conversations at conferences or meetings.  For those of you who like the idea of having a list to refer to, I offer the following (for those of you who don’t, scroll down for more tips below!):

  • “What do you think of the conference this year?”
  • “How long have you worked for your Firm/company?”
  • “How large is your department?”
  • “What’s the scope of your role within the company?”
  • “I understand you recently joined the Firm from x Firm.  How is the transition going?”
  • “How are the recent changes in law/regulations affecting your business?”
  • “What issues come up for you most in x jurisdiction/country/area of law?”
  • “Have you always worked with healthcare companies or have you worked in other industries?”

What do all of these questions have in common? They are all “open-ended questions” which commonly start with “what” and “how” (try to avoid “why” because it can make people feel defensive). These type of questions cannot be answered by yes or no and, therefore, keep the conversation going.

In addition to having a few good conversation starters in your back pocket, it is just as important to show up with the right mindset in order to be a networker who sees results.  I offer the following tips in that regard:

    1. Show Up Ready to Connect: No one likes talking to the person who is scanning the room or clearly thinking about something else.  In order to show up ready to connect with others, we must first quiet our own minds.  One effective way of doing so is to use breathing techniques that help us attune to the present and the person across from us as opposed to our own thoughts.  I encourage you to try the 4-7-8 breath exercise (outlined at the bottom of this post) before heading out for the day or before an important meeting.
    2. Find What You Like and How You Are Alike:  People like people who like them and people like people who are like them.  If your first comment can be a genuine compliment on something you appreciate about the person (their company/firm, their role, a speech they gave), do so.  If you can then focus on some insight, passion, obstacle or opportunity you have in common, you will be surprised how quickly you can foster conversation and connection.  Of course, in order to be successful, this must be done genuinely and sincerely and with a willingness to share our own thoughts and opinions (otherwise it may feel like an interrogation!).
    3. Preparation Will Set You Free:  Make sure you have more to talk about then the weather or your trip to the conference.  Any research or thought you can invest in identifying topics/stories/experiences that may be of interest to the attendees, the more confident and at ease you will feel with starting conversations.  For example, I always make sure I read the first few pages of the Economist before I go to an international conference so I at least know the headlines of what is going on in several countries.  It is enough to start a conversation and it is very endearing to people when you know something about their country.  Bonus points if you know a case, development of the law or new product/service relevant to their country or company and of interest to you and your practice.
    4. Show Up Curious and Ready to Listen:  You can have all the tips and conversation starters in the world but if you are not genuinely curious and focused on the people you are speaking with, you can completely fail to make a connection.  These tips on active listening can make all the difference:
      • Pause: Give people room to respond and talk about themselves.  You are not the only person responsible for the conversation.  Silence is the most effective listening skill!
      • Focus:  Put your attention over there on the prospect – not on what you want to say about yourself or the work that is sitting on your desk back at the office (the breathing exercises above will help you with that).  Challenge yourself to find something you have in common (see #2 above).
      • Encourage:  Use verbal and physical cues to add energy to the conversation and show you are interested.
      • Reflect back: Repeat what the other person says in their words so you both can confirm for your self AND show them you understand what they are saying.
      • Clarify: If you don’t understand something, have the confidence to say so.  You don’t need to know all the answers and the person will appreciate the opportunity to expand on their thoughts. People love to speak about themselves.  Take advantage of it.
    5. Know What You Want and Why You Should Get It:  To turn this from an exercise in meeting friends into a successful business development tool, we must take the time to consider what information, connections, reputation, and opportunities we are trying to foster at this event.  In other words, we need a focused and intentional strategy for success. You can see our prior blog post on why creating a strategy is important here and how to create one on the fly here.  Your strategy should include knowing the 3 things that make you the best person to get the clients and work that you want – your unique selling proposition (USP), if you will.  If it isn’t top of mind then how can you convey it?  And if you want to convey it, it is worthwhile preparing some stories, examples, and anecdotes ahead of time.  You will be surprised at how easy they come up in conversation once you have done this.

    Showing up ready to connect with curiosity and open-ended questions can take time and practice.  It also requires us to show some vulnerability.  As lawyers, we are trained to show up with solutions and to not ask any questions we don’t know the answers to.  Workshops and coaching help my clients with this mindset shift. With the right tools, support and practice, you too can be a master networker.  Happy networking!

    How can SC&C help? If you or your team would like help becoming master networkers contact us at kathryn@sccignites.com to find out about our experiential workshops, Firm retreats and one-on-one coaching programs.  We are offering free 30-minute sample coaching sessions to the first 20 people to respond.  Email us with “Sample Coaching Session” in the subject line.

    P.S. The 4-7-8 Breath Exercise mentioned above goes like this.  Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward:

    • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
    • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
    • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
    • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
    • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

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