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Conquering networking jitters

While social networking sites are on the rise, they have not yet replaced good 'ole fashion in-person networking. However, not many people would confess to "enjoying" in-person networking -- especially as that single person in a room full of attorneys and/or other professionals you have never met. But, whether you like it or not, your responsibilities as an attorney include networking. Rather than despair and let your anxiety overwhelm you, there are steps that you can take to make networking more manageable and less daunting. Here are a few tips to help you approach networking:

  1. Prepare your pitch.
    Having an elevator pitch will help you approach networking with confidence. Your pitch should describe who you are, what your practice areas and services are, who your clients are and how they benefit from your services, what value you bring to your clients, and how you differ from other firms. The more you practice your pitch, the more confident you will feel and appear.
  2. Set goals.
    Prepare by setting goals. Know exactly what you want to get out of your networking and the individuals you meet. This will better direct your efforts by helping you identify those who can help you and by asking the right questions.
  3. Do your due diligence.
    Prior to attending a networking event, take some time to learn about who might also be in attendance. If this is a group-based event, take a look at the membership list and find those individuals you would like to connect with. That way, you can attend with a purpose to seek out those individuals, thus giving yourself a task to replace any unwanted anxiety. If you are going to a speaking event, research the speakers and learn something about the topic. Use that information to help you prepare open-ended questions and talking points to strike up conversations with others.
  4. Start with your current network.
    Find opportunities among your current network to practice networking. Being in a familiar place and among familiar faces will alleviate your fears. You might join a law school or college alumni group, network among people on your child's sports team, or ask your current contacts to connect you with others. This also works well when you attend unfamiliar events. If you have a contact there, ask him or her to introduce you to other attendees.
  5. Look for others like you.
    Approaching a group of people can be especially nerve wracking. Instead, look for other people standing alone. It is likely those people are also trying to muster up the courage to approach others. Use that as an opportunity to introduce yourself. You might then partner up with that person to meet additional people.
  6. Use good body language and listening skills.
    When approaching others, make eye contact and smile. While engaged in conversation, continue to make eye contact, don't look beyond or away from the person as if you would rather be speaking to someone else. Use a welcoming and open stance to remain approachable by others. Employ active and empathetic listening techniques by asking informational questions, open-ended follow up questions, and showing genuine curiosity.  Know when to stop talking (i.e. when your listener's eyes glaze over or his/her feet turn away from you) and to steer the conversation back to the other person.
  7. Wear your nametag.
    Wearing a nametag makes you appear more approachable. With a nametag, others know you belong at that particular event and aim to meet people. Others are more likely to recall your name and firm when it can be viewed multiple times during one conversation. Because we shake hands with our right hand, affixing your nametag to your right lapel will help place your name in others' direct line of sight.

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As a featured member benefit, the Massachusetts Bar Association is providing you with the ideal opportunity to employ these tips and practice your networking skills at their FREE "Summer Networking Series" beginning on June 13.

Tip courtesy of Heidi Alexander, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published June 6, 2013

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To learn more about the Law Practice Management Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members, contact LPM Section Chair Thomas J. Barbar or Vice Chair Cynthia E. MacCausland.
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