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Networking tip 21: Have something to say

Successful net-workers are rarely at a loss for words, not necessarily because they are (by nature) charismatic extroverts, but because they are prepared.  They never leave home without having considered how they might best approach people.  You can be one of them if you:

Create (and practice) a personal self-introduction, which describes who you are and what you do in a way that is informative, interesting and memorable.

Brush up on some topics of interest that are likely to appeal to the people you will be meeting. Appropriate subjects can include virtually anything:  current events, sports, movies, books, food, celebrities, business news—even political scandals, as long as you know your audience.

Determine your objective beforehand and then do your homework.  For example, if attending an event with known speakers or attendees, read their bios and research their companies. You might just find something of interest, or at least a link steering you towards the formation of an intelligent question.

Once there, make things easy for the other person.  For example, if two people are standing next to you and one smiles, says hello and then makes a casual comment, while the other person avoids eye contact, which of the two are you more likely to strike up a conversation with?  

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Networking tip 20: Focus on your existing clients

Spend as much time networking with your existing clients as you do trying to find new relationships.  This means:

Keeping yourself visible to your clients—especially in times of “non-engagement” with them.

Consistently thinking about ways that you can provide your clients value (beyond your role as their lawyer).  Remember, no value is too small.  Even a simple compliment or gesture can be crucial.  The focus with your clients is not, “What they can do for me?”  Instead it’s: “What can I do for them?”

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Networking tip 19: Be a sponge

Where information is concerned, be a sponge (!) and then permit yourself to let drops fall where they might be of most use . . . Gather information about your clients and the people that you meet: their partners and children, hobbies and interests, likes and dislikes. Then develop a way to keep this information at hand. If gifted with a photographic memory, you don’t need to worry, but if you’re a normal lawyer with a hectic professional schedule, jot down some notes. Once you’re back in the office, put the information into your contact database. Although some such information may seem insignificant, it’s probably far from trivial to the people concerned. And why on earth collect enough information to write a short biography without using it? Send John tickets when his favorite band comes to town. Email Frank when you see that his idolized football team has just won some championship.  These things count.

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Networking tip 18: Ask questions

Remember that hoary old cliché that there are no stupid questions?  In fact, the question that feels most cringingly stupid at the time probably, in retrospect, convincingly demonstrated both your humility and—ironically—your confidence. And, of course, it showed that you were interested—your main conversational objective!

When I started out as an outsourcing lawyer, people often asked me, “What exactly is that?” While the answer was of course quite obvious to me, I never thought anyone inferior for not knowing about it, and I always answered the question fully and enthusiastically. As far as I was concerned, people who never asked, but whose ignorance later became clear, made a far worse impression; I could only assume that they never inquired because of either indifference or insecurity. Think about it: When has someone ever asked you a question about yourself or your work, hobbies, or interests that you weren’t glad to answer?

When you’re in a group of people and some question begins to tantalize you, it’s a better-than-even bet that others in the group are wondering the same thing. The person with the confidence to ask the question actually reaps the reward, because the speaker focuses on him (or her) while providing his answer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finally ventured a question, only to have a colleague admit later that he wished he’d been the one to ask. 

The best questions for fueling conversations are open-ended. Listen for clues about when and what to ask, and try to ask about things that might allow a speaker to address his special interests or particular passions—the things that induce the most positive emotion. Even when a line of conversation appears to have shut down, be alert to opportunities to reignite it with a question.

 

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