We go because we're supposed to go, and we hope something worthwhile happens. If we don't know what we want, it's hard to get it.
At networking events, as with your legal work, success begins long before you show up. Let's use that lawyer perspective to set a goal for the event.
Here are some guiding principles:
You already have all the skills you need to be a successful networker. You've had them all along. They’re the same skills that make you a good lawyer. You don't need new skills; you just need to apply your “lawyering” skills to this new purpose. OK? Now, exhale.
You don't have to be good at "selling yourself" to be a successful networker. In fact, pitching your services or your expertise is one of the most counter-productive things you can do.
OK, you've got plenty of other things to do, so you have to have a worthwhile purpose or it makes no sense to go to this event. What, specifically, do you want to accomplish from the time you invest? Here are some typical responses:
Meet people with legal needs I can serve
Meet some potential clients
Spend time with current clients who will be there
Meet members of the local business community
Meet people with business problems that relate to my legal expertise
There is a long list of reasons beyond the scope of this article why the first four aren’t helpful. Suffice to say that you’ve already tried most of them and haven’t gotten what you wanted.
To me, the only credible choice is the last one. The key word is “relate.” Lawyers always talk about the importance of relationships. However, the only thing people want to relate to is their world, their challenges, their problems. The only way they want to relate to us is how we can help them in some way with the things they’re obligated to care about.
Notice that “make new friends” isn’t on the list. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but don’t characterize the time spent as a marketing investment.
Relating this back to my own networking challenge, my purpose and goal was always the same: Meet three law firm leaders who acknowledge that their firm experiences the problem of lawyers knowing everyone but not converting those contacts into clients, and who are willing to discuss the problem with me outside the event.
That’s why I’m there. Everything I do -- and avoid doing -- that night is in service to that goal.