Life at Allens
Seven top networking tips
By Nick Li, Senior Associate
As a Senior Associate in the Intellectual Property practice group, I have many networking opportunities – at external events, firm events or during client interactions. Building connections with others is critical to legal practice – whether it be clients, other lawyers, paralegals and assistants, or students and academic staff.
I don't consider myself a naturally gifted social butterfly. Thankfully, networking, much like legal drafting (another skill at which I'm not naturally gifted), is a skill that can be honed, and gets better (and easier) with practice.
Below are my top seven insights on how to thrive at a networking event. Use the below as a starting point to develop your own unique networking skills and style.
Before the event
Prepare and research
There are simple things you can do before an event that will yield disproportionately large benefits for you at an event, in terms of both the ease and effectiveness of your interactions at the event.
It doesn't take long, but I like to spend a few minutes ahead of any networking event reading about the event where possible. I do this to get a sense of the type of event, and people who might be attending.
At this point, it's useful to note any specific individuals that you would like to speak to at the event, whether it be key speakers, industry representatives or other guests.
Once you have a general sense of the event, think about what you'd like to take away and the questions you may be able to ask to help with this. I found this gave me a goal, which helped to make my social anxieties disappear.
At the event
So you've arrived at the venue to a room full of people – what next? This won't always be the case, but work with me.
I suggest taking a look around the room to see if you can identify:
Both of the above are good starting points.
In my experience, I've generally found it more difficult to meaningfully insert myself into an existing conversation between two other people, or a large group conversation, without an introduction.
Entering the conversation
Know yourself and your elevator pitch to help you enter a conversation with confidence.
While networking events are an opportunity for you to meet and build relationships with people, it's important to be respectful of other attendees. Be mindful of your approach when joining group conversations (eg if the person you want to speak with is speaking to someone else, you can start by saying 'Would you mind if I joined?' and avoid speaking over others.
Listen and engage
The most meaningful interactions I've had at networking events are those where I've learned something about a person's experience.
Asking open questions is a great way to get someone talking (ie what, where, why etc.) about their experience. Listen to, and engage with the answers after the question to build a connection and conversation.
Of course, you'll naturally connect with some people better than others, which brings me to the next tip – how to leave a conversation.
Leaving the conversation
Leaving a conversation can sometimes be awkward, but it doesn't have to be. You can use the 'bathroom' or 'getting a drink' excuses – as long as you follow through.
The easiest time to leave a conversation is when someone new joins the conversation. At that point, you can kindly excuse yourself without any guilt about abandoning your companion. To that end, one way of leaving a conversation is to introduce the person with whom you are speaking to someone else in the room.
Finally, it's perfectly ok to leave a conversation by saying to your counterpart that you would like to speak with some other people and thanking them for their time. You are, after all, at a networking event.
I find that adding someone on LinkedIn is a good segue out of a conversation – it signals that the connection has been made and that you'll follow up the connection later.
As cliched as it sounds, be yourself! Being yourself will make the networking event more enjoyable and allow you to forge the most authentic relationships with the people you're meeting.
After the event
Following up with the people you had meaningful conversations with at an event is so important, yet so often overlooked. I still forget to do this at times, but its such a simple and effective way of fortifying any new connections from an event.
Now, I'm not suggesting you send every contact after a networking event your CV and life story. A short LinkedIn message or email to the people you had meaningful conversations with is sufficient.
Take it from me, do this sooner rather than later – while your recollection of the interactions with your new connection is still fresh in your memory (and theirs). The longer you wait, the greater the risk of pairing a conversation with the wrong person – which is funny (when it doesn't happen to you).