How to survive: Networking events

That precious little bit of face-to-face time with a law firm is crucial to getting yourself noticed, and a successful networking event could do more that put a face to your name, but also a personality.

Therefore, the ability to work the room is a skill to be mastered – and a lesson that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Networking events pop-up all the time during your route into law, whether at a university event, a law firm open day or during your training contract.

One fear we all have is the fear of the unknown. This need not be the case anymore, as according to networking expert Will Kintish, every room never has any more than six formats:

There will never be more than 6 groups in a room:

1. The single person

This person stands by the wall because they know no-one and don’t know how to break the ice. Approach them slowly as they’re literally praying for someone to talk to. Below is your ice-breaker. Smile, shake hands firmly but not too firmly and have good eye contact. Exchange names and listen carefully for their name that way you’ll hear it. What next? Think what you have in common and start asking questions.

2 & 3. Couples

As you’re surveying the room, you will see couples. They will either be standing side by side or face to face.

Unless you know one or both of them, do not go up to a couple standing face-to-face. This should apply if you’re approaching solo or with a mate. Their body language is telling you that they are having a private and confidential, even intimate, conversation. It might be business or social who knows? What they have done is put an invisible barrier around themselves and asked everyone else to keep out. Don’t go there, it’s enemy territory. I assure you, if you spend a little time before going up to a couple, your natural senses will tell you whether it’s safe or not. Even if they are having a contretemps, it’s unlikely they are going to be rude to you, but why take the chance?

There are only three types of situations with couples:

            You know both of them

            You know one of them

            You know neither of them

Knowing both of them is the easy one, but even then, you’ve got to be polite and ask permission to join them.

When you know one of them, you are obviously going to approach that person and again, ask: Please may I join you? I reiterate, if you only know one, then watch the body language before moving forward. When you’ve approached them, the chances are the person you know will introduce you to the person you don’t know. If they don’t, there is only one reason for it. They’ve forgotten the person’s name. Friends help friends and when you pick up on the fact that an introduction isn’t forthcoming, simply introduce yourself. What a big favour you’ve done for your friend; extricating them from this highly embarrassing situation.

I can’t tell how many times people come up whilst I’m talking and rudely interrupt. They don’t know me but know the person I’m talking to and completely ignore me. I always think Hello, am I invisible don’t I deserve at least a nod? At every moment take into account we are all being judged. Long after we forget what others said or did to us, we will still remember how other people made us feel.

When you know neither of them, approach slowly catch someone’s eye and ask if can join them. Read a little further on about how to overcome your fear. They generally introduce themselves, best to let them take the lead as you have moved into their space. At the appropriate moment, consider asking: How do you know each other? They have just met, been in business for 25 years or are friends who play sport together. That will move the conversation to a new area and youre showing interest in both people simultaneously.

As an observer, you will now know when it’s safe to approach two people. When you’re in the position of being one of them, you can control the situation by deciding whether or not to close the circle. As I said earlier, it’s not good to go up to people standing face-to-face, so, if you want to spend a little time with your new-found contact, then create the scenario to ensure you are not interrupted. Don’t underestimate the power of body language. A lot of what is being said will be natural to everyone but on the other hand, don’t forget, if you want people to come and interrupt you, or catch someone’s eye, then stand shoulder to shoulder in a V shape.

4 & 5. Threesomes

When you see groups of three, they stand in an open or closed format.

The former will be standing in a square formation, with one side of the square missing. In other words, one person will have the other two people standing at right angles and there will be a space opposite the central figure. Don’t take my word for it, the next time you go to an event, have a look. See that space as yours; your opportunity to break in. You will be aiming for the person who is in the middle of a conversation as it is that person you will be interrupting. Using eye contact with all three in the group, gently and quietly ask if you may join them. 999 times out of 1,000 their body language becomes open and they’ll welcome you in. You’ll get a responding smile, Of course, come in, and one or all of them will immediately introduce themselves. What often happens is that you will get chatting with one of the three, the other two will probably carry on their conversation and two new groups will be formed.

So, which groups shouldn’t you go into? The ones, where there is no gap. Instead of there being a square, there’s a triangle, where each member of the group is standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Like the discussion on couples, they’ve closed the circle, or in this case, turned the unfinished square into a triangle. They are having an intimate conversation and don’t want you in there. Don’t feel bad about this, it’s not just you they don’t want in there, it’s everyone else at that point; unless you know someone.

6. Groups

Groups of four plus are the big challenge for most people; whether it’s the approaching, the entering or the leaving. Let me say here and now, until you’ve got your L plates off, don’t start approaching groups, particularly when you don’t know anyone. Needless to say, it’s not so bad when there is at least one member of the group whom you know but, even then, it can be a bit daunting.

The group to approach is the one you feel most comfortable with. Firstly, I’d like to suggest that you aim for groups of three; groups of four or more, even for me, are a big challenge. Sticking with this group of three, decide whether you are more comfortable with males, females or a mix.

As a general rule, the easiest, and what I mean by that, the friendliest type of group is one with a mix of men and women. If you find talking to your own gender easier then do that and best to aim to talk to people of your own age. After all, they are the people who you will be networking with for many years to come.

(Article originally published in 2009, and updated June 2012)

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