I have never liked being around big groups of people. Citywide festivals and crowded concert arenas just are not my thing. It took some time to figure out why this was the case because I do like going new places and trying new things. However, there was always this constant anxiety that came along with these new adventures: There will be other people there and I might be forced to talk to them. You see, the art of small talk was a skill I had not yet mastered. The idea of going up to strangers and attempting to fain interest in their chosen topic of conversation just was not appealing. This non-interest was further aggravated by the fact that as a soon-to-be attorney, I am constantly bombarded with invitations to networking events and panels where there will be the opportunity to meet and greet with experts, practicing attorneys or students.
Over time, I have begrudgingly attended a number of these events as I have been told that doing so is a must to be successful in any field. And you know what I have found: It is true. Networking is the best form of marketing. After all, how else will people know what you do or what you need? You have to tell them. This is personal marketing at its core and the best way to keep your name and specialty on the forefront in order to gain clients in the future. By going out and speaking with people, I have been offered internships, jobs, and even scholarship money. People like to buy from and work with people they like and the only way they will know if they like you is to meet you.So as much as I used to hate it, I now embrace the idea of getting to know new people and letting them get to know me.
Most importantly, what I have learned over time from attending these events is that to master the art of small talk, one only need a plan; a marketing plan to be exact. Creating and instituting a plan allows you to paint your own picture of how you want others to see you and your practice in networking situations. To help you begin to put your plan together, I have included a few topics (outlined below) to keep in mind.
Choose your events carefully
As you already have your business plan in place and understand the characteristics of your ideal client, spend time focused on attending events that will give you face-time with this audience. As you get more involved, there are generally costs associated with access so you want to plan to spend your money and your time wisely.
Have something to say
There is nothing worse than approaching a group of people, listening intently to their conversation and when it comes your time to state your opinion….crickets. I have seen it and it is not pretty. A simple browse through the daily paper or a related industry brochure can prepare you to speak on almost any subject that may come up.
Set attainable goals/Make it a game
What I find now is that I quite enjoy meeting new people. With the skills I have gained as a law student, it has become a game to find out the true goals and interests of all new people with whom I come in contact. In addition to this, my personal goal is to meet at least 2 new people at each event I attend. That is a number I feel comfortable with, but you should choose a number that meets your needs and expectations.
Provide personal incentives
After reaching the goals that you have set, reward yourself with a new purchase, a nice dinner or time off. If you set a goal of meeting 3 new people at a particular event and accomplish this goal, you have done a good job. Why not take a night of? Providing yourself an incentive will build excitement as you work to reach your goal(s) and you may start to look forward to the process.
Create a follow up plan
Sending a quick email is a great way to follow up on a previous conversation. In some situations, it may even be appropriate to send a handwritten note, if you were able to gain a new lead or obtain information about a helpful opportunity. If you choose to do so, send the message quickly so that you are still on their mind by the time they receive it. Also, by doing so, they may be more likely to remember you in the future when additional opportunities arise.
Even if you are already working with the client of your dreams, there is always room for improvement and your next opportunity may just be hiding behind an unasked question. So go out to citywide festivals, be social while waiting for your concert to start, attend industry seminars and begin marketing yourself and your practice with purpose and confidence. You never know where the next big opportunity may come from.