Ask the Coach

  • February 20, 2009
  • Gary Mitchell

Q: "How can I become more comfortable and effective at networking?"

A: Very few people are born with natural networking abilities, so you are not alone. This is really about forming new habits. This article will outline key strategies you can follow to become comfortable and effective at networking.

  • Be strategic
  • Choosing where to sit
  • Meet the presenters/organizers
  • Meet new people – the conversation
  • Ask a question
  • Follow up

Be strategic

We all know, as a lawyer you don’t have idle time on your hands. So it’s important to choose events where you know you will be in front of your target audience. How do you ensure this will happen? Ask your current clients that represent your target audience what events they go to and why. Ask current contacts and other lawyers at your firm which events they go to and why. And finally, ask the organizers of the event who attends. A little hint: try attending a few board of trade events to practice your networking. Why? They organize their events with networking in mind so you will have no choice but to network. This might not be your target audience, but it’s a great way to try out new habits.

Choosing where to sit

If the event is a sit- down affair, here are a couple of tricks on choosing where to sit that I have learned along the way. If you are arriving early, choose a table that no one is sitting at. This will force you to at least meet the new people who join you at your table. Or, if you are arriving with the crowd, choose a table where you don’t know anyone else. Again, this will force you into meeting new people.

Meet the presenters/organizers 

Make an effort to meet the presenters at this event. Why is this important? It is very likely you are attending that event partially because of who is speaking and the topic they are speaking on. Some of my best connections have come as a result of meeting the speakers at various events. Think of the knowledge and expertise these people have which you can leverage and pass on to your clients, adding value to your relationships. I also recommend you meet the organizers. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for you to speak at a future event. These people will prove to be invaluable down the road.

Meet new people

Most people find it awkward to strike up a conversation with a stranger. One approach is to look for people who are standing alone. They are likely just as apprehensive about meeting new people as you are. Ask them “why are you here today?” or “what is it that you hope to learn from being here today?” Always be sure to use open-ended questions; that is, questions that can’t be answered with a ”yes” or ”no”. It’s a lot more comfortable than “what do you do?” It will also lead to further dialogue that will help you determine if this person is in your target audience and worth your while to get to know.

Ask a question

One way to get yourself noticed is to prepare ahead of time a question or questions that you can stand up and ask (if the event permits you). This will distinguish you from the crowd. Be sure to state your name and what you do. It’s kind of like a mini-infomercial that allows you to share your knowledge and let everyone in the room know who you are. This demonstrates thought leadership and will increase the likelihood of people coming up to you. They will say things like “I am so glad you asked that question. I was wondering the same thing but was too shy to ask.”

Follow up

When you have met people of interest and collected their business cards, be sure to confirm with them what kind of follow up (if any) they would like. Use open-ended questions like “would you prefer I e-mail or call you to continue our dialogue?” or, “how would you like me to follow up with you on this?” You will be surprised how comfortable you will become taking this approach. I also advise you to create your own “24-hour rule.” That is to say that you will follow up with new people you are meeting within 24 hours. It’s a good habit to learn and will keep the conversation alive.

The most important thing I can leave you with is be yourself. Don’t try to be gregarious if you aren’t.  Find your own style of networking. If you become comfortable with it, chances are you will become effective as well. Oh yeah - follow up, follow up, and follow up.

Gary Mitchell is a business development coach, and the Managing Director of GEM Communications, where he leads an international team of consultants, coaches and trainers who assist lawyers and Law Firms prepare for the future, one leader at a time. Gary can be reached at or 604.669.5235.