I Felt like a Wallflower at Lawyer Networking Events Until I Started Doing This

By Stephen Furnari - July 17, 2015
I Felt like a Wallflower at Lawyer Networking Events Until I Started Doing This

I like networking as long at it’s the one-on-one variety where you get to sit down and really learn something about the other person. I find that fun.

But networking events…if you put me in a room with lots of other professionals and leave me to “mingle”, I feel like a gangly, awkward mess dressed in a nice suit.

I envy people who can work a room with ease. Those people who have quick lines or funny anecdotes at the tip of their tongue.

It’s not a skill I’ve mastered. I don’t enjoy doing it. And as a result, networking events have never been a big part of my law firm’s marketing mix.

Left to mingle in a room of professionals, I feel like a gangly, awkward mess in a nice suit Click To Tweet

But sometimes networking events are unavoidable.

For example, I speak in front of large groups as often as I can. In many cases there is a networking mixer after the presentation that speakers are expected to attend. Plus it would be foolish not to – it’s an opportunity to build on the trust and goodwill that I’ve, hopefully, generated from my presentation.

This was the case at a three day out-of-town industry conference I recently attended. During the day there were mostly educational panels (I sat on one). But every evening there was a networking mixer and, given the cost to attend this conference, I felt compelled to get every penny’s worth of value.

By coincidence, a few weeks before the conference I stumbled across a Lewis Howes podcast with guest Vanessa Van Edwards, a behavioral investigator, who talked about body language and influence in business.

What I liked about it was that she offered several easy-to-follow tips about how to be more successful at networking events. I tested a few of these out at the conference and they worked awesome. Try these out at your next event:

Standing at the right spot in the room makes a huge difference.

According to Van Edwards, the best place to stand is where people are exiting from the bar (this should be easy for attorneys, most of you will be there anyway). The theory is, they’ve already entered the room, had a minute to breathe while getting a drink, and now, once armed with an adult libation, are ready to mingle.

Best place to stand at networking events is by the bar - this should be easy for attorneys. Click To Tweet

The second best place is while you are on a line for food or a drink. Since you and your guest are sort of captive, and you can start a conversation with a non-threatening question about the food or bar services.

Incidentally, the worst place to stand is right by the entrance of the room where people are checking in. It’s too chaotic and people need a moment to get settled in.

Be less boring with a few killer conversation starters.

Maybe one of the most helpful tips was going armed with 5 killer conversation starters. These are questions you can use to break the ice with a stranger that not only starts a conversation, but makes you more memorable.

Killer conversation starters go beyond “so, what do you do”, which makes me want to vomit when I hear it come out of my mouth or anyone else’s, especially if we haven’t built any rapport.

Van Edwards give you a list of dozens of killer conversation starters on her blog. My top three lines were:

What personal passion project are you working on right now?

What’s your story?

Working on anything exciting lately?

What’s brilliant about these conversation starters is that they get the other person talking about something they are passionate about, which might not be about work, but leaves the door open for a conversation about work if they’re not comfortable sharing personal information.

Use touch (but keep it professional).

According to Van Edwards, touch is one of the most powerful, but underutilized networking tools. When used properly, you can instantly build connection with a stranger.

There’s some science behind why this works so well.

Touch releases oxytocin in the brain, which is the chemical that makes us feel connection, bonds and rapport. Dubbed the “love hormone”, it’s what drives human’s need for social connection.

Touch causes a surge in oxytocin.

Put biology to work for you when networking. Use touch to make instant connections. Click To Tweet

A couple of studies demonstrated the effects of touch in social settings. In one study, when a group of librarians briefly touched certain paton’s hands as they checked out books, they got more favorable ratings and higher likability scores.

In another study, waitresses who touched diners on the arm or hand when they dropped of the bill got a 41% higher tip.

Touching the hand, forearm or elbow are safe and professional according to Van Edwards, but she suggests that further towards the center of the body or head is more intimate and inappropriate for business.

I’m not a warm and fuzzy guy, and felt a little strange touching another person’s forearm or hand, but found that when engaged in a conversation, a touch on the side of the shoulder at the right moment didn’t feel creepy or intrusive.

Turn off your cell phone and put it away (but not just because you know it’s rude).

A favorite trick of bored networkers is to kill time by checking (whatever) on their smart phone.

Van Edwards suggests putting your phone away — not only because it gives off the vibe that you are not interested — but because is makes you look weak and inferior.

According to psychologist and business blogger Christian Jarrett, “if you see someone frowning, head bowed, shoulders slumped, it’s a fair bet they’re feeling low in confidence.

When you hold a cell phone in front of you it puts your body in a position where it sends a very negative message to other people about you.

Why looking at your cell phone at networking events make you look weak and inferior. Click To Tweet

If you have to check your phone when networking, Van Edwards suggests that you hold your phone away from your body and about chest level.

This way, you keep your body open and shoulders back, giving off a body language message of confidence.

Tilt your head slightly when listening to others.

According to Van Edwards, tilting your head slightly when speaking with others is the universal body language sign for “I’m listening. You come across as more charismatic because it shows someone that you are paying attention.

The result is a better connection with that person, which can be challenging at networking events.

I found this to be an easy and natural technique to implement.

The Result: I made 48 new contacts and a few new friends.

Armed with these very actionable tips, I found that I was a lot more relaxed at the networking mixers, which made it easier to meet people.

I was also excited about testing out these techniques, so I was more motivated to get “in the mix”.

The end result was that I made about 48 solid business contacts at the conference. These were not just collected business cards, but people with whom I made a real connection.

But I also met some some really nice people that, even if we don’t end up doing any business together, I will stay in touch simply because they were really interesting and we had other things in common beyond business.

If improving business skills with better body language is something that interests you, check out Vanessa Van Edwards’ online course Body Language for Entrepreneurs or even better for our brothers and sisters in litigation, How to Be a Human Lie Detector.

About Stephen Furnari

Stephen Furnari is a self-employed corporate attorney and the founder of Law Firm Suites, the operator of coworking spaces for law firms. Through Law Firm Suites, Furnari has helped hundreds of attorneys launch and grow successful law practices. He is the author of several eBooks, including “7 Deadly Mistakes that Prevent Law Practice Success” and “An Insider’s Guide to Renting the Perfect Law Office”. Stephen has been featured in the ABA Journal, Entrepreneur, New York Daily News and Crain’s New York. Connect with Stephen on Twitter (@stephenfurnari).

13 thoughts on “I Felt like a Wallflower at Lawyer Networking Events Until I Started Doing This

  1. deborah larson
    on said:

    great tips, I will use them next time I’m at a mixer because they make me feel very insecure and therefore probably unavailable to relate to.

    • Thanks Deborah! I found that when I was experimenting with these techniques, I was more focused on the “testing” rather than the awkwardness of the initial approaches. Of course, then there becomes the issue of the polite exit from the conversation so you can continue to mingle with others. Subject for another article I suppose (thankfully I’ve seen something on http://www.scienceofpeople.com about this)!

  2. Thanks so much for this – just did my 1st mixer last week and found it hard work. Will surely try this in my next networking event. Sounds easy to follow.

    Will let you know how it goes.

    Thanks again!

  3. nayomi
    on said:

    Wonderful thoughts. Thank you for your thoughts on killer conversation starters. It made me refreshed.

  4. I really appreciate your sharing this. It’s like getting a key to the door you’ve been knocking on for a very long time.

  5. Thanks Stephan. Very useful.
    I also like the book, “Gogivers Sell More,” by Bob Burke. I feel a lot comfortable when I attend an event with the idea that I am there to provide value to people instead trying to get something.
    I find it is a lot easier to approach somebody with the idea of, “How can I serve you?”

    • So true Shabbir. That approach sets the tone for what works best in networking anyway, it’s always more productive to give first, thereby demonstrating your value up front. Building a network of people who live by this credo makes a meaningful difference for practitioners.

  6. deborah larson
    on said:

    thank you for your suggestions, I’m afraid of networking but I know I have to do it to get my business connected.

    • This should help you get started Deborah. Also take a look at Vanessa Van Edwards’ other materials (links in article).

      There is such a significant “social” component to networking, which is why it can come easily for people with outgoing personalities. But networking is also a skill, and if you are not a natural at it, you can make up any deficiencies with the right training.

      Follow a system and you too will be a pro at it.

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