Networking is not usually anyone’s favorite activity, whether you’re a lawyer or not.
At least at most networking events, you can have a few tiny appetizers and a drink or two while going back and forth between awkward introductions to other uncomfortable people and complaining with a couple of your colleagues. But what if you attend a networking event where you know no one—no colleagues, no friends, no one to introduce you?
It might sound like a nightmare, but you can achieve success networking when you don’t have an “in.” And it doesn’t have to be excruciating or a waste of your time.
Don’t Be a Wallflower
Sitting in a corner or at a table by yourself while staring at your phone isn’t going to help you. Not only will you not be projecting confidence or approachability, but if you don’t talk to anyone, you’ll be wasting a lot of time. You need to move around the room a bit to give yourself as many opportunities as possible to talk with people. Staying in one place means you’ll miss out on a chance to start up conversations while waiting in a line to get food or drinks, or even while looking at an interesting piece of art. If you wait for people to come to you, chances are you’ll be waiting for quite a while. But if you move around, you’ll make it much easier for yourself to fall into conversation naturally or bump into someone—sometimes literally!
You will likely not be the only person attending a networking event or conference alone. Scope out the other loners and those who appear to be shy and strike up a conversation with them. You have a built-in conversation starter to begin building a rapport with a new person, and you may even gain a new networking partner to team up with.
Use Some Tried-and-True Conversation Starters
When there’s no one to conduct introductions, it can be difficult to talk to people. But you actually don’t need someone to introduce you if you’re avoiding being a wallflower and putting yourself in positions to start conversations with people. So how do you start? You just do. Casually introduce yourself and you’re over the first hurdle.
From there, as long as you remember that people love to talk about themselves, conversations should flow easily. Ask people what they do and really listen to the answer. Following up their answer with something like “Oh, that sounds hard” and asking how they came to get into their line of work will make them want to open up and tell their story. This is a great strategy if you remember that networking isn’t about selling yourself and trying to figure out how everyone you meet can help you, but rather figuring out how you may be able to help them. Thinking in this manner can help you to make connections that may well prove to be useful to both parties at some point.
Don’t Exchange Cards until the End of the Conversation
Now, everyone you meet at a networking event won’t necessarily be someone you want to build a professional relationship with. You can’t ascertain if you’ll want to keep in contact with someone or do business with them in the future until you have a conversation with them, so save the card-swapping for after you’ve talked with someone a bit. It can be quite off-putting to have someone attack you with a business card after exchanging just a few words. So after you’ve spoken for a while and/or if you feel the conversation winding down, it’s time to break out the cards. Have them at the ready in a specific, easy-to-reach part of your purse or wallet, or keep them in a pocket. Don’t waste time or look awkward by having to search for them.
Have a Goal
Never go to a networking event without a goal in mind. You need to tell yourself exactly what you want to accomplish and have a strategy to accomplish it. Ask yourself: Why am I attending? What do I want to learn? What do I want people to know about me and what I do? Remember that you’ll achieve your goals by asking questions and listening more than you talk about yourself. If you have a plan, you’ll be less likely to feel intimidated and uncomfortable about being at a networking event on your own.