A reader writes....“Networking events - are they a waste of time?”
Most networking events are agony. You turn up with your polished shoes and wearing your best outfit and you have to walk into a room of strangers and project a version of yourself which makes sophisticated and experienced business people trust and admire you and want to spend their money with you.
If you have ever been to one of those commercial small business networking events, you can see there are some people just made for these events. You meet people with 500 cards who come and talk to you for 30 seconds, tell you that they are video producers or run courses on excel, stick a card in your hand and then move on. Every now and then you see them cutting across your line of sight, never duplicating their targets, never failing to get their message across.
Most lawyers aren’t like that. You walk into a room and get stuck with one group. 99% of the time that groups consists mostly of other lawyers - there's some gravitational force which draws them together in a group, like the process after the big bang which gathered the swirling masses of gases together to form the first stars. If you are really lucky, for the other 1% of the time they are people you knew before you got there.
If you have recently been sent on a “Working the Room” course, you may be optimistic. Your head will be full of how to enter groups and introduce yourself, how not to get stuck in a “dead end” couple and how to bring others into the conversation so that you can then move away. So you go for it. You move and shake and finally hit that group of real business people. In your area of expertise - and not queuing for the coats.
How it should work
What do you do for conversation? Start at A and work through to Z? “Do you like apples?” “Have you got a boxer dog?” “What about the Coelacanth?” That's certainly one way of doing it. Eventually it will work.
The other way is to worthily try and engage people in talk about work and what projects they have on and how busy they are. The only virtue of this is that it allows people to big themselves up and say they are all really busy and doing lots of exciting projects with many irons in the fire, whilst you nod and smile at them like Nigel Farage to Donald Trump.
How it actually works
Of course the alternative method is to actually relate to people like a human being and understand that everybody else is in the same boat, nobody knows anyone there, everyone is there just for work and would much rather be at the cinema, bowling, writing their first novel or wearing a gimp mask in the Torture Garden and this is simply a task that has to be done.
Ask people what are their passions, what would they rather be doing, look like you want to get to know them as a real person, not simply as a potential purchaser of legal services. People do business with people they like. So go on, show a little bit of the real you (but not the bit that goes to the Torture Garden - not just yet.)
I think networking events are designed purely for the attendees’ internal market, whereby they can circulate an email to everybody saying they are going to this event, then the next day say that they can't make it (as they have another 7 events at the same time) and unless someone goes in their place the whole event will be a disaster for the organiser who is a power referrer and the 200 other attendees will be desolate. Then they send another email the next day revealing that in fact they did go and it was amazing and they made incredible contacts.
"My new client"
Of course you can just say to your internal market that you are going and then not bother to turn up. If anyone checks up, you say you suddenly had a late night call from a client who was overseas and you couldn't get there. At the end of the day no one expects you to make any contact from a networking event - it is simply a means of ensuring that your colleagues are “putting in the hours" as much as you and, if you are a manager, a way of making sure your subordinates have a crap evening just like you used to have when you had to go to Insurance Professionals / the organising group for the sponsored bed push of the local Lions club / Women in Business / Men in Business Looking To Avoid Women / Women Looking To Get Business Whilst Not Having To Speak To Men About It.
Networking events - they're a nightmare. And useless. Just say “No”.