Gazing out at the Opening Reception at last week’s MSBA Summit, a former classmate of mine at Maryland Law and I were half-jokingly brainstorming a one-credit practicum that should be taught in law school about how to navigate networking events. The impetus for the joke was our desperate attempts to balance a plate of food and a drink while reaching for business cards.
In rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness fashion, we instantly thought of five skills that we would have loved to learn in the one credit seminar “Networking 101”:
- Try to eat before or after the event. And if you are going to eat at the event, try not to balance a drink at the same time. And if you are going to try to eat and drink at the same time, make sure you’re drinking wine or water out of a narrow-stem glass so that you can hold the glass and plate in one hand and pick at your finger food with the other hand.
- Learn how to delicately enter conversations without appearing too much like you’ve been eavesdropping. This is definitely an acquired skill. The hardest thing for young attorneys to do at networking events where we don’t know anyone is to figure out how to parachute into a conversation. But if you don’t make your way into a conversation, you’ll simply end up taking laps around the conference room.
- On this topic, try to avoid entering one-on-one conversations between folks who are clearly having a private conversation. Look, I am happy to meet new people. It’s one of the reasons I contribute to this blog! But sometimes I run into an attorney at a networking event with whom I need a brief conversation about a case or mutual client. Or sometimes I run into a close acquaintance and we want a few minutes to catch up on personal matters. Not all conversations should be dropped into. Look for those non-verbal cues and give folks space when they need it.
- Learn how to gracefully exit an interaction once the conversation dwindles. In other words, don’t be a “clinger”. Most conversations progress to a natural point where you’ve had a nice discussion about your personal and professional backgrounds, your interests, and it’s time to move on. Some conversations last longer than others. Don’t force the conversation to continue. If the conversation is dwindling, trade contact information, wish the other person well, and move on. And feel good about having made at least one professional contact.
- Follow up. When you get home, wait a reasonable period (think one day, not one hour), and then send a follow-up e-mail. The message can be as simple as thanking them for the conversation and replaying something that you enjoyed about the conversation. If you really enjoyed the conversation, set up a coffee or lunch date. And connect on LinkedIn. Stay away from that Facebook or Instagram connection, at least until the relationship is a little bit more personal.
And to Amy Petkovsek, it is always so good to see you at the MSBA Summit. Maybe we’ll be the initial co-instructors of our new course!
Jeremy Rachlin is a principal at Bulman, Dunie, Burke & Feld Chtd. in Bethesda, where he practices estates and trusts and civil litigation.