It has long been said that community is the pillar of a successful law practice. In theory, networking should be almost second nature to attorneys. We are constantly being invited to luncheons and banquets and panels. For each event, if you do not have your pristine business cards in hand you miss countless opportunities. These events can lead to potential job opportunities, mentor relationships, and occasionally the long-term relationship. But for some people, these networking events can be a source of crippling anxiety. Though it may appear as somewhat of a juxtaposition, some attorneys are in fact introverts. They are successful and driven people, just like their extroverted counterparts, but introverted attorneys often struggle in the area of networking.
As an introvert myself, I have attended several networking events – some successful and others not so much. While I have always found it stressful to connect with strangers and engage in (painful) small talk, it was during law school that I learned a few tricks. Over time, I have gathered a collection of business cards and LinkedIn connections, but only after rewiring my thinking. If you are an introvert like I am, here are the best ways I have found to embrace networking.
Stay in Control
Introverts like myself often feel overwhelmed when placed in a situation where they know nothing. Some people find it thrilling to attend a conference and learn all about the latest developments in a particular area of practice. However, an introvert will be less likely to see this as a challenge and more likely to see it as a never-ending torture session. To solve this problem, introverts should attempt to attend only those networking events which they find interesting. By limiting attendance in this way, networking events become associated with interesting and engaging topics. Instead of dreading an event, an introverted attorney may be able to prepare topics of conversation with which he or she is well versed. Staying prepared with relevant topics can help to limit awkward silences and show you know your stuff. Not only will you feel more comfortable, but others will likely recognize the confidence the introvert is exuding and be drawn to him or her. This allows for more opportunities to network and allows the introvert to gain meaningful connections which he can later follow up on, with antecedents about the conversation. It is easier to remember a conversation in which you are genuinely invested, so by limiting attendance to events which interest you, there is a better chance of you making an impression on the right people.
Know Your Limits
If you are anything like me, you are ready to work as soon as the sun rises but are also ready for bed as soon as it sets. In the past, I have attended events mostly held in the evening. This time tends to be convenient for most attorneys, who may be busy in court or at the office before 7 pm. However, this can make things even more difficult being an introvert, because by the time an event begins, my brain is ready for bed. It took several attempts for me to recognize that these types of networking occasions do not work for me or my schedule. Instead, I am much better off attending a luncheon or grabbing a morning coffee with a colleague. While not every introvert is a morning person, planning events around your schedule can help ensure you are performing your best – and most networking requires at least a little performance from an introvert. Keep in mind what your day or week looks like, and when you feel most energized. Try to schedule networking opportunities when you are relaxed but focused. It is also important to know that things come up and sometimes you have reached your limit. When this happens, it can be more beneficial to stay home and rest up than to push yourself to network and potentially miss or lose out on a great opportunity, because you were not at your best.
Ask for Help
When in doubt, my most relied upon tip is asking for help. Whether I am attending a conference I know little about or working around a schedule that is foreign to me, my legal colleagues present a wealth of knowledge. Best case scenario, I try to arrange for a similarly interested attorney to attend the same event I plan to attend. This way, I have someone to defer questions to when I am unsure about the answer, and I automatically have someone to engage with when there are breaks or lulls in the conversation. Networking is always the goal of these events, but sometimes for introverts having someone you have already “networked” there with you can help relieve some of the anxiety associated with the situation. Obviously, this option will not always be available, but even it is not, colleagues can be helpful in explaining complex topics or even practicing small talk with. Some of my best networking events have followed a meeting with a fellow introverted attorney, where we talked through various situations and how to handle them.
While attorneys as a profession are especially pushed to network and build communities, there are many options to combat introverted behavior at networking events. As an introvert, these are just three of my favorite options to help eliminate potential problems arising from these situations.