Okay, you’ve decided it’s time to do some networking at a conference. The first thing you need to do is identify the right conferences to attend. Those would be ones that your clients and/or referral sources attend. If your main referral sources are other lawyers, you would want to go to bar association meetings, and, of course, CLE is an extra benefit.
An article by Sharon Meit Abrahams on Law.com’s Small Firm Marketing and in Law Firm Partnership and Benefits Report newsletter provides good insight into how to approach your attendance at conferences generally. Her recommendations (with some of my additional thoughts) include:
- Seek out clients and referral sources. Naturally one would spend time with clients to enhance the relationship, but don’t spend too much time to the exclusion of meeting new contacts and potential clients. Additionally, it is a good idea to ask clients for introductions to other attendees whom you would like to meet;
- Identify key players within the organization and among the attendees/speakers you know will be there;
- Set up meetings, breakfast, cocktails, etc. with clients, referral sources and others at times that are open or not otherwise scheduled for conference activities;
- Be prepared by planning ahead. Bring plenty of updated business cards, and write your mobile number on them (if not already printed on) to showcase your accessibility to them. Ask others for their card, and make sure to follow up with handwritten notes, telephone calls or emails to those you would like to build a relationship;
- Think through ahead of time and practice your approach, including what you will say and how you would say it to those you hope to meet;
- Ensure that you are on top of your game in terms of issues impacting or likely to impact conference attendees and other members of the organization;
- Share your knowledge in discussions and Q&A sessions, instead of trying to sell yourself. Follow up after the conference with responses to specific issues raised during any encounters. Also, try to get on future speaker panels where you can demonstrate your expertise to a wider audience; and
- Finally, plan out your available time during the conference to ensure you meet a large number of contacts.
Although not everyone will follow all of Abrahams’ or my suggestions, hopefully several of them will work for you. The important thing is to use any networking opportunity, especially at conferences, to the maximum extent possible.