Jonathan Stein of The Practice posted earlier this week about his observations of two young associates at a law firm event. The two associates stuck together all night and didn't interact with anyone else. Jon's post provides some tips, especially for young lawyers, about what to do at a firm-sponsored event.
Unfortunately, the tendency for colleagues to stick together at events such as this and not talk to anyone else is very common - even among firm veterans. And it's a huge wasted opportunity. However, I must admit that I've been guilty of this myself. The good news is that these opportunities keep coming, and that anyone can learn to take advantage of them.
Jonathan suggests that young lawyers in this situation should, "drop your friend and go meet new people." For some people, that's much easier said than done. I often encourage people to bring a friend to a networking event, because it can make you feel more comfortable, and sometimes can help you network even more effectively. But don't just stand in the corner and only talk to your friend. Instead, use your friend to help you meet new people.
If you're too nervous to 'go it alone,' here are some suggestions:
1. Set some objectives with your friend ahead of time - perhaps there is a specific person who will be attending the event and whom you would like to meet - tell your friend that your goal is to meet that person during the event. Sharing your goal with someone else makes it much more likely that you'll meet it. You can help each other reach your goals directly, or just agree to follow up with one another afterwards. If you didn't meet your goals, talk about why, and how you might be able to help each other next time.
2. A variation on the above is to make the event a game - challenge your friend to see who can meet the most new people in a specific period of time. But don't forget that the point is to make meaningful connections, not to just collect business cards or make meaningless introductions. Perhaps make it a requirement that you have to find out at least three things about each person you meet. Be creative. Regroup with your friend and share your info. Or better yet, introduce your new 'connection' to your friend. You can agree on a reward for the 'winner' of your game, too - maybe the winner pays for lunch, coffee, or drinks.
3. Pretend you're the host. Make it your mission to ensure that all of your 'guests' enjoy themselves. A self-proclaimed introvert who belongs to a marketing forum with me came up with this suggestion. She says that when she pretends she's the host, it's often easier for her to talk to people that she doesn't know. If the event is one that's sponsored by your firm (like the one Jonathan discusses in his post), in a sense, you are the host. Introduce yourself and explain that you're with the firm. Often, that's enough to start a conversation going.
4. Another self-proclaimed introvert offers this suggestion: volunteer to help out with the event. As a volunteer, or someone who is 'part of' the event, you'll often have access to people that you wouldn't otherwise meet. And sometimes it's easier to start a conversation because you'll have something to talk about. As someone who is 'in the know,' you can answer questions or offer to help attendees find things. Once people realize you have the 'inside scoop,' they'll often seek you out, rather than the other way around. If your firm is sponsoring the event, volunteering can win you points with the boss for being a team player, too.
5. Many of us have a much easier time talking about other people than we do talking about ourselves. When you bring a friend to an event, pretend that your purpose at the event is to introduce your friend to lots of people - to make connections for your friend. You can brag about your friend's accomplishments without feeling uncomfortable. And your friend can do the same for you.
Attending an event with a colleague can reap rewards for both of you, if you're creative and you make it fun.