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Stohler: When a room full of strangers freaks you out

Dona Stohler
August 13, 2014
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MakingRain.jpgAs most good rainmakers know, it is all about networking, and sometimes this means talking to people who are total strangers. It can be daunting to attend an event that your firm is sponsoring or a conference that your target market attends and be expected to “go out there and make new friends.” There are ways you can make this easier on yourself and be more strategic about how you use these opportunities.

First of all, it is good to have a purpose. Set some goals you would like to accomplish while you are there. These goals can be things like meet at least two people who I do not know or ask someone I know to introduce me to at least three people they know. By doing this, you will have a goal in mind when you walk in the room and it will distract you from being nervous or feeling awkward about showing up where you may not know anyone.

It’s also good to keep in mind that you are not there to actually hand someone an engagement letter. You are just there to learn enough about someone else that you have a reason to get back together with them or stay in touch with them. So, take the pressure off yourself and just try to talk to people about things that will give you enough information to have a jumping off point for another conversation.

Another idea that may help put you at ease is to think of yourself as someone who is attending to put people together. You are there so that you can help. You are the host/hostess and want to make sure everyone has a good time and meaningful conversations. When you talk to these “perfect strangers,” you will be asking them questions so you can introduce them to others. An example might be that you start talking to Fred. You ask him what he likes to do when he’s not working and he says skydiving. You see another person you want to meet, so you say, “I’d like you to meet Fred. He skydives. Oh, and by the way, I’m Julie.”

Part of your goal setting may be to try to find a particular person you want to meet who is planning to attend. For many events, especially ones your firm sponsors, you can get the attendee list ahead of the event. Look at it and see if any of your prospects are on it. If so, one of your goals is to ask around to find someone who knows this person and can introduce you. If you can’t get the list ahead of time, look to see who is on the organization’s board of directors. There may be some people on their board that you would like to meet. It is a great way to break the ice with someone you don’t know by simply asking them if they know the person you are trying to find.

Have some good questions in mind to ask once you introduce yourself to someone. Chit-chat and talking about the weather might be great for purely social situations, but you are there to meet your next big client. Ask questions that are going to be engaging enough that you have a reason to talk to this person again. Some examples are:

• What is the most exciting thing happening at your company right now?

• What do you like most about what you do?

• What is the most challenging thing happening in your industry?

• What made you decide to attend this event?

• How do you like this event compared to others you have attended recently?

• What is the profile of your typical customer/client?

You also want to have an exit strategy. You don’t want to get stuck talking to the same person for the duration of the event. To avoid this, there are a couple things you can do. One is to approach pairs or small groups, not people standing by themselves. By talking to two people who are already talking, you can easily break away from them without leaving someone standing alone.

If you are stuck with one person, introduce them to someone you know that happens to be nearby and then tactfully excuse yourself and move on. Or if you have asked the right questions you will know what kind of person they would like to meet. Help them find that person and introduce them, then move on.

If you try all this and it feels much better, congratulations, you have survived the first phase of this process. You attended the event and you have made a few connections. It isn’t time to stop now. Ask yourself these questions:

• Did I meet someone who I can continue a conversation with over coffee, breakfast or lunch?

• Did I meet someone who can help introduce me to a prospect?

• Did I have at least one productive conversation that will enable me to contact this person to help them solve a problem?

• Did I find at least one of the people on my prospect list that I was looking for?

Hopefully, you can say “yes” to at least one of these questions. If you can, then the next steps are up to you. Follow up and continue the relationship-building process. Set a time to get back together with your new connections in a few weeks or a month. Before you know it, you will be well on your way to finding a new client or good referral source.

Turning dread into a purpose that you have prepared for will change the way you look at the role you play when confronted with attending your next event. Maybe a room full to strangers won’t result in you feeling excited and energized, but it will no longer freak you out.•

__________

Dona Stohler of S2 Law Firm Strategies provides consulting services on business development and marketing for law firms. Stohler has more than a decade of experience in the legal services industry and is the past chair of the U.S. Law Firm Group marketing committee. She can be reached at dsstohler@s2lawfirmstrategies.com or through www.S2lawfirmstrategies.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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