Love it or loath it, networking is to upward mobility what Newton was to the Laws of Physics. We attended a fantastic networking workshop at Nabarro in the summer of 2010. It was laid on especially for vac schemers and some of the junior contacts at a number of the firm's clients. Here's our take on how to work a room...
Handshake – now the unisex formal greeting at any event, the all-important handshake shouldn’t be too aggressive (overcompensation), too limp (underwhelming), or too sweaty (immediately out of favour). If you have no idea how to gauge your own strength, or suffer from a permanently sweaty palm, it is perfectly acceptable to avoid the scenario altogether by having a drink in one hand and canapé in the other (known in strategy circles as ‘the handicanapé’), so you can just smile and shrug it off.
Name/tag – if provided with a nametag, the official line is that it should be attached to your right hand side, as this is the line of sight towards which your handshake will draw, and will be the side that is left open by the handshake. Of course, there is the slight difficulty of whether it is better to be staring at a person’s right breast upon introduction rather than their eyes. When giving your name, try to repeat it so as to fix it in your interlocutor’s memory, ie 'Hi, I’m Simon, Simon Cowell'. Hopefully the other person will do the same, and then you can begin a game of name tag, which involves repeating the person’s name to really hammer it home, ie 'So Simon, what do you do?' Everyone will develop their own strategy for the scenario in which you forget someone’s name, but it is probably best to confront your amnesia head on and just apologise in very British fashion.
Everyone will develop their own strategy for the scenario in which you forget someone’s name.
Smile – best to equip yourself with one of these, but again more of a middle-of-the-range number that is neither holding back the tears or hysterically in danger of swallowing your head backwards.
Height – Brevity issues in the high department are slightly more easily adjusted if you’re female, but essentially this is something you can do little about. One of the suggestions is to just not talk to anyone who isn’t really in your height range, as it makes for sore necks and endless requests for repetitions. If on the other hand you suffer from a skyscraping stature, make sure not tower over people – very intimidating – or crowd people out by turning your back on them.
Posture/invitation to others – the first thing to remember in any conversation is that not only might others want to join you but you might really want them to join if things are slowing down. So don’t stand directly facing you interlocutor, but more in a v-shape, facing outwards. And always stand up straight, or risk looking like the Hunchback of the Notre Dame.
Even the most self-assured should be prepared to be frugal with the jokes.
Chat/banter – asides from the initial pleasantries, how can you engage your opposite number enough to secure the all-important business card? Industry advice recommends standardised British civilities on the subject of the weather, sport, commuting woes or current affairs. From this point of departure, much depends on your familiarity with the company and confidence in your own repartee to navigate more towards work-oriented sobriety or light-hearted prattle. Even the most self-assured should be prepared to be frugal with the jokes, as it is just not worth them falling on deaf ears. Trainee chat is usually a little too cautious to cover the full range of sublime to ridiculous, but it has been known to go from real estate legislation to vac scheme indiscretions. Which brings us nicely on to…
In order to fully understand the motions of a networking event, you have to get to grips with the various types of people who occupy the floor:
The static body – those who have earned the right and acquired the gravitas to remain in one position (CEOs, managing partners, heads of department, etc.). Such figures more than likely hold an open court that receives all subjects, but if you find it just too grovelling to queue for an audience, try cosying up to some lesser dignitaries first, and maybe get yourself an introduction. The static body will expect you to know who s/he is already, so it will be up to you to do the majority of introducing (and some ferocious name tagging).
The satellite – vagrant planets that will suddenly be pulled into the gravitational fields of static bodies or other groups. Experienced satellites will come equipped with a standardised colloquy to fit any situation, and while they might have the air of the automaton about them, there is something reassuring about fixed agendas when you’re not in creative original mode.
The tag team – a particularly effective strategy if planned in advance with a suitable partner. Upon entry, the tag team rarely occupies the same conversational space, but instead is watchful of their partner from a distance, always looking for the call to intervention. The tag team can divide the room between them and share the spoils afterwards. The tactic doubles the chances of an introduction to superior static bodies.
Perhaps the most awkward part of networking, getting the extraction right is an essential art when trying to maintain courtesy without inducing catalepsy. There are, after all, only so many times that you can use the toilet excuse before rumour has circulated about your incontinence. Equally, waving at non-existent persons across the room always looks more like drowning. Looking at watches and answering phoney mobile phone calls is equally inadvisable.
One solution to this dilemma is to go and get another drink.
One solution to this dilemma is to go and get another drink, with the necessary degree of decorum that prevents you either from downing the one you have or going to get another with a glass still full. So as not to give the impression of abandoning ship altogether, you might invite the other party to sail over to the drinks table, where other satellites and lost souls will have congregated on the look out for their get out clause.
Another option, if you are already well-connected in the room, is to grab a passing satellite and conduct the introduction ceremony yourself, and then discharge yourself gracefully. Most importantly, be aware that the other person may also be thinking the same thing – everyone is playing the same game and has a limited time in which to play it.
Extra nervy participants in the networking game can simply become adept at asking questions of other more talkative guests.
If this all sounds quite complicated then don’t worry. Nerves will be your worst enemy so leave them at home. You won’t be expected to spout on the intricacies of legal practice, even at lawyer-only events, and it’s perfectly possible to sail through talking only of sport or your recent trip to Paris. Better still, extra nervy participants in the networking game can simply become adept at asking questions of other more talkative guests.
This feature is from our June 2010 newsletter.