Cruising Whilst You're Schmoozin
The Art of Schmooze.
After a few drinks, Barry realised he was handing out his video card...
It’s all too familiar. You start your new job and are desperately trying to impress. You arrive early in the morning, leave late at night and are prepared to lay down your suit jacket across a rain puddle in case it scuffs your MD’s loafers. Finally, the bone is thrown. You catch it. The time has come for you to represent the firm at a client’s annual ‘do’. Queue the… (insert relevant sedative)
When it comes to ‘schmoozing’ people fall into two categories. Either they thrive on self-promotion or, quite simply, they don’t. For most, even the mere thought of a night of sycophancy upon which rests that all important deal makes their palms leak and their stomach do more flips than a Romanian gymnast. And, in all truth, even those that glide across the room haemorrhaging infinite air-kisses and whispering languid sweet-nothings to anyone in their field of vision have either been pepping themselves in the bathroom prior to their performance or are sufficiently intelligent enough to know that if they don’t work the room, they might as well not have bothered to turn up.
Obviously, I have used the latter as an extreme example. Unless you work in fashion or PR, there is absolutely no human need to act like you’ve just been invited to Armani’s latest collection. However, it is important to bear in mind that ‘professional’ does not have to equate to being ‘beige’. Everyone, including lawyers, have something to offer in terms of personality so don’t ever be afraid to show your ‘colourful’ side to whoever you are speaking to- it’ll be in your favour.
Unfortunately, despite the Hollywood image of the legal profession, most still equate those working within it as hard-nosed, pedantic individuals with a penchant of going for the jugular. Pleasant surprises, however, go a very long way and, as ambassador for both your firm and the profession, endeavour to shrug off any preordained connotations those around you may have. Be yourself, laugh, be an individual! Business doesn’t have to be bland.
Before we go into the Bible of the do’s and dont's of networking, it is important to note that your ultimate goal, with view of securing that all important client or deal, is to be memorable. It is completely feasible to be retained in someone’s memory without having to do the conga or the running man in the middle of the dance floor. Appearing approachable, human and, ultimately, personable goes a long way and, especially for those in the legal profession, will provide you and your firm that much-needed ammunition to appear like the best, and most qualified individual and firm to deal with your client’s business.
The same rules apply if you are just starting out in the profession and are yet to secure a position at a law firm. These days, it is important to be as multifaceted and malleable as possible. If a future employer can see that you are both professional and amiable, you’re on to home-turf. It means that, relating to both employers and business clients, they can trust you to competent, efficient and, last but not least, have a personality that will make you stand out from the crowd.
Jo Haigh, author of ‘Tales from the Glass Ceiling- a Survival Guide for Women in Business’ trained as a lawyer before changing direction and setting up her own consultancy business. She was named Business Advisor of the Year in 2006. Haigh talks to Law and More about networking, surviving, and how to get the best out of it.
•Despite the temptations of free drinks and endless arrays of canapés, the advice would be to avoid drinking and eating too much and focus on why you are really there. It wouldn’t be ideal to be approached whilst chomping on a mouthful of food would it? And let’s face it, there are much more appropriate moments to be, shall we say, alcoholically infused?
•For optimum networking opportunities it is best to attend these events alone, it is all too easy to go with a colleague and tuck yourself away in a corner gossiping all evening. The idea of venturing alone may be a bit daunting but you will almost certainly not be the only one in that position. Try staying by the door/entrance and you will soon be able to work out who these people are and they will be just as pleased to talk to you, so break the ice. Humour is a great ice breaker as it eases any tensions, but we are not all naturally funny (or intentionally!) so try an interesting story to get the ball rolling! Remember to smile and keep your body language open so you are accessible and most importantly approachable. Smiling is a great way to break down barriers, and once talking avoid crossing your arms as this gives off a closed feeling, relax your arms down by your side or hold your drink in one hand.
•To get conversation going it’s a great idea to ask lots of open questions to avoid any awkward silences, remember people love to talk about themselves and this will prove a great opportunity to find out more about who you are talking to and ascertain whether they would be a good contact for you. But remember, avoid cutting in when they are talking, it’s just rude - remember you are there to listen as well as talk. On the note of listening, make a huge, huge, huge (it cannot be exaggerated enough) huge effort to remember names, it is highly offensive to forget someone’s name upon meeting them, or worst of all call them something different! Keep your ears pricked! It can be overwhelming meeting so many Patricks, Pauls, Paulines and Paulas, but a trick is to repeat their name back to them once introduced, telling them it is lovely to meet them (add name!) It will help you and please them – bonuses all round!
•Don’t be afraid to offer compliments. Everyone enjoys a compliment, but remember to be sincere, most people can spot a sweet-talker a mile off and it doesn’t bode well with many.
•To ease initial tensions and nerves, avoid being the first one to turn up (especially if you are braving it alone!) you will feel much more relaxed in a crowd and it’s more likely that someone will approach you. It is important to stay focused and approachable throughout, so avoid texting or emailing from your blackberry – that can wait.
•If you do meet an interesting prospect, try and arrange a follow-up meeting there and then and exchange contacts, have your cards at the ready! It is important to keep these contacts fresh, so send them an email once back in the office to secure a lunch or coffee meeting in the future – networks and contacts don’t get handed to you on a plate, they take work and perseverance.
•Report back to the boss about how it went, it looks professional and also ensures they know you were making the most of the opportunity and not just out on the razz! After all this it is important to remain genuine! Let your personality and attributes shine through, just relax and make the most of it.
Black Tie Events
When it is a black-tie event always make sure you are dressed as appropriately as possible.
‘For women, always check if it is long or short dresses for women so you don’t have to worry you’re standing out from the crowd for the wrong reasons’
‘Do share contact information. If it turns out to be a genuine networking opportunity-make sure you swap business cards, preferably as you part- do not thrust your card on to someone the moment you meet them’.
Jo Haigh’s ‘Tales From The Glass Ceiling’ is published by Piatkus on 3rd July, 2008 and is priced at £12.99
Vanessa Wozniak and Kacey Culinney
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