I’m reading with interest Nadine Slavitt’s article Overcome Insecurity and Bring in More Business. Most likely because I see myself in many aspects of the article. I know how to dress the part and do my job:

My guess is that for many lawyers, dressing the part is not too difficult — a suit, some nice shoes, a good haircut, and you’re basically there. And, because of the hoops through which people must jump in order to become lawyers in the first place, many have mastered a good work ethic and already strive to become the best lawyers they can be.

When I was in sales (for a very short time), I too experienced that “networking and bringing in business can be painfully difficult for many lawyers, both young and old.”

Nadine opines that the insecurity we feel around networking and business development is not rooted in lack of confidence in our accomplishments, but that we question our use of social skills and networking capabilities in bringing in new business. I tend to agree with this.
The article is short and only offers two roots to the problem and quick solutions, while I am certain there are many, many more:
Negative Internal Dialogue – you have to ignore those nagging voices that keep you from reaching out your hand when networking opportunities arise:

Many lawyers have told me that they are not comfortable marketing themselves. They say things like, “I won’t know anyone at the networking events,” “They’ll think I’m pushy,” “I feel like a used car salesman,” “I’ll look stupid,” “They already have a lawyer,” and “I’m just not good at this.”

Lack of Experience

Many lawyers experience difficultly admitting that they lack experience and feel insecure in developing business. After years of attending law school, practicing law, advising clients and building a reputation in a highly regarded and competitive profession, it can be uncomfortable to admit that we have very little experience networking and developing business.

I find that the lack of experience networking is the key issue. Striking up a conversation with a stranger is intimidating for anyone. It takes practice and skill. I have a few recommendations that will allow you to “test the waters” of networking:

  • Take an Improv class. You will learn to become comfortable in conversation, how to listen to the person you are interacting with, how to add to the conversation.
  • Register for an interactive seminar or class such as a cooking class, wine tasting, golf lessons, etc. Go alone. Start chatting to the person next to you. Ask questions about them, and listen. Once again, these seminars are about getting you comfortable with striking up conversations.
  • Have an official role. I like being on a committee or board. I also volunteer at many events. It gives me a role at business and social networking events, and provides “cover” for why I am extending my hand. If you don’t have an official role, assign yourself one, such as “host.”
  • Play the host at the next reception. At any social event you will find the loners and wall flowers if you look for them. Make it your mission to introduce yourself to those individuals. Wave them over and include them in your conversations. Try and make them feel at ease and comfortable, and you will find yourself at ease and comfortable.
  • Have something to say. In addition to your elevator speech, have something to say of value or of interest. If you are attending an industry conference, what recent legal issues or pending legislation might affect the attendees? What recent press stories are dominating the industry? If you are attending the conference out of town, read the local paper so that you are well informed on current, and LOCAL, events.

When it comes to networking and business development, I think it is the rare person to whom the skills come naturally. However, these are skills that we can all learn over time. It takes working against our instincts to run back to our hotel room and check our email, rather than attend the reception. It takes overcoming our fears and walking up to a small group and introducing ourselves. It takes confidence to stick out our hand and make someone else feel comfortable in an awkward situation.

Why am I writing in the first-person, plural? Because my natural instinct is to avoid social interactions. My natural instinct is to head back to my room, rather than the cocktail reception. My natural instinct is to observe, rather than engage. Over the years, I have had to overcome my “natural” instincts and become a mingler, to become socially comfortable, to be at ease when I am networking.