Overcoming the Discomfort of Working a Room
by Robert N. Kohn and Lawrence Kohn
(County Bar Update, January 2000, Vol. 20, No. 1)


Overcoming the Discomfort of Working a Room

By Robert Kohn, Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee member, and Lawrence Kohn, LACBA member. They are principals in Kohn Communications, a marketing and management consulting firm for professionals. They can be reached at (310) 652-1442 or kohncommunications.com. The opinions expressed are their own.

Welcome to the new millennium! And since the world hasn't come to an end and we haven't been invaded by aliens from outer space, it's probably a good time to focus on what really matters -- building your practice.

One highly efficient practice development technique is "Working a Room". However, the mere hint of having to work a room often strikes terror in the hearts of lawyers. This is because most lawyers incorrectly assume that working a room requires a bubbly personality and a sales-like approach.

Working a Room Requires Research

The fact is that working a room is simply an opportunity to do research. The research begins with finding the right groups. Try to avoid activities where you feel out of place. It's easy to feel discouraged attending events where you are surrounded by dress-for-success consultants and massage therapists -- Unless, of course, you do business with these individuals or you need a massage.

To find the right groups, start by asking your clients which organizations they support. They probably belong to trade organizations, charities or other types of groups where you would be welcome. If you get referrals from other lawyers, check out bar association activities. And if you get work from CPAs, there are CPA groups such as the California Society of CPAs. You will feel much more comfortable working a room when you are surrounded by clients, prospects and referral sources.

Success Requires Follow-through

Relationships take time to mature. It is highly unlikely that someone will do business with you immediately following your initial introduction. And yet we know many professionals who make the common mistake of thinking that someone is going to hire them based upon how well they describe their services. So they come prepared with a canned sales pitch. They leap into a description of their services before knowing what the other person needs. They overlook the most important working-a-room skill -- Researching opportunities for follow-through. Without follow-through the initial contact has minimal value.

Researching opportunities for follow-through involves listening for topics that invite continued interaction. Instead of focusing on what you do, come prepared with a few simple questions to stimulate interaction. Your question will help reveal whether someone is a prospect and identify potential needs -- for example, "What business are you in? Who are the kinds of people you do business with? How is your industry dealing with technology or globalization?"

As you learn about their needs, offer to provide additional information on a topic or to do research to help them. Offer to introduce them to a contact who might be able to assist them. If they accept your offer, they have given you permission to follow through and pursue the relationship.

Once you understand that working a room is fundamentally a research project, it eliminates the pressure of having to act like an insincere and needy vendor. Rather, you can view the situation as an opportunity to learn about the people who are in the room, and in turn you will be perceived as a genuinely concerned and thought-provoking individual.

# # #