Formal networking is one of those marmite activities that, love it or hate it, can still inspire fear or apathy in varying degrees. It’s also something which definitely contributes to career success.

The good news for lawyers is that many of the skills required for networking are those used to manage client relationships more generally. Here are eight tips which will help build competence and confidence, hopefully making networking a more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Starting a conversation

Without a doubt this is the most challenging part of networking. It helps to understand the way to do this is governed by unwritten rules around when you can break into and leave a conversation, and these are dictated by body language.

For groups, look for people standing in a horseshoe shape which indicates they are open to new joiners. Stand quietly nearby and look at their body language. When there is a break in the conversation or someone to looks your way, you can approach

For pairs talking, don’t approach if they are facing square on. If they are standing at right angles, again you can approach.

Individuals are easier: pick someone who looks interesting and simply ask them if they have attended one of the events before.

In any instance, if conversation doesn’t happen, don’t take it personally and move on to another group.

Don’t get stuck, mingle

Once in a conversation, you want to make the most of your time. Avoid either monopolising an individual’s time or allowing them to monopolise you.

After a reasonable time take a business card, agree how to stay in touch, whether that’s meeting up, a call or LinkedIn, choose what’s right for the occasion.

Exit the conversation saying, “Please excuse me, I’ve enjoyed speaking with you but I need to talk to XXX/get a drink”, smile and move on. Another less direct option might be to offer to introduce them to someone else and then gracefully exit the conversation.

Be interested and interesting

To be memorable you need to make a good impression by showing interest in what the other person says and have something interesting to say. Do your research around the people you want to talk to and go armed with interesting questions such as how did you like the speaker? Can you use what they spoke about at work? Don’t limit your talk to events in the room perhaps read a paper beforehand to have other topical lines of conversation. Feeling expert in something can help you to feel confident in your interactions with others.

Selling or sharing

The ultimate dividend from networking is to secure new business, a job offer, or even partnership… in the long run.

You should aim to create a relationship for those things to happen rather than see the event as a selling opportunity. British people typically aren’t comfortable being on the receiving end of a selling approach, trying this will only stop any long-term benefit coming from the conversation.

When to leave

On arrival pick up a guest list and identify existing contacts you’d like to catch up with and new contacts to meet. Once you’ve accomplished your meetings don’t feel the need to stay, leave and feel good you’ve used your time wisely at the event.

Spot the gender difference

Research suggests there are differences in the way men and women approach networking. While some men may view conversation simply as an exchange of information, women are more likely to use it as a means to relate to the other person. With this information in mind you may find it helpful to be more direct in conversation with men than you might be with women.

Follow up

It’s crucial to follow up with new contacts but take care not to overwhelm them with emails and calls. A little note sent very soon after meeting is appropriate, make sure it is personal, relevant, engages their interest and includes a call to action. Of course don’t forget to link in with them too.

Emma Spitz is a director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy.