5 Golden Rules of Networking Etiquette

Etiquette is the “it” factor every professional needs for career mobility. Strong networking etiquette can position you as someone likeable and charming who should be taken seriously, while its absence may leave you seeming thoughtless and awkward. So, before you plunge into that next legal mixer, be sure your networking etiquette is finely honed.

This article shares techniques you can use to deliver your messaging with polish and confidence to a roomful of unfamiliar faces. Put them to work now to present yourself as the top-tier legal professional you are, whether you’re looking for a new job or simply working to refine your personal brand at the office.

Golden Rule #1: Nonverbal Etiquette

Golden Rule #1: Nonverbal Etiquette

In any networking setting you’ll want to choose your words carefully. Be just as meticulous about engineering your body language. Body language can amplify or mute the signals you want to project, so as a networking skill it’s non-negotiable.

Following are four key nonverbal gestures and cues you can use to sharpen your performance while networking:

  • Eye contact: Whether speaking or listening, maintain eye contact. It tells the person speaking that you’re interested in what they have to say. Allowing your eyes to shift to the sides of the speaker, up, or down sends a negative message. Above all, never roll your eyes.
  • Posture: Your parents were right: Stand up straight. You can show that you’re confident and serious by maintaining an erect posture. If you’re sitting down, don’t slouch.
  • Stillness: Pacing, tapping, swiveling, and fidgeting can make you seem nervous. These actions undermine your professional presence and may actually distract the person with whom you are engaging.
  • Sounds: It’s rude to interrupt another person who is speaking. This is a global truth. It seems elementary but it can happen almost unconsciously so listen actively and modulate how and when you respond and be aware of the sounds you create.

3 Body Language Hacks to Influence People

Body language plays an outsized role in reinforcing your message, so use your physical presence as an adjunct to clarify meaning. Here are three nonverbal communication techniques that connote professionalism and can positively impact your networking efforts.


Stand or sit on the left side of the person with whom you are speaking

Why it works:

During normal interaction, we tend to give with our right side and receive with our left side. To wit: You always shake hands using your right hand. If you want to influence someone sit to their left or, if possible, look at their left eye when speaking.


Place both feet on the floor

Why it works:

Your body position tells your brain how you’re feeling. Placing both feet on the floor creates a stable base for your whole body (even if you’re speaking on the telephone). That stable base projects stability and confidence.


Use symmetrical posture

Why it works:

Human beings prefer symmetry. The aesthetic value of symmetrical facial features is well known, but symmetry is also critical of posture. The more symmetric your posture, the more you exude confidence and competence.

Golden Rule #2: Verbal Etiquette

Golden Rule #2: Verbal Etiquette

Once the conversation at a networking event begins to flow it’s almost inevitable, you’ll have an opening to join the dialogue. When it’s your turn to speak the first thing you’ll want to do is adjust the volume of your voice. Loud voices can be associated with anger and make you seem aggressive.

On the other hand, a voice that is too soft can make you seem unconfident. Modulate your tone for emphasis and adjust to the noise level in the room. This advice from Tony Robbins can help you understand how to optimize your tone of voice, so listeners focus on your words.

While you are speaking

Take note of the other person’s body language. Is the individual pulling away or putting their hands in their pockets? Are they crossing their arms? These can be tell-tale signs of boredom.

If the person to whom you are speaking displays these signals or seems uncomfortable, respect their space and don’t force the conversation.

Don’t interrupt

In any conversation this golden rule is sacrosanct: Don’t interrupt whoever is speaking. If you find yourself being interrupted by someone else, however, this may be happening for a couple of reasons:

  • You don’t get to the point: When you begin to ramble, listeners tune out. Strive to be concise and clear.
  • You don’t project confidence: Keep your shoulders back, head up, maintain eye contact, and speak from the diaphragm. People don’t interrupt someone they believe is important.

If you are interrupted try not to shut down, become defensive, or go silent. You can display good etiquette by allowing the person who interrupted you to finish their thought before you respond.

Golden Rule #3: Don’t Skip the Small Talk

Golden Rule #3: Don’t Skip the Small Talk

While it’s true that Americans like directness, it is also true that in a business setting there must be a balance between light conversation and deep dialogue. That’s the role of small talk.

Small talk acts as a social lubricant that helps professionals’ transition smoothly from casual chatter to more meaningful discussion. In a networking environment, skipping small talk entirely can derail that transition and make it more difficult to establish a connection.

Small talk done right displays good etiquette, so wrap it in these strategies for best results at a networking event:

  • Ask an open-ended question. You may get a greater payoff by focusing more on what to ask than what to say.
  • Respond to an open-ended question: If someone asks about your job, don’t just tell them, “I work in estate planning,” tell them a bit about what you actually do on a daily basis.
  • Read the situation: Keep the conversation going if the other person is interested. If that interest breaks off, thank the person for their time and move on—even if you didn’t have the opportunity to get to your key message.

If you’re naturally comfortable speaking with peers and colleagues but tend to freeze up when you interact with executives, here’s good advice for making small talk with big wigs.

Golden Rule #4: Nail the Follow Up

Golden Rule #4: Nail the Follow Up

The end of a networking event isn’t the end of your networking tasks. If you’ve managed to connect with even one individual at a mixer, then the proper etiquette is to follow up.

Not everyone feels comfortable with this part of the process but with a few simple actions you can follow up like a pro and feel good about it.

Timing is everything

Ideally, follow up on LinkedIn or email within 24-48 hours. You don’t want to appear pushy, but you also don’t want to be forgotten. Refresh the person’s memory by referencing your conversation and let them know you’re interested in further discussion.

Conversely, if someone reaches out to you for follow up, wait no longer than 24 hours to reply. This will help maintain the other person’s enthusiasm to make a connection and keep you from missing an opportunity.

What to say

Personalize your message with some specific detail from your conversation. During your conversation perhaps a professional insight was shared or an offer to connect with another person was made. If you discovered a common interest, feel free to refer back to it.

On the other hand, if you are the one who promised to share information or make an introduction, follow through on that commitment. This will build trust with others and reinforce the value they see in you as a connection.

If you’re new to networking and not sure how to craft an email with the right tone and messaging, here are 8 email templates designed specifically to help you with this task.

Is your process server fumbling your legal documents?
Is your process server fumbling your legal documents?

Golden Rule #5: It’s Not a Sprint

Networking is about playing the long game. Don’t expect to hit a home run the moment you walk in to your first networking event. Instead, work at building your professional network gradually. Use your sense of networking etiquette to burnish your personal brand as capable, reliable, and able to navigate the legal industry at every level.

While you’re out networking, make sure your professional toolkit is packed with the industry’s “go to” resources.

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