At the recent CDS webinar, Women in Legal Ops & Tech: Taking Initiative and Setting Your Own Course, Michele Kell, Director, Enterprise Operations at CDS led a panel discussion among several women leaders who discussed real-world examples of women taking control of their professional trajectory by launching new initiatives, developing mentor/mentee relationships, accessing/establishing training programs, and networking in a digital world.
Here we share highlights from their conversation.
Grow your network
Nikki MacCallum, President, Women in eDiscovery – NYC Chapter
I’m Nikki MacCallum. I’ve been in the eDiscovery recruiting space for longer than I care to think about. I’m also a teacher and resident speaker at the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City where I coach underprivileged women. I specifically coach women who are looking to reenter the workforce on their networking skills.
The first thing I’m going to touch on is building and growing relationships in a virtual world, which can be very challenging.
The thing that I always like to remember is we all have very large networks that we don’t realize we have. I always coach people, when it comes to networking, start with the known, and that’ll help you find the unknown.
Networking can be a really overwhelming thing, and especially, as we’ve been locked inside our homes, you have these overwhelming thoughts, like when am I going to meet people? I can’t go to networking events. How am I going to make new contacts and build new relationships? But it’s important to remember that a contact you have from 10 years ago might be in a totally different job today and might be able to help you in a totally different capacity than they could 10 years ago.
A great way to start networking in a virtual world is to start revisiting your contacts, your older contacts from 10, 15 years ago. You’d be surprised at the different ways that they can help you. When it comes to networking, I developed a three-bucket approach, and I like to put people in three different categories. I think that can especially be helpful in a virtual world because on one hand, we’re not out meeting people face-to-face, but on the other hand, you actually have access to significantly more people, which is super cool. I’m speaking tomorrow actually … yes, tomorrow, on a Toronto discovery panel, which is so cool and that’s a connection I never would’ve made or never would’ve been able to take advantage of if it weren’t for the virtual world. So, I encourage everyone to flip your perspective and look at the opportunities that are available to you now that may not have been before the pandemic.
The Three-Bucket Approach
When I meet someone, I put them in one of three buckets. The first one is a contact. The way I see the definition of a contact is it’s a relationship that’s mutually beneficial, you can help them just as much as they can help you. Maybe you hear of a job opening and you let them know they should apply. You can help them just as much as they can help you. The second bucket which Nicole spoke about, which I just want to reiterate the importance of is that of a mentor. I feel like we all know what a mentor is, but the way I like to define it is a mentor is someone’s career who you would like to emulate. It’s someone who has done something you would like to do. The reason mentors are actually so important for networking is that a mentor becomes someone who also has a personal investment in you. Your success becomes a reflection of their success.
I have a mentor from when I first got into public speaking. She has about 20 years more experience than I do and runs her own public speaking company. I reached out to her, shortly before the pandemic, and asked if I could grab coffee. In a remote world, we would ask for a 15-minute Zoom meeting, which in some ways people are often way more willing to make time for rather than having to make time for in-person coffee, so that’s another way the pandemic can work to our advantage. We went out, we had a great time. I just asked if I could pick her brain, and she has become a mentor of mine. She has through me secured paid public speaking gigs. My success is now a reflection of her success. And in the workforce, that’s why it’s so important to have mentors, because these are people who become emotionally invested in you.
The third bucket that I might put someone in, I call them champions. A champion is someone who has a lot of influence. An example of what I mean by that, and what I mean by influence, is I have a successful cousin who makes the rest of our family look bad. He’s the youngest COO of wealth management at Morgan Stanley. At Morgan Stanley, anything Jensen says, goes. He is a champion. At one point, one of my friends was trying to get a position as an attorney at Morgan Stanley. She was less than qualified, but she reached out to my cousin, and the next thing she knew she had an interview because whatever he says goes. She did not get the job, but she got her foot in the door. I think it’s just so important for the sake of time and efficiency, especially in virtual land, where we are dealing with Zoom fatigue. And as Nicole said, you do have to do a ton of outreach, know who your targets are and know who you’re reaching out to, so you can tailor your time, effort, and energy to that individual.
Make sure they remember you.
I always coach people when they’re networking to try to focus on things that aren’t work-related, because the goal of your interaction, when you’re networking with someone, your one goal should be to create a memory. Your goal is to give that person something to remember you by. If I go in and start talking about TAR for data privacy, those are both very interesting topics, but I’m not necessarily differentiating myself from anyone else.
At the end of the day, people help people they like, people do business with people they like.
I can’t emphasize enough, make some sort of emotional connection and create a memory. One trick someone shared with me years ago that I thought was valuable, when you are connecting with individuals, whether it’s virtually or in person, for every question you ask that person, make sure you’re also sharing something about yourself.
I think as women too, we are so good at being interested in other people, and so good at showing that interest that we tend to ask a lot of questions, and as a result, we don’t share anything about ourselves. The problem is when you don’t share anything about yourself, you’re not giving that other person anything to remember you by.
So that’s just another little tip to remember in your interactions. We talked about self-promotion, and Nili mentioned how it can feel uncomfortable to brag about yourself. It sometimes feels unnatural. The thing is, in the virtual world, if you don’t tell people what you’re doing, no one is going to know. I mean, that’s true in a non-virtual world, but it’s really true in a virtual world. One thing that I’ve found to be helpful is I call it getting someone else to do your PR for you.
Get someone else to do your PR for you and return the favor.
So, if I want to post about a speaking engagement or about something I’m doing, and I feel like I’m being, I don’t know, too in your face or obnoxious, I’ll ask a friend to post it on my behalf, and then I can go and share it. It just feels a little less shameless. I had a friend who I used to run around with at Legal Tech. We were both in sales, but our businesses didn’t compete at the time. I would tell everyone how amazing she was and how they should buy from her, and she would go tell everyone how amazing she thought I was and that they should buy from me. It was this great cross promotion, but neither of us had to feel weird about it, because it’s so much easier to promote someone else than it is to promote yourself. And with that, Nicole made a great point when you’re trying to be visible on LinkedIn, even just commenting on other people’s posts is so important. People read comments and with the analytics, it gets you more visibility.
Commenting on people’s posts, resharing posts, is a great way to be visible with very little effort. Posting articles that other people have written is another great way to be visible with very little effort.
I think a lot of people have in their heads that, to be visible, I need to be creating content, and I need to be able to self-promote. Let other people do the work for you. By sharing something someone else wrote, you look cool and in the know for sharing it, but you’re also doing a great thing by promoting someone else, and it’s not a ton of work and it helps take the edge off of the discomfort that comes with self-promotion. I just wanted to hammer that home in terms of staying visible.
As uncomfortable as it can be, if you’re not vocal in some capacity about what you’re doing, no one is going to know.
It’s funny, I’m speaking on this and on two panels tomorrow, and I felt like my team at work should know about this because I’m technically in branding, but I feel obnoxious letting them know so I just sent this blanket email that said, “Hey, here’s some really cool topics if any of you were interested.” And I was listed as a panelist in each of them. So there are ways to finesse it so it doesn’t feel as braggy or as in your face, but I cannot emphasize enough how important visibility is, especially in a virtual world.
And just to bring this full circle, another reason mentors are so important is they will also champion on your behalf. So make sure your mentors know what you’re doing. Or if there’s someone who’s senior to you at your company who isn’t your mentor, but it’s someone whose radar you want to be on, let them know what you’re doing. Just let people know what you’re up to.
Michele Kell, Director, Enterprise Operations, CDS
How do you overcome your fear of public speaking?
Someone asked about how do you get past your fear of public speaking? When it comes to growing your brand, I think right now we’re all seeing that participating in webinars is a great way to gain visibility.
Nikki MacCallum, President, Women in eDiscovery – NYC Chapter
Folks may not like this advice, but it’s to do it. I’m going to expand on that for a little bit. Some of you may or may not know, outside of eDiscovery, I’m actually a standup comedian. I suffered from tremendous stage fright for a very long time, and in stand-up comedy, it’s very anxiety provoking because you’re getting on stage, you don’t know if people are going to laugh, and they always say in stand-up comedy, it’s all about the reps. You have to get your reps in. I believe it is so true for public speaking. It’s reps, it’s the same thing, it’s doing it. That is the best way to get over your fear. I was coaching someone recently who had a fear of public speaking so we set up a Zoom where they had to give a presentation and invited four of their closest friends to practice in front of. It doesn’t matter who you practice in front of. Just be in front of another living, breathing human and it’s just reps, reps, reps. That is how I believe you get over a fear of public speaking.
Nili Yavin, Head of Litigation Practice Support and Technology, Buchalter
The Zoom platform is a little easier as shallower waters to get acclimated with when it comes to public speaking. You’re in your own home vs. standing up at a podium in front of a room which is super intimidating and intense. So take advantage of the current virtual setting where you can start participating on panels, speaking in a Zoom setting, and then by the time we’re in person again, you’ll be that much more comfortable doing it.
Michele Kell, Director, Enterprise Operations, CDS
I also have a fear of public speaking. I’m always very nervous. People are surprised when I tell them that, because when I’m doing it, it typically goes, okay, I think, but I’m so nervous beforehand. But to me, when we moved to Zoom, it’s a great way of getting your practice of doing presentation and being a public speaker. So, I would encourage practice and utilizing the remote world to get your practice in now.
Nicole Guyer, Senior Consultant, CDS
I was also going to add to that, talking about things that you’re passionate about, so that way you’re not feeling like you’re having to sell something, it just comes a little bit more naturally. That way, you’re just being you, you’re being authentic, having a conversation. I still have a big fear of public speaking. It does get easier by doing it more frequently, but I found that if I’m talking about things that I know a lot about, or I’m passionate about, the words flow out of my mouth rather than me getting in my head.
Zelda Owens, CEO, Owens Williams & Associates LLC
One of the ways that I coach my clients is by having them reframe the way they think about speaking in public. I tell them, think about the fact that you’re actually teaching. And when they see that they’re actually educating the audience, as opposed to talking at the audience, they really calm down because a lot of them like to share their knowledge and information, and so that seems to work as well.
Continue on to read Part 4 of the blog series, Maintaining Visibility in a Changing Workplace
About CDS’ Women in Legal Operations & Technology Webinar Series
In 2020, we began a conversation with a group of women in legal operations and technology, exploring how the pandemic had impacted office culture, career trajectories and gender dynamics. We continue to cultivate the dialogue to see how these changes ultimately take shape, venturing deeper into specific topics while maintaining a candid, conversational tone. We encourage women in the profession to join us to share your experiences and grow your network.