Whether it’s your company party, association festivities, or celebration with family and friends, a holiday party is an opportunity to have fun but also to network. Networking at holiday shindigs can be different from traditional business gatherings, so here are some quick tips on how to “work the room” while socializing and celebrating. Cheers!
1. Know Who Will Be There
It’s important to learn about the people on the guest list. Whom do you need or want to meet? Whom should you reconnect with? Do you need to brush up on people’s names? (This is a great way to use LinkedIn!) How can you help them? How can you help one another? The more you know, the better you can prepare, and the more confident you will feel.
2. Bring the Tools of the Trade
Bring business cards, a couple of throwaway pens, index cards (so you can jot down notes), some breath mints, a name tag (worn on the right if possible so it’s in eyeshot upon shaking hands) and some holiday cheer! Try to stay off your phone, and challenge yourself to listen and learn from everyone you meet.
3. Initiate Conversations
When you initiate a face-to-face conversation with someone you don’t already know, it sets a positive tone and showcases your confidence. Also, if you can help make someone who’s standing alone feel more comfortable, you’ll both be ahead of the game. The challenge that prevents most people from being bold enough to offer an introduction at a party, mixer or conference is what to say next — which is where questions come in…
4. Ask Questions
The best way to start a great conversation is to ask questions:
- How would you sum up your year?
- Did you have the chance to do something fun this year?
- Where do you work? What type of work do you do?
- Any big plans for the holidays?
- Who else do you know here?
- Did you accomplish all of your goals this year?
- What are some of your big goals for next year? What will you do to make sure you achieve them?
Remember, conversations should be fun, so make sure your questions don’t feel like a job interview. If you connect, it will feel like you’re talking to a “soon-to-be” friend. If it feels forced, then you may be speaking with someone you won’t connect with easily — or at all. It happens! After a few minutes, thank them for the conversation and move on.
5. Ask to Be Introduced
If you know ahead of time who might be at the party, you can ask for an introduction. Perhaps it’s a good business contact, someone who has insight about a college you’re researching for your kid or someone who is on the same career path as you. The best way to ask for an introduction is to offer one, if you can, or let the person with whom you’re speaking know which types of people (industry, profession, etc.) you’re ultimately looking to connect with. (Be careful not to downplay the conversation you’re currently in.)
6. Be Polite When Terminating Conversations
In a networking scenario, I generally don’t speak with people for more than about eight minutes (without looking at my watch!). At a holiday party, however, I may be a bit more relaxed about time frames, as conversations typically have more of a social flair. When you want to end a conversation, say something like, “It was great getting the chance to chat, and I look forward to seeing you later (or again soon).”
7. Have a Specific Objective
What are you looking to accomplish? At every event I attend, I aim to accomplish two objectives: to have fun and to learn something (in that order). Nobody can prevent me (or you!) from accomplishing those two goals. The focus on fun and learning directly impacts the way I talk and the people I meet. Then, it’s easy to ask for advice. I’m also happy to talk about personal interests like sports, books (or sports books!) or another mutually interesting topic.
8. Use Your Elevator Speech
Always be ready with an elevator speech (which should really be more of a positioning statement), even at a holiday party. When someone asks about what you do, be specific and clear. If the person you’re speaking with already knows what you do, focus on what you want. If you have a prepared (but not rehearsed) statement about your intentions or your goals, you might meet someone who can help you. However, be careful not to talk too much about you (try to focus on the other person). The last thing you want to do is monologue someone into a nap.
9. Keep It Light and Positive
A holiday party is probably not the best time for heavy conversations about needs assessments, training plans and performance reviews. It is the time to meet new people, get to know colleagues better, and have fun conversations about the good things happening both in and out of work. It’s also a great time to share your intentions for the coming year — both personally and professionally.
Try to meet people who aren’t complaining about how bad things were this year, and try to keep things positive. It’s always great to speak with training professionals who love what they do and want to meet others who love what they do. I particularly enjoy meeting people with big plans for the new year, whether it’s launching a new training initiative or running a marathon.
When people are excited and passionate about what they want to do, I become excited and passionate about talking to them and about the things I’m doing. Excitement is contagious, and meeting excited people is always more productive and enjoyable than hanging out with whiners. (That’s a technical term.)
10. Plan to Follow up
Meeting someone at an event is hopefully the beginning of a long-lasting relationship. After the event, send handwritten “nice to meet you” cards, connect on LinkedIn and plan future meetings. Send an email or make a phone call to learn more about the other person’s business and how you can help one another. If you made a promise to introduce someone to another person, send an article or provide information, make sure you follow up within a day or two. Being reliable and true to your word leaves a great impression.
The big payoff from networking doesn’t usually happen immediately but takes time and effort — it’s net-work! You might make continue to develop a relationship or make a friend as you take in the new year. Prepare your list, check it twice and have a blast.
Just watch the eggnog!