Holiday parties are great. Whether it’s your company party, your client’s party, or a party with family and friends, it’s a chance to have fun and get into the holiday spirit. Of course, there are also some good networking opportunities to be had – especially if you’re a financial planner or advisor looking to help people get a fresh start for next year.

Just yesterday, while speaking to a group about networking, the whole holiday party thing came up. One woman in particular struggled with the concept of a holiday party as a chance to network. She felt that nobody would want to talk about work and that a party was simply a place to socialize and celebrate. But hey, why not have it all? No reason you can’t celebrate and network. What better way to kick off the New Year than by developing existing relationships and making new ones?

To her point, networking may be a bit different from the usual chamber meeting or networking events. Here are some quick tips on how to “work the room” while socializing and celebrating.

Keep it light

Yes, it should be light fare. This is probably not the best time to get into serious conversations about mergers, long term care, annuities, the economy, or anything else too weighty. It is a time to get to know people and to have fun conversations about the good things happening both in and out of work. Keep it light and positive.

Know who will be at the party

Final exams are coming up at Rutgers University, where I teach a public speaking class. One of my students just emailed me to ask if she could take her final exam during the day rather than that night. She’s an intern with an interest in media, and was invited to a party at NBC that producers, publicists, and some celebrities will be attending. Upon learning about the invitees, she knew she had to prepare and be there. It’s important to learn about the people who may attend the party. Who do you need to meet? Who should you reconnect with? Who do they need to meet? How can you help one another? The more you know, the better you can prepare.

Have your tools of the trade

Leave the tool belt at home. Best to have business cards, a couple of throwaway pens; index cards (so you can jot things down); your BlackBerry, Treo, or whatever (just don’t use it when speaking with others face to face); maybe some breath mints; a name tag (worn on the right if possible so it’s in eyeshot upon shaking hands); and some holiday cheer.

Initiate conversations

It’s always a great thing if you can initiate a conversation rather than waiting for someone to come over and meet you – especially when there’s so much holiday cheer. So spread the word! I think when you initiate a face-to-face conversation with someone you don’t already know, you can set a nice tone while showcasing your confidence and smarts. Also, if you can help make someone who’s standing alone feel more comfortable, you’re both ahead of the game.

Have questions to ask others – especially about big plans for the coming year

So what type of work do you do? Where do you work? Do you like what you do? What kind of year did you have in your business? What’s in store for next year? Any big plans for the holidays? Who else do you know here? From a business standpoint, is there anyone here I can introduce you to? How can I help you in your business? (Only if you like them and can truly help.) Of course, any questions about current events are always welcomed, as is light social banter.

Ask to be introduced

In knowing who might be at the party, you can always ask for an introduction – perhaps a good business contact, someone that has insight about a college you’re researching for your kid, or someone who targets the same markets that you do. I find the best way to ask for an introduction is to offer one, if you can. Or simply let the person with whom you’re speaking know what type of people (industry, profession, whatever) you’re ultimately looking to connect with. Of course, never disrespect or downplay the conversation you’re currently in.

Be polite in terminating conversations

In a business networking setting, I generally don’t speak with people longer than about eight minutes (without ever looking at my watch). But at a holiday party, I may be a bit more relaxed about timeframes, as conversations there 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 again soon.”

The only thing you are selling is you

At one of last year’s holiday parties, there was one guy who was there for the sole purpose of generating venture capital for a product he had in development. He wasn’t looking to establish a rapport or build a relationship; he was simply there to see if anyone was interested in a business opportunity. I spoke with him for about two minutes before he hit me with a pitch – and an awkward goodbye. So remember, marketing collateral, PowerPoint presentations, and sales pitches are all a big no-no. There should be no fact finders or mentions of products and services. The only thing you should be there to sell is you.

Have a specific objective

What’s on your mind, and how can your contacts become your resources? It could be a business objective, or perhaps a personal one. I’m always looking for advice, insight, and recommendations on my marketplace, networking organizations, books, articles, and newsletters. I’m also happy to talk about personal interests such as sports and any books that might be out there that I should know about. Of course, the more interesting things I can learn about the people I meet, the better.

Have your elevator pitch handy

An elevator pitch (it should really be a positioning statement) is something you should always have top of mind – even at a holiday party. When someone asks you what you do, be specific and clear. If you can have a prepared (but not rehearsed) statement about what you do, whom you help, what you know, and what you’re after, you might meet someone who can help you. If you’re not prepared with such a statement, you may never know.

Be positive

Look to meet with those who aren’t complaining about the economy, politics, tough times, work, health care reform… I do realize that not all is good in the world, but who wants to hang out at a holiday party with a bunch of whiners? Answer: a bunch of whiners. It’s always great to chat it up with 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 – starting a new business, expanding into a different marketplace, planning a big vacation, buying a new car, joining a gym, running a marathon. When people are excited and passionate about what they want to do, I get excited and passionate about talking to them. I also get that much more excited about the things I’m doing. Excitement is contagious – or at least it is when you’re not complaining. Meeting great people is always much more productive and fun than hanging out with whiners.

Offer help

You won’t hit it off with everyone at a networking meeting or holiday party, but when you do it’s always great to offer help. After learning about what someone does for work and what their initiatives are for the New Year, simply offer to be a resource. That’s what networking is all about. By offering to be of help to others, they may return the offer right back. And that’s how it works.

Plan to follow up

Whenever you meet someone at an event, this is just the start of what will hopefully be a long-lasting relationship. This is where handwritten “nice to meet you” cards, invitations to LinkedIn, and future meetings come in handy. Certainly, send an email or make a phone call to learn more about their business and see how you can help one another. If you made a promise to connect someone to someone else, send an article, or provide further information, make sure you live up to your word over the next 24 or 48 hours.

Have fun

Ever meet someone at an event who simply doesn’t want to be there? Maybe they needed to go because their firm made it mandatory? Hey, it’s a party! If you can’t have fun at a party, where can you have fun? If nothing else, make it a point to have a good time. Others may look to talk to you and want to be part of the action.

Here’s the bottom line – networking at any event is about farming, not hunting. The big payoff from networking doesn’t happen overnight. It does take time and work. Remember, it’s net-work! Prepare your list, check it twice, and have fun networking at your upcoming holiday parties and events. Just avoid the eggnog – and the venture capital guy.

Michael Goldberg is a speaker, author, consultant and the founder of Building Blocks Consulting.For more information or to subscribe to Michael’s free online newsletter and blog The Building Blocks to Success please visit www.NetworkingForProducers.com or www.TheBuildingBlockstoSuccess.com.