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.
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.”