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How to network at a holiday party

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Whether it’s your company party, client’s gathering, association festivities or celebration with family and friends, holiday parties are a chance to have fun and get into the spirit of things. Of course, there are also some great networking opportunities to be had, especially if you’re an agent and looking to get a fresh start for next year.

Networking at holiday shindigs may be a bit different from the usual chamber meeting or networking event, so here are some quick tips on how to “work the room” while socializing and celebrating.

1. Keep it light! 

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

2. Know who will be at the party.

It’s important to learn about the people that may be rounding out the guest list. Who do you need to meet? Who should you reconnect with? (Read: Whose name do you need to remember?) Who do they need to meet? How can you help one another? The more you know the better you can prepare.

3. Have your tools of the trade.

Leave the tool belt at home. Best to have business cards, a couple of throw away pens, index cards (so you can jot things down), your Blackberry, smartphone, 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!

4. Initiate conversations.

It’s always a great thing if you can initiative a conversation rather than waiting for someone to come over and meet you. 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 smarts and confidence. Also, if you can help make someone who’s standing alone feel more comfortable, you’re both ahead of the game.

5. Have questions to ask others — especially about big plans for the coming year.

Ask the right questions and you get the right answers! 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 and light social banter are always welcomed.

6. 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. Be careful to never disrespect or downplay the conversation you’re currently in.

7. 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!). At a holiday party, I may be a bit more relaxed about timeframes, as conversations typically have more of a social flair. This is fine, of course. 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.” 

8. The only thing you are selling is you.

I was at a holiday party last year and there was a guy that was there for the sole purpose of generating venture capital for a product he was developing. He wasn’t looking to establish rapport or build a relationship. He was simply there to see if anyone was interested in a “business opportunity.” I was speaking with him for about two minutes before he hit me with a pitch, which led to a quick and awkward goodbye. Remember, marketing collateral, PowerPoint presentations, and sales pitches are a big no-no. There should be no fact finders or mention of products and services. The only thing you should be there to sell is you

9. Have a specific objective.

What’s on your mind and how can a contact that you make be a resource?  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, articles and newsletters. I’m also happy to talk about personal interests like sports and any books that might be out there that I should know about. The more I can learn from the people I meet the better.

10. 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 about what you do be specific and clear. If you can have a prepared (not rehearsed) statement about what you do, whom you help, what you know, and what you’re after, you might meet someone that can help you. If you’re not prepared with such a statement, you may never know.

11. Be positive!

Look to meet with those that aren’t complaining about how bad things were this year. Between natural disasters, a tough (but growing) economy, and other factors in the newspapers every day, it’s been a tough year for many. That said, who wants to hang out at a holiday party with a bunch of whiners? Answer — a bunch of whiners. It’s always a great thing to chat it up with professionals that love what they do and want to meet others that love what they do. I particularly enjoy meeting people that have big plans for the New Year, whether they’re starting a new business, expanding into a different marketplace, planning a big vacation, buying a new car, joining a gym or 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.

12. 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 favor. That’s how it works!

13. 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. Remember: Busy people get things done. 

14. Have fun!

Ever meet someone at an event that 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 of having fun. (Fake it if you must.) Others may look to talk to you and start having fun themselves.

The big payoff from networking doesn’t happen immediately — at least not usually. It’s called net-work for a reason: It does take time and work. Prepare your list, check it twice and have fun. Just avoid the funny eggnog and the venture capital guy.

For more from Michael Goldberg, see:

Be true to your goals

Finding your un-natural market

7 new ways to mastermind more sales


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