Here’s a new version of a classic article we first ran in Dec. 15, 2010. If you already come home from parties with dozens of new clients ready to sign contracts: Great. If not, read on…
Holiday parties are great! Whether it’s your company party, a client’s gathering, association festivities or a celebration with family and friends, it’s a chance to have fun and get into the spirit of things. Of course, there are some great networking opportunities to be had. Especially if you’re a sales producer (or job searcher) looking to get a fresh start during the New Year.
(Related: 5 Business Networking ‘Musts’)
Learning how to network at a holiday party 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. Cheers!
1. Keep it light.
Yes, it should be light fare! Probably not the best time to get into heavy conversations about long-term care, annuities, assets under management, life insurance, the economy, or anything else pressing. (Of course, no doubt, the word “Trump” will come up!) 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. In fact, it’s a great time to share your intentions for the coming year — both personal and professional. Again, stay 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 or want to meet? Who should you reconnect with? (Whose name do you need to remember? This is a great way to use LinkedIn!) Who do they need to meet? How can you help them? Ultimately, 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 (yes, even with all the technology and social media at your fingertips, there is nothing quite like a business card!), a couple of throw away pens, index cards (so you can jot things down), 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. Especially when there’s so much holiday hub-bub 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 smarts and confidence. (I’m confident of that!)
Also, if you can help make someone who’s standing alone feel more comfortable, you’re both ahead of the game. “Hello! I’m Michael! Good to see you!” It’s as simple as that but best to use your own name if it isn’t in fact Michael. The truth is everyone can introduce themselves. The challenge that prevents most people from being bold enough to offer an introduction at a party, mixer, conference or wherever is what do you say next? (So what now?) That’s where questions come in handy.
5. Have questions to ask others.
Ask the right questions and you get the right answers. If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always NO.
- What type of year have you had?
- Did you get a chance to do something fun?
- What type of work do you do (if it hasn’t revealed itself yet)?
- Where do you work?
- Who else do you know here?
- Did you accomplish all of your goals for the year?
- What are some of your big goals for the coming year?
- What will you do to make sure you achieve them?
Of course, if there is a football conversation to be had (or any sport) or something else fun you have in common, go for it. Conversations should be fun. 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.
Remember, your conversation should not feel like an interview. It should feel like a conversation. If you truly connect (about one-third of the time in my estimation), it will feel like you’re talking to a soon-to-be friend. The conversation should be an effortless back and forth. If it feels forced, then you’re in the two-thirds territory. Then just move on after a few minutes after thanking them for the conversation and a “Nice to meet you!”
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. Just saying!
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). But at a holiday party, I may be a bit more relaxed about time frames as conversations typically have more of a social flair — which is fun! 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).”
8. The only thing you are selling is you.
I was at a holiday party a couple of years back and there was a guy 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 — and an awkward goodbye (for him). So 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 (or very little as you don’t want to make the conversation weird). The only thing you should be there to sell is you. And your awesomeness.
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, books, 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 speech handy.
An elevator speech (it’s really more like 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. Also, be careful not to share how you do what you do in vivid detail unless someone asks you specifically. The last thing you want to do is monologue someone into nap time.
11. Be positive.
Look to meet with those who aren’t complaining about how bad things were this year. Try to keep things positive and upbeat. (Do you see a recurring theme?) 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 who have 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 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.
Again, 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. I know this was mentioned earlier but it bears repeating. 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 (as in the other person) and see how you can help one another. If you made a promise to introduce someone to someone else, send an article, provide further information or make sure you live up to your word over the next 24 or 48 hours. Be reliable and true to your word. 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 be part of the fun. It’s party time!
The big payoff from networking doesn’t happen immediately. At least not usually. It does take time and work. Remember, it’s net-work! Hey, you might make a friend as you take on the New Year. Prepare your list, check it twice, and have a blast. Just watch the eggnog, and avoid the venture capital guy!