A holiday party! I’ll be at one tonight myself.

No two ways about it. Holiday parties are great! Whether it’s your company party, a client’s gathering, association festivities, or 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 at a holiday party. Especially if you’re a sales producer or business owner looking to get a fresh start for the New 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” Knock Out style while socializing and celebrating. Cheers!

Keep it Light – It’s a Holiday Party!

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. 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. Keep it light, fun, and positive. Sharing your reflections and lessons learned this year is a valuable conversation as you ask that of others. In fact, a holiday party is often a great place to share your intentions for the coming year – both personal and professional. What are your goals for the New Year? Again, stay fun and positive!

Know Who Will Be There

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? Do you need to brush up on people’s names? (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, and the more confident you will feel.

Have Your Tools of the Trade

Leave the tool belt at home unless you just received one as a gift. 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 – if appropriate), and some holiday cheer! Try to stay off your phone and challenge yourself to listen and learn more from those you meet.

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 party hubbub so spread the word! I think when you initiate a face-to-face (or screen to screen!) 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. Anyway, the point 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? (What now?) That’s where questions come in. See below!

Have Questions to Ask

The best way to get a great conversation going is to ask questions. Lots of them! Be interested in learning about those you meet or reconnect with. How would you sum up your year? Did you get a chance to do something fun? What type of work do you do (if you dont know yet)? Where do you work? 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? Of course, if there is a hot stove baseball conversation to be had (or any sport) or something else fun you may have in common, go for it. Conversations at parties should be fun. Of course, any questions about current events and light social banter are always welcomed. Remember, your conversation should not feel like an interview but should feel like more of an easy-going pleasant conversation. Naturally, feel free to ask questions about business and what you might typically ask at a networking mixer. If you truly connect, 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 may be speaking with someone that you don’t connect with easily – or at all. It happens! Then just move on after a few minutes after thanking them for the conversation and a “Nice to meet you!”

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!

Be Polite in Terminating Conversations

In a networking scenario, I generally don’t speak with people longer than about 8 minutes (without looking at my watch!). But at a holiday party, I may be a bit more relaxed about timeframes 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 celebrate, and I look forward to seeing you later (or again soon). Let me know if I can help with an introduction or support you in any way this evening. Have a great holiday!”

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 followed by an awkward goodbye (for him!). Remember, marketing collateral, PowerPoint presentations, and sales pitches are a big no-no when networking. 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 willingness to listen, learn, laugh, share, connect, and help.

Have a Specific Objective

What are you looking to accomplish? At every event I attend, I look to accomplish two things – have fun and learn something. In that order. Nobody can prevent me (or you!) from accomplishing those two things. Keep that in mind! The focus on fun and learning directly impacts the way I have conversations and the people I meet. How cool is that? Then it’s easy to ask for advice, insight, and recommendations about my marketplace, networking organizations, and pretty much anything else. I’m also happy to talk about personal interests like sports, books, (or sports books!), or any topic that might be of mutual interest. Focus on fun and learning at your next event and see what happens.

Use Your Elevator Speech

An elevator speech (which should really be 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 over egg nog.

Be Positive!

Look to meet with those that 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 speak 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 – 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. (As opposed to winers.)

Offer to 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’s worth repeating. After learning about what someone does for work and what their initiatives are for the New Year, simply offer to be a resource as appropriate. That’s what networking is all about! By offering to be of help to others they may return the favor. Just like the hokey pokey, that’s what it’s all about!

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 on 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 introduce someone to someone else, send an article, or provide further information, make sure you live up to your promise over the next 24 or 48 hours. Be reliable and true to your word. That leaves a great impression. Remember, busy people get things done! It’s worth mentioning (although obvious) that it’s much easier to schedule a meeting with someone now that Zoom, and other online platforms are a regular thing. Inviting those you meet to reconnect in a follow up is so easy. Just make sure you communicate in their time zone, and you be the one to arrange the calendar invite and Zoom (or whatever) info.

Respect Boundaries

I believe masks, distancing, limited contact, and words like variant will be a part of our global culture for a long time. For some, this new normal will be a forever normal. Almost everyone has had a bad experience over the last couple of years or at the very least have family members and friends that have. That said, everyone has their standard and comfort zone. Wherever you are on all of this, try not to judge and respect other’s boundaries. Not everyone will be comfortable with handshakes, hugs, being in close proximity, going mask less (not actually a word yet in spellcheck!), or even making it to the event in the first place. One word – respect.

The big payoff from networking doesn’t usually happen immediately. It does take time and work. Remember, it’s net-work! Hey, you might make a friend as you take in the New Year. Prepare your list, check it twice, and have a blast.

Just watch the eggnog and avoid the venture capital guy!

Holiday party photo by krakenimages on Unsplash
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