How to network at a holiday party
By Michael Goldberg
Knock Out Networking
Holiday parties are great. Whether it’s your company party, 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 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. Cheers!
Keep it light
Yes, it should be light fare. 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.
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? (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.
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, smart phone, 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. 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.
Have questions to ask others
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.)
Ask to be introduced
If you know 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) you’re ultimately looking to connect with. Be careful to 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 time frames, as conversations typically have more of a social flair — which is, of course, fine. 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
I was at a holiday party last year and there was a guy who 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 spoke with him for about two minutes before he hit me with a pitch — and an awkward good bye 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. The only thing you should be there to sell is you.
Have a specific objective
What’s on your mind and how can a contact that you make become 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.
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.
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 everyday, 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 feel the same way. 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 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. If you offer to be of help to others, they may return the favor.
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. 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.
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 action. 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 fun. Just avoid the funny eggnog and the venture capital guy!