My husband and I recently attended his company holiday party: A grand event with lots of great food, entertainment and flowing beverages. As we left the event, my husband remarked, “Wow. I wish I were more like you in those situations. Networking is so easy for you.”
I reminded him that networking is not necessarily “easier” for one person or another. What matters is the attitude and approach you take to the situation. When I go to a networking event, particularly one where I don’t know anyone, I make it my job – my responsibility – to assume the role of host and facilitator. I assume the position of someone who is there to meet other people, to make them feel comfortable in my presence, and leave having made a good impression.
Most people are shy, and find networking to be painful. Here are 10 tips to get through holiday networking:
1. Make it your job to meet people. Set a goal of how many people you will meet and stick to it. This gives your networking a sense of purpose and direction.
2. Seek out people who are by themselves. The person standing alone at the cabaret-height table, drink and hors d’ouvres in hand will be grateful for your conversation! By approaching them and starting a conversation, you are rescuing them from what they perceive to be a glaring light shining on their alone-ness.
3. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of “nice party, huh?” ask, “What did you think of the CEO’s presentation?” or “How has your work changed over the past year?” You are seeking to start a conversation, not conduct an interrogation. Open-ended questions show your willingness to engage.
4. Always look for the other person’s favorite subject. When talking with someone new, seek out things that make them smile or laugh, rather than topics that cause their face to droop. At the holidays, many of us like to talk about college-age kids returning home, or holiday traditions. Asking questions that elicit a positive response indicate you’re on the right track.
5. At the company party, greet your boss and your boss’ boss. If it’s your spouse’s party, meet the same. Smile, show graciousness and keep the conversation brief (unless they keep it going.) Thank them for the party. Even though they likely had nothing to do with the planning and preparation, it’s polite to thank them.
6. Avoid gossip at all costs. Holiday parties are often the time when people let down their hair (with the help of spiked egg nog) and rumors swirl. The best advice is to dismiss yourself from gossip.
7. Be yourself. Authenticity is the most attractive feature in people. When we feel someone is genuine, we feel most at ease in their presence.
8. Don’t take things too personally. If you are talking to someone and they spot someone they’d rather talk with and abandon you, just move on. No need to sulk around with hurt feelings. Most people get easily distracted this time of year.
9. Be subtle about your exit. No need to call attention to yourself if you have to run home to relieve a babysitter. Say your “thank you” and good-byes and leave the event.
10. Be mindful about what you post on Facebook after the event. Your boss may not appreciate the comments/photos you share about the event or what he “accidentally” said. Remember: Everything you put online is public.
By making networking your job, you assume responsibility for making others feel comfortable. Others will appreciate your generosity and you will make a positive impression going into the New Year.