It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for growing your professional network, that is.
That’s because it’s the holiday party season, which gives you ample opportunity to meet and greet people who could potentially connect you to your next job, client or lucrative side gig.
“It’s a festive time, and people at holiday gatherings are likely to be in a positive, open frame of mind,” says Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant and author of “Stand Out Networking.”
“It’s a terrific opportunity to get to know people outside the confines of the office or more formal networking events throughout the year,” she says.
But simply eating, drinking and being merry between now and New Year’s isn’t tantamount to good networking—you’ve got to approach the season strategically to turn all those conversations over eggnog into meaningful connections.
So we’ve rounded up expert-driven advice that will help you take full advantage of the party season, from being a better guest to figuring out an efficient way to wish “Season’s Greetings!” to everyone in your contacts list.
1. Go in With a Positive Attitude
This may seem like a given, but many people dread holiday shindigs because they don’t consider themselves the schmoozing type. But shifting your mind-set can help you get more out of these events, says Susan RoAne, a business networking expert and author of “How to Work a Room.”
RoAne recalls one set of clients, a husband-and-wife team who ran a business together, who only started reaping relationships from networking parties once they started accentuating the positive.
“They went from saying, ‘Ugh, I wonder who we’re going to meet,’ to ‘I wonder who we’re going to get to meet.’ They had the attitude shift that this is an adventure,” RoAne says.
2. Practice Your Approach
Because talking to strangers doesn’t come naturally to everyone, do a dress rehearsal before attending an event, suggests RoAne.
This can include not only coming up with conversation starters, but also practicing your nonverbal cues like making eye contact and smiling—which will immediately help make others feel more comfortable. “You have to try it out—practice, practice, practice.”
One way to prepare? Talk to people whenever you find yourself in line, whether at the grocery store or going through airport security. “It doesn’t always mean that you’re going to do business with them—in that moment you may just have a personal exchange that makes your day go by better,” RoAne adds.
3. Make Your Introduction Memorable
You’re going to meet tons of new people before the holiday season is over—and so are all your important business contacts. Stand out from the crowd by coming up with a creative, even humorous, way to answer pat questions like, “What do you do for a living?”
RoAne, for instance, once met someone in a coffee shop while writing one of her books. When she asked him what he did, “He said, ‘I help rich people sleep at night.’ I couldn’t help it; I said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re a pharmacist!’ ” she says. “And he said, ‘No, I’m a financial planner!’ He caught my attention and gave me an opportunity to ask a [follow-up] question.”
4. Bring a Wingperson …
If possible, bring a trusted friend or colleague with you to be your conversation copilot, suggests Clark. You can make a pact to help talk each other up at the event, which takes the pressure off you to dazzle.
“When I have a friend who is very modest or self-deprecating, I’ll make a point to interject on her behalf and cite some of her more impressive accomplishments,” Clark says. “It might sound egotistical for someone to introduce herself as having a million Twitter followers, but people are impressed if I mention it on her behalf.”