Friday, December 6, 2013

4 ways to turn a professional holiday party into a networking opportunity

NETWORKING: How to turn a professional party into
a networking opportunity
You probably have an invitation to a professional holiday party this season. Even though it’s a time to unwind and celebrate, holiday parties are a valuable networking opportunity, whether you plan to attend your own work function, an industry event, or go as a date to someone else’s celebration.

It’s important to understand how to navigate these events so you can network effectively and build connections. This knowledge can also come into play at parties with friends and family. Here are four ways to turn your holiday party into a networking opportunity.

Identify who you want to speak with. If you’re attending a larger holiday party, it can be the only time you get to speak with certain individuals in attendance. Research who you want to speak with in advance that aligns with your interests. If you’re attending your work holiday party and are currently looking for a promotion, be sure to chat with your department head. If you have your eye on switching departments, use this time to get to know the people in that branch. If you’re at an industry event, make sure you circulate and speak with as many individuals as possible to build connections down the road. Just ensure that you’ve completed some research in advance to understand who you want to speak with and the role they play.

Take advantage of the opportunity. A holiday party is also a great time to network with the president or executive team of your employer, college, or industry group. When approaching high-ranking officials it’s critical to remain professional, despite the fact that you’re at a party. Timing is another important piece of this interaction. High-ranking officials need to meet and greet with many different people. Do not attempt to monopolize a large amount of their time. You absolutely want to have a memorable exchange, but not because you stalked your boss the entire night. Be strategic with your conversation; share reasons why you appreciate their leadership. Give insights that show your conceptual awareness for the success of the company. Don’t forget to make good eye contact while speaking, and to wish them a happy holiday season.

Start the conversation now and follow up later. The holiday party is usually a time for professionals to enjoy time off from work with friends or family, so they might not want to discuss business. It’s always OK to introduce yourself to someone whose advice you’d like. If the opportunity presents itself and they’re receptive, you can bring up a work topic you’d like their thoughts on or an industry topic you feel strongly about. Then ask if they’re open to connecting later to discuss further. Remember, this is the beginning of a conversation and it doesn’t have to take place only at the party -- you don’t want to go into full-on business meeting mode over eggnog and fruit cake.

Always act appropriately. It might be a party, but there’s no reason to go over the top when attending a holiday event. First impressions are lasting impressions, so avoid consuming too much alcohol and ask your date to do the same. We also recommend dressing more conservatively if you’re attending a work function with small hints of color and sparkle.

As I’ve mentioned before, you should ABN (always be networking), and the holidays are no exception. Keep these pointers in mind for your holiday party, as well as when you’re at conferences, college and industry events, and other work functions to uncover valuable new connections. For more advice, read the article we posted about the 5 P’s of Professional Networking. Good luck at your holiday party this year!