Does the idea of “networking” at a holiday function bring out your inner grinch or make you want to run for the hills? While you’re certainly not alone, here’s the good news: holiday networking doesn’t need to be only about idle chit chat and shouldn’t make you feel like you are callously conversing with an ulterior motive.
Instead, think of these end of the year social gatherings as one of those rare times when you get to spend some time outside of work connecting with the diverse groups that intersect all aspects of your life – family, friends, spouses, significant others, colleagues, vendors, board members and even clients.
My thoughts on the three most likely holiday networking scenarios you will face this season, and how best to approach them for maximum benefit AND enjoyment.
How to Navigating 3 Typical Holiday Networking Scenarios
#1 Holiday Networking at the End of Year Potluck or Catered Luncheon
Holiday potlucks and luncheons tend to happen during the day and often within the confines of your company’s building.
While normal instinct is to sit with those you feel closest with or those with whom you might normally socialize outside of work, consider trying something new this year: sit next to someone you might like to work with more closely, or who perhaps during the normal 9-to-5 seems too busy for conversation.
Rather than talking about work, use the time to chat about life. If it goes well, you can always part the luncheon by saying that you’d love to get on each other’s work calendars in the future.
Think of it this way – you can socialize with your work friends at any time – but a daytime lunch is a perfect opportunity to make a meaningful connection that could be mutually beneficial down the road.
#2 Holiday Networking at the Evening Office Party
These large events are often held offsite, and guests on the invite lists often include spouses, significant others, vendors, clients, board members and more. In today’s virtual world, there’s a good chance that portions of the guest list will be people who’ve you’ve only known previously via bridge or conference calls and emails.
Like the holiday luncheon, normal instinct is to gravitate toward those you know quite well. However, this is an opportunity to not only get to know others but to shine as a company SME or representative. This event is a perfect opportunity for you to put names with faces and allow them to walk away impressed while doing the same.
Unlike the work lunch where it may be best to stick to non-work topics, conversations with these groups can include a mix of chat about holiday plans as well as latest projects and company happenings. It’s important to come prepared to these events with company details you can share that might be mutually beneficial.
#3 Holiday Networking at Family/Neighborhood/Extended Friends Get-Togethers
Why is it important to chat with your cousin’s new girlfriend or your neighbor’s son’s baseball coach? Because these are the people that should be part and parcel of your professional network.
It’s been said before. The first tier of your network should always include family and friends, and the second tier should be the family and friends of your family and friends. It stands to reason, then, that holiday open houses, cocktail parties, and even sit-down dinners, are the perfect place to build new connections and nurture existing ones.
While this is likely the time that you’re eager to chat with good friends, if you make time for new conversations who knows where they might lead? Make a point of introducing yourself to at least one or two new faces, or perhaps one or two that you know by reputation but have never had the opportunity to speak with face to face.
If you shy away from chatting a bit about your work, and asking others about theirs, you’ll never know that baseball coach knows a parent who works at XYZ company, or that the friend of your friend works in the industry that interests you for your next career move.
Lay the groundwork for future chats in January, and these people may be willing to help you connect when you follow up!
Even One Conversation Can Yield ROI
When it comes to holiday networking, while you don’t have to devote 100% of your time to new connections, even if you commit to just one or two new conversations at each, you’ll be growing your network and making ties that may extend well into the new year.
From a daytime lunch to an evening holiday party, a neighborhood open house to a sit-down holiday dinner, these gatherings are more plentiful than ever during the month of December, and are a wonderful opportunity to make new connections, build new relationships and grow others.