Opinion: Survival guide to holiday networking

How to survive end-of-year networking events, holiday parties and receptions.

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7 ways to make the most of business parties

The season of end-of-year networking events, holiday parties and receptions has already started. Here’s your guide to surviving and thriving through the busiest connecting time of the year.  

1. A short show is better than a no-show

The holidays offer some of the most active networking opportunities, but for most people it’s also the most hectic time for family and friends. Many people say no to invitations because they are worried it will consume too much time: “A whole evening—I can’t do it!” Or they face the conundrum of a number of invitations all on one night. Our advice: if a client or customer has invited you to an event, show up even if you can only spend 30 minutes. Make sure you use the time at the event to network effectively. 

  • Say hello to as many people as you can. Don’t get trapped in a conversation.
  • Seek out the host and thank him or her for the invitation.
  • Let the host know that it was important for you to stop by, even though you have another commitment—and yes, this commitment could simply be decorating gingerbread cookies with your kids.

2. If it’s a plus-one event

If the invitation says bring a guest, do so. It’s a nice touch if you can provide the name of your guest to the organizer beforehand. That way when you arrive at the registration table, your guest will also have a pre-printed name tag. It also saves someone from having to get out a felt pen and make a handwritten tag. If you’re hosting an event, it’s the perfect time of year to ask people to bring a guest because it’s more celebratory and less businessy than other times of the year.

3. Make your guest comfortable

If you bring your partner or spouse to a client or customer holiday party, be an awesome tag teammate. Introduce your tag teammate to others using the Glowing Introduction™. Avoid getting stuck at the bar chatting with someone while your tag teammate waits for their glass of wine. Be an attentive wingman or woman.

4. Avoid eating and greeting

There’s always “something going around” during the holidays, and all the mingling and munching can be a bad combination. Here’s a simple solution—don’t eat and greet at the same time. This healthy networking tip is pretty self-explanatory, but there’s another reason to avoid the juggling act of canapés-wine-handshake. Think how liberated you’ll feel if you can go to an event and circulate with your hands free, or at least one hand free. Save the rum balls–and–shortbread cookie raid for your visit to the relatives.

5. Keep your wits about you

The fact that your company provides transportation to get employees and guests home from the holiday party doesn’t give you complete freedom to go crazy at the tequila bar. It may seem like a good idea at the time, especially if the culture at your workplace is that parties are always epic, but you may regret it the next day. Your career will thank you.  

6. Do it yourself

No matter how many, or how few, parties and receptions you’re invited to, why not be a connector and organize a holiday get-together? You don’t have to pay the bill—you’re simply the coordinator. If possible, find a restaurant with a private dining room so your group can interact more easily. Have a set menu with a fixed price (including the tip), and tell people the cost upfront. What you will find is that if you do it once, you’re probably starting a tradition. It’s a great way to choose who to connect with at your annual event.

7. Know when to bring a gift

If you’re invited to a private home, bring a gift for the host or hostess. Wine is always good, but you can stand out from the crowd if you make a little extra effort. Find a cool small gift or bring a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Corner store poinsettias are never a good idea, sorry.

This is the perfect time to follow up with people. You don’t need a reason: the season is the reason!

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, Judy Thomson and Darcy Rezac, principals of Shepa Learning Company, are keynote speakers and authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Penguin/Prentice Hall). They teach the skills of networking and communication to corporate clients, universities and business associations. Please sign up for their free weekly networking tipit’s always under 200 words.