‘Tis the season to be jolly … and network!

by Natalie Labossière

The holiday season is a time for gathering and celebrating with family and friends, as well as workplace colleagues. A lot of us are decking the office halls with boughs of bling and holly for the occasion. Here at Tait, the office has been decorated for weeks as our social committee joyfully stirred up anticipation amongst staff for this year’s Christmas party.

Just a few days before the party I was dusting off my favorite holiday wear and I was having conflicting emotions. One part excitement—I get to wear my bling! And one part dread—I dread the nervousness I feel around social events. I fight this feeling because I know a holiday party is a great opportunity to connect with new people.

Are you also a reluctant networker? Why not just forget about networking and enjoy the evening, right?

No matter who you are and what your line of work is, you need relationships. Isn’t it good to know you have a network to tap into when you ask yourself: Who can help me in a crunch? Who knows someone I may need to talk to (or knows someone who knows someone…)? Who can circulate information for me? Our relationships are our best resource and we need to invest in them.

A Christmas party may be just the right opportunity to connect with potential partners, clients or employers, or simply to get to know your colleagues and staff, who are your internal clients and an important part of your network. A party that gathers professionals can be a great opportunity to get to know your community and take another step in the direction you want to take your life and your career.

First, you need to decide if that party is just that: an opportunity to connect with people in a meaningful way. Is it? Then it is a networking opportunity for you. There’s no need to change a fun socializing event into a chore! Here are a few tips on how to make that party your networking opportunity and still have a good time.

Prepare now to relax later. Beyond picking out your outfit and polishing that bling, your next step is deciding on your focus for the event. Keep in mind you want to create new meaningful connections. Your focus may be to meet two new people, for example. Or you may know that a certain person will be there and set your goal on meeting that person. Then, give some thought as to how you want to introduce yourself. Do you have your “elevator pitch” or your quick answer to “what do you do?” Come prepared with topics to discuss or experiences to share. Being prepared will help you relax.

Get into the mood. Take time to check your attitude before the party. Before heading out, make time to get some fresh air and exercise, or listen to that song that pumps you up and puts a smile on your face.

Make eye contact. This is the way we establish first contact, right? Sustained eye contact opens the way and generates trust. A smile puts others at ease. Look for eye contact and a nod from others: it is your signal to introduce yourself. Keep your right hand free to shake hands.

Learn to strike up conversations. Once you’ve met someone, start with asking what they do so you can learn about their work. Use open-ended questions. Listen to the answers and pull out information to keep the conversation going. Also remember the P’s of conversation to connect with a new person:

Profession: What is your line of work? …What brought you to this position?

Place: Where are you from? …I know this school there, is that where you did your program?

People: You mentioned family…how old are your children? …If you work in this field, you may know X or Y…?

Pleasure: Where’s the best coffee place in town? …You play sports in town—do you know where I could connect with people doing outdoor sports? …Sounds like you like to cook?

Passion: Did you see Jen and Bob’s sports paraphernalia in the next room? Are you passionate about something like that? …I love the outdoors, that is why I’ve come to this part of the world. Where do your passions and interests take you?

Listen more than you talk. Showing genuine interest gives the other party the signal that they can keep talking. That will help you establish a connection. Keep in mind most people like to talk about themselves and accomplishments they are proud of. This will help you get to know them, of course, but also getting to know more about all fields of work can help you build your confidence to talk and mingle.

Forget their name? Simply apologize and ask the other party to remind you. Get things back on track. Don’t worry that other party will be offended— it’s happened to them, too!

Don’t monopolize your new friend. You don’t want to come across as that gal or guy who just would not let go. It’s better to end a conversation before you’ve exhausted all topics. Find a courteous way to exit. Say you want to go to grab something at the snacks table or refresh your drink.

Enjoy yourself! You’ve broken the ice, you’ve gotten conversations going, you’ve made new connections. Relax and enjoy the company, the food, the music.

Remember that connecting with just one person means connecting with his/her whole network. Making meaningful connections is rewarding and pays off in so many ways for yourself and your workplace. It is the basis for building community and that is a win-win for everyone. That’s worth celebrating!

Best wishes for the holidays and for the new year!