Networking Strategies for the HolidaysHoliday parties mean much more than free food and fun. They also can bring entrepreneurs a host of new opportunities to network and build relationships.

Most people think of networking only through the traditional venues, whether chamber of commerce events, business contact referral groups, or online sites such as LinkedIn. But holiday parties, including professional and industry social events where you can network with people outside your business, can be an even better time to introduce yourself to a new contact or share a friendly conversation with someone you already know.

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To make the most of holiday party networking, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be prepared. Try to learn in advance the names of people you will likely chat with, their jobs and their recent accomplishments. You will need to do a little homework, perhaps a Google search and a look at their LinkedIn or Facebook pages. Use the information you glean to break the ice.
     
  • Ask good questions. From the CEO to intern level, people love to talk about themselves. Here are some suggested conversation starters: How did you get started? What were some of the challenges with. . . ? Have you read any good books lately? My favorite is: How can I help you?
     
  • Have a "teaser” topic ready. Approaching the end of the year, every business executive is thinking about how to increase profits and performance in the new year. Have an idea ready that describes the steps you'd take to improve your networking contact's business. Make this research part of the homework you do ahead of time. But don't give away the goose; save the details for a later conversation.

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  • Don't have more than a couple of drinks. It's a party, but you don't want to smell of liquor or be too relaxed when you approach people you want to connect with. Impressions count. Make the right one.
  • Be confident of your value. Introducing yourself to an executive can be an intimidating experience, so give yourself a pep talk before the party. Make a list of your accomplishments over the past year and figure out how you might weave them into conversations. Once you've got that down, you should feel good about yourself.
  • Use the introduction to segue to a future meeting. You don't want to end your chat at the party. The endgame here is to open the door for a follow-up meeting one-to-one. But remember that a party is a social gathering, so keep it natural and leave them intrigued.
     
  • Honor the event. This is really important. Make sure that when networking at a holiday party -- or any nontraditional networking event for that matter -- you don't treat it like a business mixer. Show finesse. Yes, it is a great networking opportunity, but if you overtly sell, you may turn people off. After all, it is a holiday.

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