How to Make the Most of This Holiday's Party Season Without Screwing Things up
First off, don't think of parties as networking opportunities. That's right. No networking.
From office parties and client lunches, to end-of-the-year industry dinners, the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for your calendar and your career. But it's always wise to see the wine glass as half full. Parties may be a place where everyone is in a joyful mood and where you have ample opportunities to build business relationships -- always key to propelling you and your company forward.
But be careful about the way you navigate those opportunities.
Here are six things every entrepreneur should know after sending that RSVP:
1. Shift your mindset.
Don’t think of holiday parties as networking opportunities. That feels so transactional, as though you’re expecting a quid pro quo from everyone you meet. Instead, retrain your brain to think of the event as chance to meet someone new and interesting; that way, your mood will shift and you will come across as more authentic.
Bonnie St. John, author of Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy, has written that changing your perspective or your beliefs has the power to change the consequences. Her tip: Just think the opposite thought. For example, instead of telling yourself, “I need to network at this party,” think, “I would love to meet someone interesting.”
“It seems so simple, but a little adjustment can trick our brains into seeing options that we were unable to conceive of before,” wrote St. John.
2. Be authentic.
"Authentic" is a word on repeat, for good reason. Everyone can see through someone who is pushing his or her own agenda or trying to “work the room” to do business. That's not smart.
Spending time with people and getting to know them better is the true catalyst for relationship-building. Use this fact at each event as a chance to really learn about the person in front of you. In a more casual, festive setting, you can find out what makes him or her tick. Judy Robinet, a networking guru and author, famously said: “Focus on the other person rather than on yourself. Everything you do signals who you are, and this signals that you have empathy.”
Ask about what’s going on with the other person, if he or she has a challenge you might be able to help with. Be sincere. It’s the business relationships that develop into personal friendships which have the most powerful impact on your career. Also remember: Being “authentic” doesn’t mean saying just anything that’s on your mind, it means being yourself and getting to know others in a true and candid manner.
3. Identify opportunities to be an advocate.
Think about a holiday party as an opportunity to identify ways you can be an advocate for someone else in the future. Taking an altruistic approach can help foster real connections. In a Johnson Cornell study of 165 lawyers, the study authors, all professors, found that “Attorneys who focused on the collective benefits of making connections ['Support my firm' and 'Help my clients'] rather than personal ones ['Support or help my career'] felt more authentic and less dirty while networking, were more likely to network and had more billable hours as a result.”
Being an advocate for others -- even introducing people with shared interests at the event -- can be incredibly rewarding. If you have the power to help someone improve his or her life, do it.
4. Be humble.
This one should be obvious, but it isn’t. Don’t snub people. Your sister’s boyfriend whom you long ago wrote off as boring may actually work at an agency that could be a good partner with yours. And your cousin? Her new job could be a potential client.
Besides, as the mingling maven Susan RoAnn has said: “If we don't mix, meet, and mingle, we miss the opportunity to build our base of contacts and networks.” Above all, don't take yourself too seriously and don't appear entitled to be there.
Nobody likes the person who thinks he or she is a big deal. Oftentimes, the most interesting people in a room are the ones with the smallest egos who are normally reserved. Remember, people want to help people they like. So, if you walk away leaving a bad impression, those at the event will not be interested in your email or call later down the road.
5. Follow up.
Most important, follow up -- don’t let the conversation go cold. Shoot an email, make a plan. You could have a great experience with someone, but if you don’t talk to him or her for four months, it’s harder to pick up again right away. Trying to maintain the connection and stay in touch and keeping someone at top of mind always builds deeper relationships.
That’s why having meaningful conversations is so important. If you recall that John loves paddle-boarding or that Jill is interested in fintech startups, when something relevant comes up, whether it’s an article about a topic you spoke about or an introduction, consider that something a natural opening to resume the conversation. Meet people you connected with for coffee after the event. Make friends and advocate for them.
Unfortunately, holiday parties are full of potential hazards. We’ve all seen the person at the company shindig who has had one too many and thinks that taking over the mic from the band for an impromptu karaoke showdown is a good idea (it’s not). Don’t be that person.
If you want to have a drink to be social, fine, but keep it at that. You want to be remembered for your conversation, not your behavior. The entrepreneurial world is a small one and reputation is everything.