The holiday season is a very sociable time of the year and a great time to strengthen and expand your professional network. With little effort, you can meet a large number of interesting people over the holidays while attending your company’s holiday party, social events with professional associations, celebrations with friends and family, or even your kids’ school events. Networking outside of the workplace can provide a natural platform to connect. People tend to be more festive and therefore more friendly this time of year, so take advantage of these events as an opportunity to meet new people, to develop and deepen your connections with colleagues in less-pressured setting, and to personally thank those who have been supportive or helpful to you throughout the year.

Preparation: Invest time in preparing how you want to present yourself before attending a networking event to ensure a positive first impression. What you say when you approach an unfamiliar colleague or meet someone new sets the tone for the entire conversation. Prepare your personal “Elevator Pitch” to include who you are and a clear and concise description of what you do, and possibly, what you are looking to do in the next phase of your career.

Build Connections: When first introduced to someone, show genuine curiosity in their lives, interests and careers. Actively listen to the advice and information that the person is sharing. Cultivate current relationships by adding value for the other person. Find a way to assist them with information or a connection to create and/or maintain a mutually beneficial relationship. Keep the conversations going by asking open-ended questions and focusing on commonalities. Prepare a few interesting topics, insights on current events, and generic questions that will get others talking. Good networking is about connection, sometimes it is those unexpected connections that build the strongest relationships. Stay present and have an engaging conversation in order to leave someone with a great impression of you and an interest in speaking with you again.

Moderation: Alcohol typically flows freely at holiday parties and events, but do not indulge in too many drinks. Also, try not to arrive with an empty stomach. It is imperative that you keep your mind focused and put your best foot forward. Additionally, you should always have your right hand available to shake hands; therefore, it is best not to attempt to balance both food and drink at the same time. Never put yourself in a situation where you might leave a negative impression through inappropriate words or actions.

Exchange Information: Bring your business cards to the event, or use an app such as LinkedIn to request a connection instantly. Follow-up is key when it comes to holiday networking. Make a lasting impression by sending a quick note the following day saying something such as I enjoyed meeting you last night, and (this) was a great topic. Stay in touch periodically and continue to add value to the new relationship by following-up with relevant information or a great new contact for your connection.

With a little preparation and a bit of common sense, you can exponentially grow both your professional and personal networks this holiday season. Being prepared to network in any situation helps you to develop an interesting and diverse group of contacts. You never know who you can help and who can help you. Happy Holidays and Happy Networking!

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