Written by Allie Schratz, Editor of Business Review Australia
The last project has been submitted, the final I’s have been dotted, and one final email is making its way through the cyberweb. Rejoice! On to the holiday parties.
Many will take this opportunity to eat, drink and make merry on the company’s dime, toasting to another year come and gone.
Others, however, will look at the holiday season through entrepreneurial eyes, seeking out potential connections that may help further their careers along in the New Year.
“Holiday parties are a good way to get to know people on a personal level and begin building a relationship based on mutual respect and friendship rather than strictly business,” says Kim McGuinness, a Sydney-based networking mentor and Director of Network Central Australia.
So, how should you prepare for an evening of merry networking?
Before the Party
Pre-party etiquette is a crucial first step in the preparation process, and it starts with a simple RSVP.
“There’s been a big cultural shift where people RSVP, and then just can’t be bothered at the last minute,” says Lady Danielle Di-Masi, the Principal Click! Consultant and the former Resident Etiquette Expert on Channel Ten’s now defunct Breakfast morning show. “This needs to be eradicated, as it impacts the host’s planning in the end.”
Read: if you’ve RSVP’ed to the event, it is your responsibility to attend said event.
Dressing for the occasion is another important factor in the preparation process – and one that throws plenty of invitees. When the invite says “semi-formal,” should you select a garment from your workplace wardrobe, or go all-out with a formal dress or rented tuxedo?
“People specify attire because they want a certain standard for their event,” says Lady Di-Masi, who crafted a helpful attire guideline for Dynamic Business.
Finally, do some pre-party research. If you can find out who’s attending and which industries will be represented at the event, you’ll have more of an opportunity to strategise before you arrive.
“Prior to the event, brainstorm some relevant topics that can assist with ice-breakers and conversations – it could be something in the news, something your company is working on or something topical and industry-related,” says Nicole Haj, founder of InsideOut PR in Sydney.
Starting the Conversation
Walking into a room full of people – be they colleagues or complete strangers – is a daunting task that very few people are comfortable doing, and striking up a conversation is often an even bigger challenge.
“The initial introduction can be the most intimidating part of networking, and [it] all depends on how formal the event is,” says Ms Haj. “Introduce yourself with a smile and a handshake and include your name and the name of your company in the address. The other person will usually take your lead and do the same.
“The best way to make the conversation flow from there is to ask questions about their role, which will also open the door for ideas on how your businesses can work together in the future.”
If the event is being hosted by the company you work for, this is a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues across departments – even across the hall.
“Consider other departments within the company and make a point of introducing yourself and getting to know some people outside your own department,” says Ms McGuinness. “When you do meet these people, forget about work and find out about them, their family, their hobbies and what makes them tick. You may be surprised!”
As with most new experiences, confidence and open body language is the key to a successful conversation initiation: “There are always conversations to be had at the bar – it’s the most social part of the venue,” says Lady Di-Masi. “Just smile and ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’”
Business Cards: Keep Them Accessible
When the champagne is flowing and people are mingling about, it can be difficult to keep names and businesses straight over the course of the night – let alone the following morning. Is it a party faux pas to collect and distribute business cards in this type of setting?
“Never leave the house without your business cards, as you just never know who you’ll meet,” advises Ms Haj. “I think it’s absolutely fine to hand out your card, but do it at the end of the conversation rather than at the greeting. It can kill the informal mood.”
David Jones of David Jones Electricians agrees:“I actually make sure all my shirts have a top left pocket so I can easily access my card to exchange with someone.”
However, Mr Jones points out, don’t walk into the party expecting to hand out your contact information. “I never attend a party for the purpose of selling something; I genuinely enjoy meeting new people and building my network or friends and business associates,” says Mr Jones. “These opportunities and long lasting associations with people I have met have been the key to my business for 20 years.”
Don’t Be That Partygoer
There are two very different event scenarios during the holidays: one is a work function, and the other is your friend’s party. Keep in mind which one you’re attending.
“Unless it’s a friend’s party, you’re not there to relax,” says Lady Di-Masi. “You can make or break a professional relationship at Christmastime just as easily as you can in June.”
To maintain tact in the professional event environment, remain mindful of your cocktail consumption. “You are better off starting with the non-alcoholic stuff first, as the night can go downhill fast if you don’t,” says Ms McGuinness.
Make sure you’re remembered for the right reasons by keeping your breath in check.
“Always have mints handy,” Mr Jones advised. “After a few drinks and canapés, there is nothing worse than striking up a conversation with someone with offensive breath!”