The holiday season is here, and that means most of us will be doing a lot of networking, whether formally or informally, at office holiday parties, bar association events, family functions and get-togethers with friends, neighbors and colleagues.
While attending these festivities, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the spirit of the holidays is really all about giving to others and being thankful for our blessings. Keeping these seasonal sentiments in mind can improve your networking.
Be a giver: Focus on others and how you can help them
Successful networkers know that the basis of solid relationship building isn’t what you receive, but what you give. The real purpose of networking is to build solid relationships that provide value to both parties. Bring the spirit of giving to your networking.
Approach networking and relationship building from a service perspective; think about how you might be of service to others, whether by offering them direct help, or by connecting them with resources to help their business grow or to solve a problem they are experiencing.
Ask about others before you talk about yourself. Find out what they need most, what their biggest challenges are, or how you might help them. Instead of approaching events with the main goal of making connections to help you in your professional career, change your approach to concentrate on how you can help others who are attending the event. Invite them to accompany you to an event where they can meet others who might help them professionally, or offer to make direct introductions.
Attend events with a friend or colleague and work the room by seeking out those individuals who would be good leads for your friend and then making introductions. It is often easier to talk about others than it is to talk about yourself, so why not make the event all about your colleague? Instead of worrying about how you will talk about yourself and what you do, concentrate on talking about your colleague and what they have to offer. Let them do the same for you; not only will this make networking less awkward, but it will help you get to know your friend or colleague and their needs even better.
Be mindful of the people who are standing by themselves. Introduce yourself and start a conversation. You’ll be helping them to feel less awkward and they will be grateful for your attention, and you’ll make a new connection.
Listen at least as much as (or more than) you talk. People love to talk about themselves, and the more you know, the more you can help. Listening allows you to find out about others’ needs and address what you can do for them and how you can benefit them – whether directly through the services that you provide, or by putting them in touch with others who can help them if you can’t.
Ask open-ended questions, like those a journalist would ask, using who, what, when, where, why and how. For example, ask how they got started in their business or what they enjoy most about what they do. Especially at the holidays, don’t make it all about business. Ask people where they will be spending the holidays, what special holiday traditions they observe, or what they are most looking forward to in the New Year.
Remember personal details from your conversations – make notes on the back of business cards or in your smartphone for future reference. Stay focused on the person you’re talking to; don’t look around the room to see who else is there or who you would like to speak with next.
Networking isn’t all about cocktail parties and events – it’s about keeping in touch with existing clients and referral sources in other ways, too. One of the most powerful spirits of the holidays is the spirit of gratitude, and particularly at the holidays, this spirit should infuse your networking. Instead of pre-printed holiday greetings, send handwritten note to your best clients and referral sources thanking them for their business throughout the year. If you’ve attended a holiday event, send a personal thank you note to the organizer thanking them for the invitation. Take a minute to give thanks to those who run community or other groups you participate in throughout the year expressing your appreciation for all of the work they do. Re-connect with former clients, referral sources and others by calling them for the holidays just to say hello.
Finally, remember that networking – especially during the holidays – is meant to be enjoyable, so relax and have fun. Happy Holidays!