The season for holiday parties has arrived.   Leaving aside family events and work group activities, entrepreneurs tend to look upon such events as an opportunity for a combination of fun and celebration together with a chance for additional networking that will result in potentially profitable business connections.

My own experience and observations are that the better the chance for good networking the more fun the event turns out to be.  None of this happens automatically.

How to do you make the most of the networking possibilities—or even decide if an event is worth attending?  The suggestions below—which can also make sense all year long—are offered to help make your holiday events more enjoyable and your time more productive.

  • Beforehand, go through the list of registrants, if possible.  For some events, the names and affiliations of those planning to attend will be distributed.
  • Select from registrants those who might be interesting to meet as valuable connections, business or otherwise—or who you might enjoy helping in some way.
  • If no one looks interesting to meet, do not go or do not stay long.
  • Plan to meet two or three new people, and when you arrive search them out.
  • Bring your calendar—either on mobile phone or printed from computer.
  • Bring business cards—I am shocked at how many people fail to do this at networking events.
  • Greet those you already know well or see often, but do not spend too much time with them as a way of avoiding the anxiety of making new contacts.
  • Beforehand, find or create something interesting or stimulating to share that is related to your interests or business activities.  This could be some major wins or roadblocks you face.
  • Beforehand, think of some original questions to ask that will stimulate conversation and demonstrate your genuine interest in the other person.
  • Prepare carefully your answer to the question, “What do you do?”  The best answers tell what results you get for whom and stimulate further questions, such as, “How do you do that?”
  • Consider having a backup sports or popular news story to discuss—while avoiding at the outset the usual topics that are considered too controversial or inflammatory.  Just don’t assume everyone shares your interests.
  • Look for opportunities to gather signups for your regular updates or newsletters.
  • Appear approachable—a smile and eye contact are usually all it takes.
  • Get a commitment for coffee from at least one interesting person—“On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested would you be in meeting for coffee?”
  • Plan how to get away from the bores diplomatically, graciously, and quickly.  Don’t be condescending about it.  Remember, each of us is a bore to someone and maybe to many.  Also, some otherwise fascinating people can sometimes appear boring because they are apprehensive, feel out of place, and need someone to be welcoming, listen and be interested.
  • Don’t ask yes or no questions that will make you look good but the other person potentially embarrassed, such as, “Have you read Chris Voss’s new book on tough negotiations?”
  • Think of how you would like to be remembered by those you speak with—e.g., “A mature, confident, trusted adviser to whom entrepreneurs can comfortably speak as a peer and feel that they are genuinely cared about.”  Prepare to act accordingly.
  • Listen and observe carefully and look for ways to say something supportive or helpful.  For example, after several minutes of conversation, you could ask, “What is one challenge you face on which you would like three ideas for going forward?”
  • If the other person in conversation appears uninterested, change the subject to what they want to talk about.  If they still appear uninterested, thank them for the time and move on.
  • Remember that few people are as comfortable, enthusiastic or confident as they try to appear to be and that few feel that their time is being well spent.  A little humor, candor, and avoidance of all the old clichés of networking can make you a very refreshing person to speak with.
  • When done with the event—meaning there is nothing more you can gain or contribute—depart without looking disappointed or disgusted.
  • Have something else to look forward to after the event.  It helps make your departure look more cheerful and lessens the chances of your staying too long and appearing to have nothing better to do than nurse a drink.
  • By the way, if you drink, don’t overdo the booze as a way of handling nervousness, even if there is an open bar.  You will be less nervous if you enter prepared, as described above.

Perhaps this can all be summed up by saying: at networking parties, don’t waste your time, and don’t make it all about you—also look for ways to contribute to others.

Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and whatever other holiday event you may be celebrating!