By Dr. Ivan Misner & Ed Craine
The holiday party is a great time to meet people but… you should have a plan!
Everybody goes to parties, and the holiday season is full of them—from now through New Year’s Day. It’s also a business slowdown season for many of us who are not in retail. The holiday parties are NOT just a place for free food and drinks.
Holiday parties and other social mixers bring new opportunities to network, even more than the rest of the year. The holidays are times when we are more likely to see people in a social setting, and this setting definitely lends itself to building relationships.
But holiday parties, including professional and industry social events where you can network with people outside your business, can be an even better time to introduce yourself to a new contact or share a friendly conversation with someone you already
Most people think of networking only in traditional networking venues, such as the Chamber of Commerce, strong-contact referral groups like BNI®, and other business-oriented gatherings, such as your local NAMP chapter or Realtor association group. But that’s not using the power of networking to its fullest.
In order to make the most of “holiday party networking,” here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Honor the Event. This is really important! Make sure when networking at a holiday party – or any non-traditional networking event – that networking is supplementary to the reason people are there, so don’t treat it like a business mixer. Be aware of the primary focus. Don’t act as if you’re in the boardroom giving a presentation, keep it natural and leave them intrigued. The real emphasis must be on ‘finesse’ at a holiday party. Yes, it is a great networking opportunity – but, if you overtly sell, you may turn people off! (For example, you don’t need to overwhelm other guests with details about the greatest loan programs.)After all, it is a holiday.
- Be Prepared! If you’re going to hobnob, try to know whom you are talking to, what business they are with and what they’ve done this year with the organization. Use this info as a way to start a conversation. If you know some of the people who will be in attendance, do a Google search on them. Do some homework. Obviously, it will take a little extra research if there will be a diverse group of guests from various professions, rather than a mortgage lending-related audience with which you are more familiar. But you should at least be able to get some basic information on a few of the expected attendees.
- Ask Questions. Some suggestions: How did you start the business? How did you grow the business? How did you market the business? How is your referral business? What were some of the challenges with…? Have you read any good books lately? (My favorite is: How can I help you?
- Have a “Teaser” Topic Ready. Approaching the end of the year, every business wants their company to increase profits and performance in the New Year. Have an idea ready that describes how you can improve your sector in the coming year. Perhaps there are referral sources or other strategic partners, such as Realtors, title company reps or CPAs at the party. You might mention that you’ve been thinking about some mutually beneficial growth opportunities for 2012. (Word to the wise: Don’t give away the goose; set up a meeting to discuss the details.)
- Use this Introduction as a Segue for a Future Meeting. As mentioned above, you don’t want to “end” the conversation at the party. The end game here is to open the door for follow-up. You want to be able to connect with the person after the party, one-to-one. Let some of the people you meet at these parties know that you’d like to learn more about their business and that you’d like to meet them next year to learn more.
- Don’t Have More than a Couple Drinks. It’s a party, but it’s not YOUR party. You don’t want to be smelling of liquor when you approach the people you want to connect with. Impressions count. Make the right one.
- Be Confident of Your Value. If introducing yourself to an executive is an intimidating experience, as it is for some people, give yourself an informed pep talk. Before the event, make a list of the things you have done over the past year and understand how what you do may integrate into discussions. Once you’ve got this down, there’s no reason you shouldn’t feel good about yourself. Consider how what you’ve done can integrate with their interests.
You can network anywhere, anytime, and anyplace – including events where it might not at first occur to you to try it—and, paradoxically, it’s at these non-traditional networking settings where you’ll often get the most bang for your buck. Remember to honor the event and focus on making valuable connections – not short term transactions.
Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.
Ed Craine is a bestselling author, the publisher of Broker Banker, and has over 25 years experience as a loan originator.