Christmas Season Networking for Introverts

Hello! Last week, we talked about how to network during the Christmas season and the meet & greet suggestions focused on attending parties and finding networking opportunities there.  This week, I propose that we revisit the Christmas season topic from a different perspective and explore how to network when the party scene is either not convenient or undesirable. This week, I’ll network with the introverts.

You may have noticed that I’m an extrovert by nature.  I love a good party.  I’m writing the first draft of this post on Friday December 1 and at a few minutes past 6:00 this evening, I will walk into a party and inaugurate my holiday season.

I’ll attend another party on Saturday afternoon at the branch library where I’m a board member and to round out the weekend, I’ll join the festivities at my neighborhood tree trimming party on Sunday afternoon at 4:00.  I’ll attend another three or four parties through December,  but I don’t expect any of them to be a networking bonanza.  All are social and that’s OK with me.

But be advised that in between holding glasses of wine I’ll do some targeted networking to support the roll-out of my newest content marketing service and I will not be in extrovert mode when I do.  The style of networking that I’ll employ as I prepare to beta test and launch the service I’ve been refining since September requires me to adopt the introvert mode.

Networking at parties is a subtle art.  It’s a turn-off when at social events some hyper-ambitious extrovert wrestles as many people as possible into participating in unsolicited business discussions, in a misguided attempt to find clients.  Introverts intuitively know that such behavior is a major faux pas.

So I’ll wear my introvert’s hat and email or call a short list of colleagues and good friends to propose that we get together soon. “It’s Christmas. Let me treat you!” I’ll reach out early this month, but won’t mind if we meet in January.  The two of us can catch up, compare notes and talk a little business.  I’ll broach the subject of my new service and describe how it can benefit the client’s business. “I’m looking to get this thing going quickly and I need referrals.  Is there someone at your company who might be interested? Who do you know at other B2B companies?”

We’ll figure out a strategy as we have a nice, uninterrupted talk that is free from blaring music, loud voices and friends plopping down in adjacent chairs, looking to join our conversation.  Extroverts get all of the attention when it comes to the subject of networking, yet introverts may have the inside track when it comes to relationship building and reaping benefits from their networking efforts.

Introverts know that a room full of chattering people balancing plates and drinks is a less than ideal environment for getting to know anyone beyond the surface gloss.  They feel most comfortable in small groups, where they can relax and get beyond superficial attempts at communication and that is why they can be so successful.

When an introvert does attend a party, s/he is likely to approach the girl or guy who’s sitting alone, to make some friendly small talk that might develop into a real conversation.  They often know how to make others feel included and welcome, in the most genuine sense.  That is the essence of networking and relationship building and it can be very profitable.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Five O’ Clock Tea, Mary Cassatt (1880)                                                                   Courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts  Boston, MA

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Christmas Party Networking: What Would Santa Do?

Holiday season is here, hooray!  OK, maybe not hooray for everyone.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Those who do sometimes feel pressured to spend more money and time on gifts and activities than they’d like, all the while projecting a façade of holiday cheer, in order to avoid disappointing others.  But the season is what it is and it’s not going to change.  If you can talk yourself into the right frame of mind, it’s probably possible to get something more valuable out of Christmas than 10 extra pounds and a stack of bills to pay.  Let’s talk about it.

Holidays mean parties and parties are about renewing and creating relationships.  If you go to the right parties you will have a good time, if you let yourself.  So why not go for it and make the holidays work for you?

Christmas party invitations will slip into your inbox and give you decisions to make.  Chances are you will not have the time, energy, or money to accept all of your invitations.  One way to plan your December calendar is to divide your party possibilities into business and social categories and edit from there.

It might be most enjoyable for you to attend a mix of business related and social occasions, to promote a healthy work-life balance for yourself.  Social invitations can be ranked according to your relationship with the host.  You’ll be happy to turn out for a party given by a dear friend or favorite cousin with a bottle of wine or some other host gift in hand, because you are a good friend and a good guest.  If you are a member of a social organization, you may choose to attend that party as well.

Professional association parties require a more carefully crafted strategy, because networking with the goal of identifying someone with whom you can create a potentially profitable business relationship will be on your mind.  Which parties are likely to offer good networking opportunities along with an atmosphere that makes it fun to catch up and schmooze with colleagues? There will be an admission charge and cash bar.  Where might you get the best value-added? Ask yourself two questions and evaluate your choices:

  1. Who are my best business prospects?

To which industries do you sell your products and/or services? Are your customers B2B, B2C, or B2G, for-profit or not-for-profit, small, medium or Fortune 1000? What are the job titles of the decision-makers and key influencers?

     2.   Where might I meet those prospects?

If your customers are small businesses, then chambers of commerce or neighborhood business associations are good places to find business owners, who are the decision-maker for all important products and services.

If your customers are Fortune 1000 or even prosperous mid-size businesses, you’ll be better off joining a committee or the board of a not-for-profit organization, or exploring service clubs such as the Kiwanis or Rotary Club, which are hubs for professionals who want to volunteer their services.  You will be much more likely to find decision-makers at the philanthropic organizations.  Invest your time and talent and get to know potential prospects and referral sources as you demonstrate your competencies and leadership skills through the service work that you do.

If networking is your purpose for attending a party, you’ll have more success meeting people when you go alone.  You’ll be forced to introduce yourself and talk with others and in so doing, you’ll meet people whom you may not have met if you brought along your spouse, good friend, or colleague.

Nearly all party invitations are now sent by Evite and that gives guests the huge advantage of seeing who has signed up to attend.  Otherwise, if you have the right relationship, call the host to RSVP by phone and tactfully inquire about the guest list.  Don’t be ashamed to perform an internet and social media search to help yourself prepare talking points and questions for guests you’d like to reconnect with or meet.

Finally, figure out the party dress code.  A Sunday afternoon tree trimming party at the home of friends or family means relaxed business casual attire.  Wear business attire to professional association parties, which are nearly always held on a week night. Gatherings at someone’s home or at a social organization on a Friday or Saturday evening can mean that guests will wear anything from black-tie to more relaxed, yet festive attire.

Now, go check your email!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Roman Sarcophagus (detail), 240-260 BC    Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  Kansas City, MO

 

A Fail-Safe Christmas Party Strategy

Christmas party season is here, bringing Freelancers and business owners opportunities to become their own Santa Claus and put some new clients under the tree.  Christmas is the time to pick up the thread with clients past,  nurture relationships with clients of the present and meet clients you’d like to add to your roster in the near future. To make that happen,  you know that you’ll need a game plan.

First,  go to your parties alone.  Under no circumstances do you need to drag someone along with you, unless that person is required to get you into a party where you can expect to meet prospective clients,  or that person promises to introduce you to a good prospect while there.  Even that arrangement can be risky— a few years ago I was invited to what should have been a networking bonanza for me,  except that my friend wound up getting very drunk and even worse,  he reneged on bringing me into a post-party meeting with someone who could have been very helpful to me.

Second,  confirm the dress code.  A weekend party held after 6:00 PM will imply fancier dress and maybe even black-tie optional.  If you are the  +1 (guest),  ask your contact to send you the invitation.  If s/he does not do so,  then call the party organizer and inquire.  You do not want to show up improperly dressed,  even if your contact claims not to care about such things.

Men should wear a jacket,  even if a suit is not required.  Women should avoid too-short or too-tight clothing and revealing necklines.  Jeans or leather pants are out of the question for either sex,  unless your host is in the arts or tech.

Third,  ask who is on the guest list,  if you can do so casually and diplomatically.  Present your request as a way to find out if you’ll know others in the room.

Fourth,  polish up your short-form elevator pitch and think about how you might approach guests that you’d like to meet or reconnect with.  You may want to Google a name and find out what that person has been doing,  so you’ll know what to “spontaneously” bring up.

However,  be mindful that pushing business topics will be a turn-off,  unless the other person raises an issue.  Focus instead on scheduling post-party follow-up with selected people who would like to know more about your products and services.

While at the party,  greet and thank your hosts straight away,  before you visit the bar or buffet.  After that relax,  mix and mingle.  Brainstorm some friendly ice-breakers that will open the door to conversation (“How do you know [the hosts]?”)  Eating and drinking are party highlights,  but take it easy with the drinking.  I recommend that you have not more than one drink and then switch to a non-alcoholic beverage.  You must be sober to successfully work your networking agenda.

Moreover,  you’ll also need to master the drink and hors d’oeuvres plate juggle.  Hold your drink in your left hand,  so that you can shake hands easily and not give a cold,  damp greeting.  Likewise,  eat your hors d’oeuvres with the left hand,  so you don’t offer a sticky handshake.

Finally,  pay attention to the ebb and flow of guests.  Unless you’re in a serious conversation  when their number begins to fade,  find your hosts,  thank them for the invitation and take your leave.  There is an optimum time to arrive  at and leave a party.  Arriving 15- 20 minutes after the start time is usually good.  The next day,  send a quick email to thank the host once more.  After all,  a good party is a wonderful thing and you want to get invited back next year!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Your B2B Christmas Party Networking Guide

The Christmas season is an excellent time to meet potential clients.  Many organizations would like to put projects into motion when January comes around and more decision-makers than you may realize are on the lookout for a Freelance consultant to help their department achieve important goals.  Do what you can to attend those that appear to have potential for good networking.  You may receive an invitation to a party where you know only the host.  Don’t shy away.  Accept and devise a winning game plan to see you successfully through what might otherwise be an awkward clunker of an evening.

Call the host  (do the Evite as well if that was sent)  to personally RSVP and express thanks for the invitation.  Tactfully inquire about the guest list  (you can also check on Evite and ask for intros while at the party)  and proper dress for the occasion,  so that you will know what to expect.  Knowledge is power and power brings self-confidence.  Tell the host that you look forward to meeting the other guests and ask him/her to introduce you to anyone on your personal VIP list.  Right away,  you’ll make the host happy because you’ve identified yourself as a good guest.  Tip: since your purpose for attending is looking for your next client,  go alone.  The last thing you need is a friend who could detract from your agenda or take over a conversation that is going well for you.

At the party,  fulfill that expectation by taking on the role of facilitator.  Do your best to be  (appropriately)  friendly and authentic.  Have the courage to extend yourself and greet people,  especially those who are alone.  They will be grateful that you’ve rescued them.  When in conversation,  allow the other person to talk about themselves.  After introducing yourself and offering up some pleasantries about the nice party that you’re both at,  “How do you know  (the host)?”  is a great ice-breaker.  A general question about holiday plans— at home or traveling?— is a nice follow-up.

Practice the art of mingling.   When conversation seems to hit a dead-end with one person,  excuse yourself to refill your plate or your drink  (Hint: 3 drink limit,  do not overdo) and find someone else to talk to.  Do not intrude upon conversations that appear to be private.  At the party,  remind the host of whom you would like to meet.  When meeting your VIPs,  resist the temptation of promoting yourself.  If you know something of the guest list in advance,  search LinkedIn or Twitter to get a career update,  so that you can  “serendipitously”  ask questions that will allow your wish-list guest to talk about him/herself and make yourself look wonderful in the process.

Use the 80/20 Rule and cede 80 % of the conversation to the other person and spend 20 % talking about your own life and business  (unless the VIP really wants to know).  If it seems appropriate,  suggest post-party contact and do a card exchange.  Ask for a good time to call/email—December or January?

Leave social media out of the party.  Do not even think about posting a photo on Facebook or Instagram.  Do not invite a VIP or anyone else you’ve just met to join your LinkedIn network.

Finally,  knowing when to arrive and exit a party are important social skills.  Especially when you do not know anyone on the guest list beyond the host,  arrive at 6:30 PM for a 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM affair,  so that you will have several people to talk to.  Unless you are in a good conversation with follow-up potential,  make your exit  (thanking the host on the way out)  when 25 % – 35% of the crowd has departed.  You want to be present when the party is at its peak.  Now go and check your email and look for invitations!

Thanks for reading,

Kim