‘Tis the season for networking! While many see the holidays as some time off from the hustle and bustle of work, smart event planners also take advantage of unique networking opportunities that arise at this time of year. Sure, the holiday season can be super busy and stressful, but it’s also a celebratory time; people are out and about, socializing in different spaces and venues. There are opportunities to meet people you wouldn’t normally have occasion to mingle with. Since event planning is such a diverse, creative field, you don’t have to limit your networking contacts to people in your niche, or even your industry. Holiday events bring a variety of people and talent together. So whether you’re looking for sales leads, new business contacts, or a new client niche, now is the time to hit the streets dressed to impress (with specific networking goals in mind).
This goes without saying, but it’s still a good place to start. There’s something about this season that makes people want to let loose and indulge in all manner of merriment, but you’re going to have to contain yourself. Luckily, event planners are creative people who know how to have fun without indulging in too much drinking or debauchery, which can obviously put off potential contacts. So keep it professional, but don’t forgo having fun. After all, in this age of experiential marketing, being genuine, enjoying oneself, and sharing your passion is the most effective way to network.
Be Choosy, But Keep an Open Mind
While it’s typical to hear that you shouldn’t turn down any holiday invitations, this isn’t necessarily true. If you’re brand new to the industry, and your main goal is just to meet people, make some useful contacts, and learn a few things, it might be a good idea to accept whatever invitations come your way. But the last thing you want to do is burn yourself out before the season is in full swing. The point of networking is to make genuine connections based on your shared passions and desire to learn from one another. Collaborations are much more effective when they’re genuine. It just makes sense. Are you more likely to remember someone whom you genuinely liked and felt an intellectual connection with, or someone who was obviously going through the motions?
Set Goals...and Achieve Them Your Way
Okay, we get it. The term “goals” isn’t traditionally synonymous with “fun”, especially during the holidays. But as an enterprising event planner emerging onto the industry scene during the holidays, it’s time to change that perspective! Setting goals is only half the fun- the rest is in achieving them. And this season, most of what you need to do is arrive on the scene and let your personality dazzle. If you think you don’t have natural charm, think again- everyone does. Yes, everyone. The important thing to remember is to be yourself.
The holidays are an opportunity to express yourself creatively, too. If you love to express yourself through fashion and the clothes you wear, don’t be afraid to turn the holiday scene into your personal runway...within reason. If you’re a fashion connoisseur, dress in a way that’s classy and trendy or artistic at the same time. (Think pantsuits and mismatches, which are big on elegance and personality). If you love party dresses, keep it gorgeous and classy. If you’re not sure what to wear, start by knowing exactly what impression you want to make on potential business contacts. And then give it your own unique flair.
Alright- now that we’ve had a wardrobe debriefing, let’s focus on your goals. It’s a good idea to sit down and make a list of two to three goals you hope to accomplish over the holiday networking season. For example, is your goal to generate sales leads, reach a niche audience, or connect with someone who can teach you more about a new technology? Whatever your goals, keep them in mind when you attend holiday events, which are also networking events (at least for event planners and entrepreneurs). If there is someone in particular with whom you want to connect, be sure to do some research on this person. If you know a potential contact’s background, niche, or current interests, you give the impression that your interest is genuine, and it saves time- you can more quickly get to the point.
When you’re at a social event with no formal networking purpose, your approach might differ slightly. Although you should always start by making a genuine connection that flows naturally, at networking events, it’s easy to slide right into business talk. However, at a holiday or social event, taking this straightforward approach may be awkward, and give the impression that you’re only socializing to get ahead. Obviously, this seems insincere, and is more likely to push away than attract potential contacts. So instead, try a more casual approach. Once you get into conversation, you might say, “So I’ve heard about what your company doing right now”, or, “I’m really interested in learning more about your business”, ect. If you really want to make contacts that help you attain a new technology or skill set, you can express your desire to learn more about it. This way, you’re expressing a personal as well as professional interest. Speaking in a conversational manner about your work and theirs will naturally lead to your topics of interest.
Artists and entrepreneurs are very fluent in this kind of “language” that lends itself to networking. If anything, it shows you that networking is not a scientific code only some people know how to crack. It’s simply the art of engaging new people about a subject you’re passionate about or interested in. Once the conversation starts flowing, the give and take will come more naturally than you think- especially at a holiday party or event, when celebratory spirits tend to run high. Simply put, because holiday parties are meant for socializing and having a good time, people are more social. It’s what they came to do- even if they’re normally introverts.
Just be sure to ask for business cards or record important information you want to remember on your phone. No one will be the wiser. And don’t skip out on the follow-up; otherwise, your networking efforts will be for naught.
Tips for Turning Your Own Holiday Party into a Networking Event
Have you considered hosting your own holiday bash that doubles as a networking event? This option isn’t for everyone, every year- a lot of planning and expense goes into it, but in a networking context, the benefits are many. When it’s your party, you have the advantage of catering it toward the audience you want to attract, and you decide the guest list. This is a really great thing when you already have specific contacts in mind, and want to make a powerful first impression. What better way to show a potential contact who you are than to invite them into your own space? And we don’t necessarily mean your home, of course. Most holiday parties happen at a venue, which you can also choose based on the interests and preferences of your guest list.
When choosing a venue, there are several things to keep in mind. For practical reasons, you’ll want to make sure in a favorable location. Ask yourself: How easily will my guests be able to get there? Is there an ideal ridesharing spot that doesn’t hold up traffic and isn’t too far from the venue by foot? It’s also a good idea to choose a venue in an area your guests will enjoy. For example, if it’s near a popular shopping center, people can do some holiday shopping beforehand or afterward, depending on the time of your event. But also consider the traffic. Sometimes it’s best to pick a venue in a location near a smaller, charming or eclectic downtown area. This way, there will be plenty of novelty shopping- which people love- and not nearly as many bustling crowds.
Continue Conversations on Social Media
Part of follow-up means pursuing connections on social media and building on them. One easy way to do this, which you probably do anyway, is Instagram the events you attend. Post them with popular industry hashtags and be sure to use #holidayparty or #happyholidays to broaden your audience. Ask for the Instagram and Twitter handles of the people you meet, and get their Facebook or LinkedIn information. (LinkedIn is important; the networking you do on the site is specifically formatted to maximize your professional development and help you build on your connections).
Holiday events are more than aesthetically pleasing opportunities to post favorite outfits and show off all the parties you went to. But because they are aesthetically pleasing events with experiential value and appeal, sharing them attracts a big audience. Looking to reach a niche audience? As we mentioned before, attend events that are aligned with that audience, get into the mix, and socialize. The best way to become part of a new world is to step into it and integrate yourself by having fun. Then post your experiences across social media platforms, and start an open conversation on Instagram and Twitter. Instagram is especially ideal for long-winded, meaningful conversations that attract large niche audiences. Currently, lots of people are talking about sustainability, inclusion, women in tech, and entrepreneurship (to name just a few). The idea is to think of yourself and your followers as one big community- not just as influencers or personas and followers.
Needless to say, the holiday season naturally lends itself to networking on social media. Like we said, everyone is dressing up, sharing experiences, and networking. But the holidays also bring up many different emotions, both positive and negative. Considering the “authenticity” and “transparency” trends that are so popular at the moment, people are very interested in hearing real accounts of people’s holiday experiences. So now is the time to use storytelling to its best advantage. Does your brand have a good “rags to riches” story? (Don’t worry if it’s still in the “rags” stage- all the more relatable). Share the unique inspiration behind your brand; tell people on social media who you are, what you do, and how you do it differently than other brands.
When people you meet at parties follow you online, they’ll not only be excited to learn more from your profiles. They’ll also (at least subconsciously) want to feel the same genuine connection they felt in person. That’s why creating and maintaining a professional but authentic social media presence is so important, especially at this time of year. It gives the people you meet a deeper sense of who you are, and an ongoing way to connect with you personally and professionally.
We sincerely hope you enjoy your holiday season, and in doing so, make some exciting new connections for the new year!