As the holidays approach, we can expect social get-togethers like friendsgivings, ugly sweater holiday parties, and even family gatherings. They are all chances to get caught up on everyone’s lives and spend some quality time. But what most people don’t realize is that these are also opportunities to network!
Maybe it’s the career girl in me, but I treat every social event as a networking opportunity for myself. I want to work smarter, not harder – and I think most people aim for that too. And believe it or not, the people you know (or don’t know) can open doors for you that you didn’t even think were possible. Simply talking about what’s happening in your life or saying where you work can peak an interest in someone else and can spark a conversation. Everyone knows someone and that someone could be just the person to help you reach the goals you’ve set out for yourself. Or, you could just be the person to help them! You just never know until you put yourself out there, shake someone’s hands, or hand them your business card.
So, are you ready to start treating the social events you go to as networking opportunities?
Bring Business Cards
It may seem corny in today’s day and age where everything is digital, but business cards are still relevant – trust me. (Read this post if you don’t believe me.) I went to a jewelry party a few weeks ago where I was asked for my business card and let me tell you, I was sure glad to have one handy! Yes, it can be easier to just whip out your phone and ask for someone’s phone number or Instagram handle, but it’s so much more professional when you hand over a business card. It will set you apart, show you mean business, and leave a lasting impression.
The best part of business cards too is they keep you top of mind. After the party or social gathering has ended, that person you gave your card to will find it in their coat pocket or in their purse and boom! They remember the conversation they had with you.
Approach New People
Be open to meeting new people. There may be parties you go to where you know barely anyone or maybe you know almost everyone but a few people. Make an effort to go up and introduce yourself to the people you don’t know. I know, I know, it can be scary and awkward. But I’m encouraging you to pull yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit here. You have the confidence and personal skills to do it!
It’s not to say that every conversation and every new person you meet is going to go well. But you never know until you try, right? That person could eventually become your new best friend, resource to getting a new job, or be the one to help you excel in your career. Oh, the possibilities.
Have Open Body Language
I think we often forget about body language because it’s one of those unspoken things. But body language is so, so important. When you go to social events, you want to ensure you have open body language with everyone, but especially when you are meeting someone new.
Make eye contact with the person you are speaking with to show you are genuinely interested in them and what the two of you are talking about. Lean in slightly – not just because it may be loud at the party, but also because leaning in shows that you are engaged in the conversation. Avoid crossing your arms and legs as that shows you as being closed off. And lastly, don’t forget to smile! 🙂 A smile is basically a sign of welcomeness and warmness. And best of all, a smile will trigger a natural response for the other person to smile back at you too!
Ask Questions & Find Commonalities
My favorite part of meeting someone or catching up with one of my friends is to ask questions. Asking questions is the starting point of opening the door of possibilities. As we all know, people love to talk about themselves. I try to make the person I’m speaking with feel as comfortable as possible, so I ask them questions about their life, where they work, how they got started in their career, and what they like to do in their free time. And then, I listen intently. As you get the other person to start talking, you can begin to find commonalities between the two of you. Those commonalities will ultimately keep the conversation going.
Just this past Sunday at the friendsgiving I attended, I was conversing with the founder of Swirl & Sparkle, Marii, and asking what she’s been up to. She was telling me about some events she had planned around Chicago the next few weeks and then so nicely asked me to attend. One of those events aligns well with my brand and what I’m aiming to achieve with Lipstick & Ink (commonality!). If I hadn’t approached her and asked those questions, who knows what would have happened! By going to this upcoming event, I will be introduced to even more new women that I maybe wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s all about growing your network, friends!
Take Advantage of the Follow-Up
After you’ve left the party, make sure you follow-up! I realize that seems super formal and like you were on a job interview, but the power of the follow-up is real. Maybe you really connected with someone and you just want to meet them for coffee and pick their brain. Text them! Maybe you just want to follow them on social media for now for future potential opportunities. Follow them! Maybe you want to create a more professional relationship if the person is going to help push your resume along at their company. Email them! Pick whatever works best for you.
Exemplify Patience & Gratitude
As they say, networking is a little like dating. Like any relationship, you have to allow it grow. Don’t blatantly ask for something from someone without getting to know them first. It’s important to be patient. Know that most people are willing to help, but you still need to do the work and know that what you’re aiming for may not happen right away. But whenever that person does meet you halfway or even more than halfway, be sure to thank them!
It could be too that it may be your turn to help someone first. What’s great about networking is that it should come full circle. You help someone and then someday down the line, they will help you or introduce you to someone who can help you. Ah, the beauty of networking.
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.