“It's not what you know, it's who you know.”
Yes, networking. While fun and simple for some (and challenging for others), it’s an essential skill in today’s professional world. In fact, 80% of professionals consider networking important to career success.
Networking is a skill that requires us to listen, make small talk, find common areas of interest with someone else, and lay the foundation to build long-term relationships on the fly. For some, it comes naturally, but for others, it is very...uncomfortable and intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be! Understanding the value of networking is the first step.
Often people don’t want to network because they find it awkward or they need to hone their skills. However, practicing networking, especially during holiday parties and team building events, helps to:
Networking isn’t just for external-facing contacts. It’s equally, if not more, important to network internally - within your office and your virtual teams - to broaden your knowledge, upskill, and feel more connected. Strong internal networks have been shown to lead to:
Given McKinsey estimates we spend at least 20% of our work week looking for information, it’s fair to say strong internal connections can help create value for your company!
To improve your internal networking, first you need to take stock of your current connections and habits. Who do you socialize with at work? Are you working with any other teams? Do you go to office social events like holiday parties and brown bag lunches? Are you working virtually, but never turn your camera on? The list goes on.
Next, who do you wish you knew? Is there an area of the company you wish you knew more about? Who do you think could help you broaden your knowledge of the business? You might want to even consider asking a colleague or manager for some ideas of who you should get to know in the company.
Once you have a list (even if it’s short), make contact. You could send them an email or a Slack, ask a colleague for an intro, talk to them at your holiday party, or even just initiate conversation in the break room or at the start of a Zoom meeting. It can be an intimidating thought, but just the act of reaching out brings you one step closer to a stronger connection. And one that may ultimately benefit your teams and the company.
Another great way is to weave in networking opportunities in your broader team meetings. Maybe do an icebreaker (here are some ideas for fun activities that take less than 10 minutes), or get everyone to pair up and share what they like to do outside of the office. Or your management could even go so far as to schedule a monthly in-person or virtual coffee break with a focus on building internal connections. While it may not be one-on-one networking, they still promote an opportunity for connection and collaboration.
And finally, it’s important not to overlook your team events like holiday parties. In fact, holiday parties offer amazing opportunities for professional and personal networking. Usually everyone is a little more relaxed, the mood is upbeat and celebratory, and there are opportunities for mutual introductions and crossing paths with coworkers who you don’t usually see during the week.
8 Tips For Networking At Your Next Holiday Party
If you’ve come up with a list of who you want to connect with, and you know they’re going to be at your team’s in-person or virtual holiday event, what’s next? What should you say? How can you come across as cool, calm, and collected, even if you’re secretly freaking out inside?
Here are a few of our favorite tips for networking at a team or company event:
1. Be Friendly
Seems obvious, right? It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and not think about what vibes you’re sending to your colleagues. So whether you’re sharing an elevator, rubbing shoulders at the food table or waiting for the holiday event to start in the Zoom breakout room, just smile and say hello!
2. Introduce Yourself
Practice introducing yourself. You don’t have to share your entire resume. Just start with your name, how you fit into the business, and maybe even a comment about the day or the event. Anything to get the conversation started!
3. Be Conversational
After introducing yourself, ask a simple question and then wait and listen. Then ask a follow up question like “tell me about…” or “what happens when…”. Get a feel for who you are talking with, and see if the conversation can evolve to someone or something you have in common. Maintain eye contact and make sure the other person feels heard.
4. Make Eye Contact
When talking with someone, be sure to give them 100% of your attention. There’s nothing worse than being caught looking over someone’s shoulder for an excuse to exit. If you’re ready to end the conversation, just excuse yourself gracefully.
5. Avoid Talking Shop
This one is tough! While work may be a common topic at a work holiday party, try to mix up the conversation with some non-work related topics. You’ll always have work in common, but this is your opportunity to find out if you have some connections, ideas, or interests in common. Personal conversations help build bonds and tend to be the most memorable.
6. Avoid Controversial Topics
It goes without saying, but for your first conversation, try to avoid diving into deep discussions about politics, religion, or any other current event that’s a bit controversial. The goal is to build connections with your coworkers, rather than burn bridges.
7. Be Professional
Remember to act as professional as you would at a meeting or conference. You don’t want to be like those 26% of employees who regret their actions at their last holiday party.
8. Follow Up
If you manage to make contact at your holiday party with a few individuals that you’d like to chat with further, consider sending them a follow up email about what you discussed. Maybe you’d like to meet to keep the conversation going? Or to discuss their project and ways you think your team could help? A follow up message is particularly important for those who participate in virtual events as there’s often less spontaneity and opportunities for side conversations in these events.
Remember, some of your best opportunities may be just a conversation away. So take a breath, get excited for your holiday event, have fun on the day, and hopefully you’ll make some great new connections in the process! If not, there’s always next week!