‘Tis the season for the holiday party. Whether you love the office mixer or dread another December full of evening obligations, you are likely going to a few seasonal get-togethers. If you are interested in spending that time wisely to further your career or business, here are eight networking tips for your next holiday party:

1. Show up. 90% of success is showing up, right?

Some holiday events are basically mandatory, while others you certainly have a choice and don’t HAVE to go but you should. Yes, we are all busy, but many of these events only come around once a year and if you want to expand your network, show up. If you are unable to attend an event you are expressly invited to be sure to send a pleasant note that you can’t make it. Also, if the event has a charitable component (food drive, gift donation, etc.), consider still donating if you can’t attend, the host will be appreciative.

2. Have fun.

No one wants to hang with the sour-faced guy. If you really don’t want to be there, don’t go…however.

You don’t have to be the life of the party. Unless you are in the PR department, then promotion is your job!

3. When should I get there?

Like most things in life, it depends… Here are my guidelines for a few different types of gatherings:

Office Party

(informal at the office or offsite, during the workday or right after work)

Arrive on time and plan to stay for a couple hours or until the official end time. Don’t stick around too long.

Company Party

(more formal at a private residence or swanky establishment, evening start time)

It’s good form to be a little late to a company party being held at a private home. Like any party, your hosts are likely running a little behind and you being the first to show up isn’t a great look. Plan to stay for a few hours, but also try and be flexible with your curfew. If you are having a great time and bonding with new contacts, it’s a shame to have to leave just to get home for a babysitter that doesn’t really care anyway.

Client or Vendor Party

Totally depends on your relationship — if you are going to do a flyby and not stay very long, try and add a few extra minutes so it doesn’t seem like you are in and out. Make a point to connect and say hello to the person that invited you as soon as you can.

4. Participate and dress appropriately.

Participate? Many holiday events have a theme or predetermined activity. If the event is an ugly sweater, wear your ugliest. If it is a food or toy drive, bring a donation. Secret Santa and White Elephant are fun, try and plan ahead a little so you can have a good gift.

If you don’t know the attire ask someone who has gone before or use a little common sense based on the time, location and culture of the host(s).

Phyllis from accounting
© NBC Universal, Inc

5. Talk to NEW people, including 1’s

You can always plan an after party with your bros…or really, you probably see them enough the rest of the year.

You are reading this post so you are interested in networking. So get outside your inner circle and meet new people. The holiday party is a great way to get to know your boss, Phyllis from accounting or the new intern. Not only is it good form to engage with your co-workers’ guests, you may find a great connection outside of The Office.

5a. Ask questions and actually listen to the answers.

Don’t expect to know what to talk about offhand. Have a variety of topics ready to go and spend a little time beforehand thinking about what you’d say (and if someone asks you a question, answer and reciprocate). Here are a few suggestions for non-worky topics:

  • What’s the best book you read this year?
  • Do you listen to podcasts? What are you currently listening to?
  • Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation?

The list can go on and on, talk about what you are interested in tv shows, sports, holiday travel plans, etc. It is ok to get intimate and into a real conversation, at least for a little while, but probably best to avoid politics.

6. Have an exit plan.

When it is time to go (see #3) be sure to find the host to thank them and say goodbye. Also, if there is a party planning committee, thank them and consider a thank you gesture, putting on these events is a lot of work. You can also follow-up with an email or a handwritten note. If you feel like you need to sneak away, you are leaving too early.

Office Christmas Party
Glen Wilson / Paramount Pictures

7. Know your limits.

What list of holiday networking tips would be complete without this one? However, there seems to always be a few partygoers that hit it a little too hard. If you do need to get your drink on, save it for the after party or grandma’s house. You will not end up like Clay and Walter at ZenoTek.

BONUS HOST TIP: Have plenty of non-alcoholic beverage choices. While everyone wants to have a good time, not everyone wants beer, wine or… water. This also goes a long way in helping people stick to their limits. Most people want to have a drink in their hand, if there are lots of options (a signature boozeless drink perhaps) you are less likely for overindulgence.

8. You are an adult, get home like one.