Carol Kinsey GomanThe holiday office party is a wonderful time to mingle with colleagues in a less pressured setting.

Which makes it a great time for networking.

Never thought of an office party as a networking event? Then you are missing a key opportunity to develop or deepen relationships with co-workers, to personally thank those who have been helpful or supportive throughout the year, and to introduce yourself to senior executives.

But if you have any level of anxiety when it comes to networking (and who doesn’t?), here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Darcy Rezac and Judy Thomson, networking masters and the co-authors, WORK THE POND! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life, advise you to work the room in pairs. The role of each “tag teammate” is to keep an eye on the other person, to make introductions, and to make sure that both of you are comfortably engaged in conversations.

Another of their networking tips is to give yourself a challenge by seeking out the person who would be considered the ‘host’ of the party. (This is probably the most senior person.) Thank him or her for sponsoring the event. You don’t have to go overboard with praise but acknowledge that you “appreciate the chance to connect with some new people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.” If this senior person is open to continuing the conversation, mention something positive that your team is doing. (Prepare one or two examples ahead of time.)

They’d also advise you to “create good karma” by rescuing the individual who is standing alone clutching a drink in one hand and a plate of food in the other or who is walking around with “the look” – scanning the room to find a friendly face. (This may be a new employee or someone who is more of an introvert.) Approach that person and introduce yourself.

When it comes to body language tips for networking at the office party, here’s what I’d advise:

  • Develop an inclusive, welcoming attitude. Pretend that your job is to make others feel welcome and at ease. Approaching people with this attitude (and a genuine smile) will immediately resonate in a positive way.
  • Stand tall. When you pull your shoulders back and hold your head high, you assume a posture of confidence and self-esteem.
  • Reach out and touch someone – but don’t go overboard. The way you greet your fellow party-goers can have a huge impact on their perception of you. A warm, but firm handshake is a business skill worth developing, and a light touch on the arm or shoulder can create an instant bond. But if you hang on people or touch them too frequently, you send unintended signals of neediness or flirtation.
  • Let your body show that you are at ease. If you want people to see you as comfortable and approachable, assume an open position with your legs about shoulder width apart and your arms loosely at your side or held waist high. Don’t cross your arms and legs or use objects (your drink or plate of food) as a barrier. It looks as if you are closed off or resistant.
  • Mirror the other person’s gestures and expressions. When we interact with others, subconsciously we scan the other person’s body to see if they move or gesture in a similar way to us. When you subtly mirror the person you are speaking with, it is a way of silently saying, “We have something in common.”
  • Make positive eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (This is a great time to improve your eye contact by making a practice of noticing the eye colour of everyone you speak with at the party.)
  • Lean in slightly. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested, but also be respectful of other people’s space. Although this varies by culture, in North American business situations, even in a party setting, that means staying at least 18 inches away.
  • Dress for success. Remember, this is a business event not a date. Festive and stylish is great, but flashy or too revealing looks unprofessional.
  • Leave your smart phone home. Or, at least, keep it out of sight. Don’t text or check email while talking with your fellow party-goers.
  • Limit your alcohol. It will make following these tips so much easier!

If lucky enough to be invited, you definitely should attend the office holiday party. When you go, don’t pass up this wonderful opportunity to expand your network and build your personal brand.

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.

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