Holiday parties are prime networking time—as long as you do it with tact. Creating an informal connection at a holiday shindig can be a starting point to a potential business relationship at a later date.
"The key words here are 'later date,'" says Roberta Matuson, CEO and founder of Matuson Consulting, a talent management company.
Consider networking a long-term investment rather than an instant addition to your professional network. When you meet someone interesting at a holiday event, a general rule of thumb is to "Ask for permission to touch base with the people you'd like to meet with the week following the event. Then go pour yourself a nice glass of eggnog and enjoy the holiday season," Matuson says.
Avoid the following networking blunders to create future new career contacts instead of awkward moments:
1. Failing to make of eye contact. Making direct, firm eye contact when you're talking to someone new is the single easiest way to invite a strong connection. "I can't tell you how many people don't look others in the eye," says Suzanne Garber, chief networking officer at International SOS. "It signifies a lack of trust or interest."
Also keep in mind that letting your eyes wander or doing too much eye shifting immediately signals discomfort.
2. Ignoring signals of disinterest. Making an effort to network is undoubtedly essential to positioning yourself for great potential career opportunities. But, having a sense of when to back off can be equally beneficial to your career. If you notice a lack of eye contact from someone, for instance, take it is a cue to give that person some space. Other signals to remember: quick change of subject, excessive alcohol intake, and constant checking of cellphones.
Some folks are simply not interested in networking, and they'll appreciate your courtesy if you give them an out instead of bombarding them with your business card and elevator pitch.
3. Failing to ask questions. Above all, choose something about them that genuinely interests you, and remember to be a great listener. Garber suggests using questions "that begin with 'how,' 'what,' 'where,' or 'who.'"
These can be a great way to prevent monosyllabic answers, which are basically a conversation dead-end. Note: questions that start with "why" can come off a little too personal, according to Garber.
4. Not properly introducing others. If you're introducing someone to another acquaintance, the most effective method is to not only announce their names but also a little bit about what they do or where they're from.
Otherwise, "there's that sort of uncomfortable silence when two people get to know each other," says Dan Nainan, a comedian who has performed at such notable venues as the Democratic National Convention, and the TED Conference. "For example, I'll say 'Bill I'd like you to meet my friend Chris. Chris is an actor who just shot a commercial in the Bahamas, and Bill is an investment banker on Wall Street,'" he says.
This gets the conversation going, Nainan says.
5. Having zero subtlety. No one wants to be seen with the guy going around giving out business cards left and right in search of someone—anyone—who can help him out in his career.
"The worst offense is to blatantly network at any holiday party. People rushing up and asking 'what do you do?' with the look in the eye which clearly broadcasts they want to either use you (or, potentially someone you know) for their own betterment, or they want to see if your job is 'better' than theirs, can dampen the holiday spirit," says Kathy Bertone, speaker and author of The Art of the Visit.
6. Arriving with no agenda. Networking is all about paying it forward. Properly introducing others means great karma coming your way.
Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information, and a free career happiness assessment.