Have a plan.
You don't get far without a destination in mind, and the same goes for networking. You could just show up at the party, but if you spend some time in advance researching company leadership and deciding who might be a good person to get to know, you'll be way ahead of your peers whose research focuses on what to wear and how much they can drink. When you plan ahead, you'll avoid awkward, uncomfortable moments and make the most of every opportunity.
If you don't usually pay attention to company newsletters and aren't up on who is who at your organization, now is the time to find out. Is there a rising star featured on the company web site? Who is the new head of the team you'd love to join, if only you can score a transfer?
The holiday party is a great place to introduce yourself and to make a good impression. Use all of the tools at your disposal to learn about people you may want to meet. Did you and the new head of sales go to the same college? Is the vice president a patron of an organization where you also volunteer? With a simple Google search, you can find out more than you probably need to know about anyone you're likely to meet. Don't forget to explore LinkedIn profiles and search accessible social media streams. You may wind up with a goldmine of information to help you get some conversations started.
Practice what to say.
Once you have your pitch in your pocket, plan out exactly what you might say to your target contacts. Especially if you are not comfortable with small talk, practicing in the mirror or with a friend can help you feel more confident and ready to make a good impression.
Most people love to talk about themselves, so if you can quickly introduce yourself and bring up a topic of interest to them, you can win favor. For example, "Hello, it's nice to meet you. I'm John Smith, associate director of marketing. You may have heard of my latest brain child, the XYZ campaign? I was hoping to meet you tonight, because we share an interest in expanding the green space in town. How did you get involved in "Green's Not Mean?"
Ask for a follow-up meeting.
The opportunity to connect in person at a jovial event is terrific, but don't expect any real business to ensue at the company party. You don't want to monopolize your contact's time or seem clingy or needy. The best thing is to secure a promise for a future conversation. Ask about the best way to get in touch after the new year. Should you email? Call his or her assistant for an appointment? Stop by the office one afternoon? Do the best you can to generate a promise of a future conversation, and use that promise when you're trying to get past the person's gatekeeper down the road. "Ms. Jones asked me to call his office to set up an appointment" can be a persuasive introduction when speaking to Ms. Jones' assistant.
Don't forget to connect via social media.
At the very least, you should follow up with a request to connect on LinkedIn. Make sure to remind the new contact that you met at the party. "We had a great conversation about how to expand the city's park system. I'm looking forward to meeting for coffee; I'll be in touch with your assistant in the new year."
Mind your P's and Q's
You don't want to be remembered for the wrong reasons, so don't go overboard at the open bar and do something to find infamy at your organization. It can be tough to live down any exceptionally embarrassing behavior, and people will talk about you, at least until someone else does something even more outrageous. Save your happy-go-lucky partying for friends and family only and you won't be sorry later.
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