“’Tis the season to be jolly,” goes the famous carol and I suggest the same applies to our small business activities at this time of year.
No, I’m not suggesting we turn Christmas into a cold, commercial transaction, but I do believe the many parties over the coming weeks give us the opportunity to celebrate our strong relationships and build new ones. I’m well aware, of course, that many people think the words “work” and “party” are an oxymoron. Or, in fact, just a plain “moron” — we’ve all witnessed those awkward moments of silence or, worse, alcohol-fuelled liberation! However, it doesn’t have to be that way. I have some ideas to make sure the Christmas parties you go to this year are fun, full of good cheer and networking successes.
When you’re the guest
My number one tip is probably the last one you’re expecting — it’s okay to decline an invitation.
You see, it’s about quality, not quantity.
And by that I mean attending a handful of Christmas parties with a networking strategy in hand is better than blindly chasing every balloon and streamer in town. Consider these ideas:
- Look for parties hosted or attended by compatible businesses
- Find out who else is going to a party and create a list of people you’d like to meet, especially key decision-makers
- Always talk to your host and don’t be afraid to ask for introductions
- Aim to have quality conversations with 5-7 people
- Keep the conversation light and social — your aim is to meet people and have fun, not close a sale
- Don’t limit yourself to work parties — potential contacts have social lives too!
When you’re the host
Throwing a Christmas party is a great way to say “thank you” and reinforce existing relationships, not to mention reach out to new potential contacts. One of the hardest things about organising an event is to provide guests with incentives to attend. Willingly. You want people to a come along feeling confident and relaxed… and I have three ways to achieve this.
First, entice them with a gift.
This could be:
- A Literal gift, such as a goodie bag, discount voucher or door prize
- A memorable location, such as a museum, chic café or charter boat
- A guest of honour, such as a personality or expert in your field
- An activity, which could be anything from a magician or string quartet to wine tasting or a cooking demonstration or even a guest lecture or workshop. Just make sure your activity doesn’t cause embarrassment or discomfort… not everyone wants to go paintballing or do karaoke!
Second, make sure your party is easy to attend…
…which means sending invites that let your guests know exactly what to expect. Apart from the obvious, include:
- A finish time
- The purpose of your party; for example, to celebrate increasing sales by 15% over the year
- Who is attending; for example, a select group of loyal and supportive friends, customers and associates
- The names of guests of honour, MCs or entertainers
- A dress code
- What refreshments will be served; for example, a buffet dinner or coffee with sweet Christmas treats
- Any speeches or activities that will occur.
Third, create a comfortable atmosphere and make meeting new people painless.
Do this by:
- Allowing guests to bring their own guest, such as a colleague or family members
- Providing name badges with big, clear writing. Don’t just write a person’s name… add their business, association or link to give context and spark conversation
- Making something happen early… have a welcome speech or some entertainment 15 to 20 minutes into the party to create a sense of unity and open opportunities for interaction
- Having an MC to guide guests through your party
- Having people whose job is to greet guests, start conversations, introduce people and keen an eye out for anyone at a loose end
- Making sure your refreshments are top notch!
Consider an e-party
In these days of global workplaces, not to mention impossible parking, an e-party or, more formally, a virtual event is perfect if you want your Christmas party to be a learning-based event, such as a seminar, workshop or q and a.
A successful e-party has five aspects:
- Technology: while you can buy e-conferencing software, I recommend small business owners keep it simple and use Facebook, blogs or a forum on your website
- A compelling topic: grab interest by discussing a trend, an item currently in the news or a problem that needs solving
- Purpose and structure: know precisely what you want to achieve and have a chair to introduce experts and guide discussion
- Engage participants: create interest and facilitate discussion with videos, images and plenty of opportunities for questions
- Time: give a specific timeframe, ranging from an hour to a number of months.
To give you an idea just how successful even a simple virtual event can be, my friend has been following an ongoing thread on an Australian horse forum that allows horse owners to ask a snake expert questions. Seventeen pages and 3,683 views later, the thread is still on a hot topic on the front page!