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By Kim L. Clark
 
 
The holiday season is here, bringing Entrepreneurs and Solopreneurs opportunities to become their own Santa Claus and put some new customers under the tree. Holiday parties can be the perfect time to pick up the thread with colleagues from the past, nurture relationships with prospects you've recently met and get an introduction to customers you'd like to add to your roster in the near future. To make all that happen, you'll need a strategy.
 
Step One, go to your parties alone. Under no circumstances do you need to drag someone along with you, unless that person is needed to get you into a party where you can expect to meet prospective customers, or that person promises to introduce you to a good prospect while there.
 
Even that arrangement can be risky--- a few years ago, I was invited to what should have been a networking bonanza, except that my friend got very drunk and worse, he reneged on bringing me into a post-party meeting with someone who could have been very helpful to me.
 
Sep Two, confirm the dress code. A weekend party held after 6:00 PM will imply fancier dress and could be black-tie optional. If you are the +1, ask your contact to forward you the invitation. You do not want to show up improperly dressed, even if your contact claims that it won't matter.
 
Men should wear a sport coat or blazer, if a suit would be too formal for the occasion. Women should avoid too-short or too-tight clothing and revealing necklines. Jeans or leather pants are out of the question for either gender, unless your host is in the arts or high-tech.
 
Step Three, find out who is on the guest list and Step Four, polish your elevator pitch. If you can access the Evite, you will see who has responded. You can Google names to get professional updates on those you'd like to reconnect with or meet and you'll also know which subjects to "spontaneously" bring up.
 
However, be mindful that talking business could be a turn-off at a party, unless the other person raises the subject. Focus instead on scheduling post-party follow-up with selected people who would like to know more about your products and services.
 
While at the party, greet and thank your host straight away, before you visit the bar or the buffet. After that relax, mix and mingle. Have handy some friendly ice-breakers that will open the door to conversation ("How do you know [the host]?").
 
Eating and drinking are party highlights, but take it easy with the drinking. I recommend that you have not more than one drink and then switch to a non-alcoholic beverage. You must be sober to successfully execute your networking strategy.
 
Furthermore, you'll also need to master the drink and hors d'oeuvres plate juggle. Hold your drink in your left hand, so that you can shake hands easily and not give a cold, damp greeting. Likewise, eat hors d'oeuvres with your left hand, so you don't offer a sticky handshake.
 
Finally, pay attention to the ebb and flow of guests. Unless you're in a serious conversation, when their number begins to fade, find your host, thank him/her for the invitation and take your leave. There is an optimum time to arrive at and leave a party. Arriving 15- 20 minutes after the start time usually works. The next day, send a quick email to thank your host for a lovely time. After all, a good party is a wonderful thing and you want to get invited back next year!
 
Thanks for reading,
 
Kim
 
Kim L. Clark is an external strategy and marketing consultant who brings agile skills to the for-profit and not-for-profit organization leaders with whom she works. Please visit http://polishedprofessionalsboston.com to learn how your organization can achieve mission-critical goals when you call on Kim.