Selling yourself at the business holiday party

Notice that the first word in "business holiday party" is business. Your goal is to get a business opportunity, not "win the party." Here’s how:

Leave the cell phone, Android, iPad, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, iMac, iDon'tCare in the car. No one cares how fast you can move your thumbs when your business contact is sizing you up. Your text can wait -- you are really not that important -- if you were, you would have an administrative assistant who handles your routine communication.

Bring your own name badge. Yes this sounds a little weird, but if the adhesive or clamp on the back of your name badge has ever ruined your clothes you know what I mean. Your name sloppily handwritten with a heavy black sharpie does not make a good first impression either.

My mom always said to stay away from religion, cars and politics when trying to be a good conversationalist. My mother was always right. Quoting Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow will not win you many friends.

Watch the drinks -- no one does business with the life of the party, they are merely amused by them. If the party serves cocktails only, drink ginger ale or club soda and let 'em wonder what's really in your glass.

Unless you are Will Ferrell, don't try to be funny -- you are at a business meeting trying to make a professional connection that can help grow your business.

Arrive early and leave early. The host (or your desired target) will be accessible early in the evening and you will have access to a decision maker before it gets crowded.

Forget what your mother told you and talk to strangers. Engage the first person you make eye contact with in a conversation and see where it takes you. There’s nothing worse than hovering around Mr./Ms. Big waiting to lay your witty line on them, along with everyone else.

As for eye contact, don't let your eyes wander around the room looking for a "better" contact -- have the courtesy to give undivided attention to the person you are engaged with. Excuse yourself politely if the conversation is strained or they are not a suitable target for business.

Be a good listener -- people are often more impressed and will open up when you pay attention to what they have to say (feign attention if they are boring the bejesus out of you).

If an opportunity presents itself, wait until your conversation ends then find a quiet place to write down as many details from your conversation as you can on the back of the person’s business card or an index card. Yes, it sounds crazy but it works. If you do not recap the conversation at that moment you will mess it up the next morning when you try to reconstruct the conversation -- I guarantee it!

While you are at it, try to write down the name of folks you chatted with even if you didn't get their business card.

Drop all contacts a handwritten note (not an email) the next day and include your business card -- assume they lost or pitched it “by mistake.”

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron FrenchClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Perry Ballard
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 9:49am
Doug, Really great advice. I'll bet you never wasted a business party at any time of the year! I've used your technique of writing notes on the back of a business card for years. Walked/worked trade shows in Chicago for decades, mostly at McCormack, and the notes make a great lead/reminder for the follow-up note -- handwritten, letter or email. Thanks for sharing. Perry
Warren Cook
Thu, 12/08/2016 - 11:15am
Doug, Pithy, straight, pragmatic and useful --- experienced advice. Wish such forthright guidance had been offered earlier in my career. Then again, maybe it was and I wasn't listening..
Wed, 12/14/2016 - 4:22pm
The bring your own name tag is interesting. One would say that you are trying to stand out if you have a laminated tag vs. the paper adhesive tag that you get at the event.