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by Nancy Ancowitz

How can you make socializing—and its oft-dreaded stunt double, networking—fun for the holidays if you’re an introvert? Does networking have to be a paint-by-numbers, smarm-filled, elevator pitchy kind of activity? Or can you make a handful of genuine connections even during this tinselly time of year?

Americans spend an average of 15 hours attending holiday social gatherings according to a recent Consumer Reports poll. That could mean hitting the party circuit three hours a week from the five weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. What’s an introvert to do? Socialize, of course—if you care about your career. And the corollary: pace yourself.

I say do it your way. Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., an introvert and author of You Majored in What?, agrees. “I navigate the holiday party season by creating my own smaller parties,” she says. “Because I’m the host, I keep busy with all the preparations and cooking, and I let my guests do the talking and mingling,” she adds. So how does Brooks interact with her guests? “They come and talk to me in the kitchen,” she says. “And since my kitchen overlooks the party area, I can still see what’s going on and listen in on conversations.”


Liz Lynch, author of Smart Networking, adds, “I started my business 10 years ago in late October, so holiday networking was vital for my prospecting strategy.” Lynch believes that networking with existing contacts is the fastest way to bring in new clients. Why? “Because the people who already know, like, and trust you are more ready to hire you or refer you to people they know,” she says.

 
How did Lynch get her business off the ground? “I accepted an invitation to a casual get-together some former colleagues organized at a local bar,” she says. “I’m a joiner, so I say ‘yes’ to most events. But I’m also an introvert, so I secretly hope that a natural disaster will force them to be canceled!” Lynch continues, “When no snowstorm manifested that evening, I found myself at the gathering actually enjoying catching up with folks I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. I focused more on rekindling the relationships and learning about what my acquaintances were doing now rather than trying to pitch my services.”

The upshot? “I can directly trace hundreds of thousands of dollars of consulting fees over the years from conversations I had at that event,” says Lynch. “The bottom line? You may be just one conversation away from your next big opportunity, so say, ‘yes’ to that invitation,” she advises.

In contrast, Brooks says, “It’s okay to turn down invitations.” She explains, “It’s so easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap and feel pressured to be more social. If you want to spend the time with one or two friends instead of parties, do that.” Agreed—as long as you’re maintaining a strong network through other means such as online social media, volunteer work, and serving on boards of directors.

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