The holidays are here, and that means plenty of opportunities to meet new and interesting people. Here are four easy tips for maximizing your interactions at holiday parties this year:
  1. Have a plan of action before you leave. First, think about which contacts are the most important to you, and make a point to speak to each of them during the event (instead of hiding behind the dessert bar the entire night). Find out who will be attending the event. Do some research online or on social networking sites like LinkedIn to learn about attendees. You may even want to consider asking the host for a guest list. Pick five people with whom you definitely want to speak while you are there, and don't avoid the big names.

  2. Let others do the talking (you ask the questions!). There's nothing worse than coming away from a great networking opportunity realizing that you didn't capitalize on the situation. Come up with a list of questions to ask your fellow holiday party guests. Here are a few great ice breakers to get the ball rolling:

  3. Once the conversation is flowing freely, then you can move on to more in-depth business questions:

  4. Be prepared to present your business in 15 seconds. When meeting new people at this season's holiday parties, resist the urge to give them a ten-minute introduction about yourself. Instead, prepare a short, fifteen-second elevator pitch that hits on your career high points and top skills. Think about what's unique about what you have done and what will stand out in a room full of people who are also talking about themselves. Be sure that whomever you speak with will still remember you at the end of the night.

  5. The party may end, but your connection shouldn't. It's the busiest time of the year, and if your calendar is packed with parties and events, then it can be hard to keep track of all the connections you make. Following an event, be proactive. Spend 10 minutes cementing your connections by creating a database that allows you to keep track of all the connections you've made. Include reminders to yourself of interesting or remarkable things that people said or that you learned so that you won't forget them and can refer back to them in later conversations. And be sure to use social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to keep in touch.

Holidays are all about connecting. It's the time of year when many of us make an effort to re-connect with our families and loved ones and take the time to share more of ourselves with those around us. So don't throw out any holiday party invitations this year. RSVP with a 'Yes!' and resolve that you won't leave any event without having made a couple of great new connections. Put yourself out there, make the first move, and be yourself. It just may be the best gift you give yourself these Holidays.