The holiday party season is upon us, which means more networking events—both social and business—than usual. To make the most of your networking opportunities—and avoid some of the most common mistakes—follow these tips.

1. Bring Plenty of Business Cards
Remember the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. Even when you’re going to a purely social event. You never know when you’ll meet someone who could potentially be a prospect, a referral source or an alliance partner.

2. Ask Questions
Obnoxious, self-centered people talk all about themselves. Savvy networkers focus the conversation on the other person by asking questions. Asking questions demonstrates you’re interested in the other person and gives you an opportunity to learn valuable information. And everyone appreciates a good listener!

3. Split Up
If you’re attending an event with your spouse, partner or colleague, don’t stay attached at the hip. Splitting up gives you the opportunity to meet twice as many people.

4. Hang Out by the Food
Stationing yourself near the food is a great strategy for meeting people. Everyone’s going to come by there at some point and you have an easy conversation starter. Just remember not to talk with your mouth full.

5. End Conversations Gracefully
You don’t want to spend the entire evening talking with one person. But how do you end a conversation without appearing like you’re giving someone the brush-off? Simply acknowledge the obvious. After all, you’re both there to meet people. So say something along the lines of, “It was great to meet you. I should probably let you get around and meet some other people.”

6. Don’t Get Drunk
Being inebriated does not enhance your professional reputation. Even if the event is a purely social one, watch your alcohol intake and know when to cut yourself off.

7. Don’t Sell
It may seem odd that in a sales blog I’m telling you not to sell. But a networking event is the wrong time and place to actively sell. Networking is about meeting people and starting relationships. The connections you make may lead to sales, but that will happen over time, not right there at the event. (If you mention what you do and the person you’re talking to says, “Wow! I really need that!” then all bets are off.)

8. Follow Up
Most people will forget you within 72 hours. (Not just you—everyone.) So it’s critical to follow up after the event. Send them a postcard, shoot them an e-mail or invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn or another social network.

The holidays are a great time to expand your personal and business networks. Both of which can help you boost your sales down the road. Relax, have fun and remember that sometimes business and pleasure do mix.

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