Ho Ho Ho--Merry Networking!

Even though 2010 is rapidly coming to an end and new business is almost at a standstill, this is one of the most wonderful times of the year to network, since holiday parties abound. Rather than dreading those festive events, why not try working them, in a very subtle and productive way? You'll be amazed at the connections you can make, not to mention the pretty party favors you'll collect!

A few years ago when I was single, I almost made a career out of being the favorite "Go-to Date" for company Christmas parties. Men friends who weren't dating anyone in particular and wanted to take someone who could dress to impress and converse well; girlfriends who wanted a "wing man" to talk them up to bosses and colleagues; gay friends who didn't want to make a statement--they started booking me a good month in advance.

And oh, the contacts I made! I was a freelance writer at the time, and I scooped up all the work I could handle writing company brochures, media material, etc. I even got a few full-time offers in PR departments. Then there were the personal (romantic) connections I made. Hey, I was a free agent -- why not? You'll be surprised at the networking opportunities available to you even if your work skills don't match up with that particular company's needs. The person on your right might have a brother-in-law who's hiring. The person on your left might need some personal work done at home.

How to Dress for Schmoozing Success

All it takes to be everyone's favorite go-to-guest is a big smile, a positive attitude, good listening skills and the right, elegant yet unobtrusive clothes. Avoid blatant holiday ensembles--Christmas sweaters and red and green velvet are a little too obvious. Depending on the formality of the event, men will look great in dark slacks (not jeans, unless they're very dark and very dressy) dress shoes (no tennies) a button-down shirt (colors and stripes are fine). Ties and sports jackets may not even be necessary. Check with your date.

For women, as always, it's a little more complicated. Certified image consultant Mary Lin DeDeaux, who represents the Carlisle Collection in the Los Angeles area, suggests that you "refrain from anything too sexy," like plunging necklines and short skirts. "This is a business event, not a date night. That is not how you want them to remember you when you next meet for business." She suggests something like the pictured Carlisle Collection shiny charmeuse silk blouse with a satin bow, paired with a flowing pleated chiffon skirt. "It's elegant, appropriate and also versatile. You can pair the skirt with an existing jacket for a day look or wear the blouse with slim evening pants."

How to Be a Holiday Party Player

Male or female, your most important accessory is your business card. If you don't have any, you can have them whipped up for free in a few days at online sites like VistaPrint.com. Discreetly tuck those cards away somewhere so you can easily access them -- when asked. Don't push yourself or your card on anyone -- remember, you are there to be supportive of your date. But if the conversation naturally turns in your direction, and if you're behaving yourself you can be sure it will, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a little discreet self-promotion. Your date might even get brownie points for having made the introduction!

Of course it's very important to keep the drinking to a minimum. The last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself or your escort. Moderation is a good plan in all things at a holiday party. Eating, drinking, even talking too much can get you in big trouble and defeat your purpose. Also, resist the urge to even peak at the blackberry or iPhone for the duration of the event. Focus all of your attention on the situation at hand.

Literally play your cards right, and you just might find your stocking stuffed with new career opportunities this year. Talk about holiday cheer!

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