More than just a "thank you" to staff, clients and partners, the festivities and business breakfasts, lunches and dinner cruises are all about networking -- getting your message across to people and making important contacts.
Christchurch-based Seradigm-Knowledge Management consultant Julian Carver says networking or “schmoozing” is for him “the most effective way of finding new clients”.
Gary Connolly of digital vault data storage company The Digital Agenda says “schmoozing could be one of the most important components of business today”.
And in Christchurch, such networking has developed into almost an art form, with co-organiser Rosanne Howarden claiming Canterbury IT's Friday BBQs are influencing the New Zealand software industry “in the way the Bloomsbury group influenced English literature".
“There is a fantastic mix of some of the best brains and intellects -- usually young and impoverished -- and the established gurus of the IT business -- usually older with access to venture capital,” says Howarden who is also involved in a Women in IT networking group.
Terry Paddy of Christchurch software company Bootstrap IT used schmoozing at the BBQs, Canterbury Development Corporation functions and Trade NZ breakfasts to get into an incubator programme, find a business partner and open up work opportunities in the health sector.
“Mostly it -- schmoozing -- does not generate business, that is, revenue, but I have a considerable list of professional contacts -- lawyers, accountants, corporate chief executives and entrepreneurs -- that I can ring for advice and mentoring. And although new to the industry, I can walk into a technology function knowing I will know some of the movers and shakers present,” Paddy says.
And while it might seem obvious, there are definite rules to successful schmoozing.
Dorendra Britten of Christchurch-based design consultancy DesignIndustry spends 10 of her 70-hour working week attending the functions of as many business, political, central and local government organisations as possible. She says people should be widely read so that they can ask the right questions of the right people. "You have to appeal to people’s interest in their own business. You have to be interested in their business before you can expect them to be interested in yours."
Connolly says the reason for the event, be it the launch of a product or facility, should not be seen as a opening gambit in any talk as you will be seen as a "try hard" desperate to show your knowledge, or a rep looking for a sale. “Start with an innocuous comment asking for an opinion and listen to what the other person is saying," he says.
"Show respect for that input and don’t use it as a springboard to again launch into a features or benefits checklist."
Carver says bring many business cards and on meeting someone give them a card and make sure you get one of theirs. “It’s easier to remember names if you see it as well as hear it, and you can look at the card later if you forget their name. You also avoid missing the opportunity to get a card if they or you get sidetracked talking to someone else,” he says.
Direct the conversion to be about them, Carver says, so you can assess how or if you can help each other. Get into the habit of connecting people. If you are talking to someone and you know there is someone they should meet, take them over and introduce them to the person. The more you do this, he says, the more you’ll find people do this for you.
Carver warns against staying in one conversation for too long, instead advising people to leave the conversation properly, expressing pleasure at having met them, rather than nipping off for a drink and not coming back.
“When you are going to leave, do a quick circuit and say goodbye to the people you met that night. Follow up with a short ‘nice to have met you’ email the next day. That’ll cement them in your mind, and you in theirs,” he says.
David Tse of Logical advises a straighforward approach. “Be yourself. Be natural. Don’t be false. Don’t suck up. Don’t seek out your next victim as you’re talking to your current one," he says.
“If you have to schmooze, then say something short and memorable. They will continue the conversation if they want, but if you’re getting single-syllable replies, take the hint -- you’re boring them silly.
“Bad schmoozing can have the opposite effect or your target leaving the function and thinking 'boring bastard, boring company'. Mind you, the good news is that as a result they’ll probably forget all about you by the time the next schmoozing event comes along.”
But Tse thinks Christmas parties differ to other schmoozefests.
“It’s really a ‘thank you’ to those being schmoozed for putting up with all the other schmoozing during the last year -- the most genuine schmooze there is.”