The holiday season is the best time to get out to local networking events to meet new people and see old friends. Get started by reviewing your inbox (and spam folders) for invites you might have missed. Follow this by checking Facebook (facebook.com/events) for invites and ideas. RSVP and get out there.

Here are eight tips for making the most of holiday networking opportunities.

1. Smiles are contagious. Even if you are nervous, your smile will tell people you are friendly and happy to meet new people.

2. Be nice. Avoid gossip or trash talking anyone. Look for ways you can help the people you meet. Maybe you can provide an introduction during the event you are attending.

3. Set goals. Think about why you are attending the event. You aren’t just attending for the free hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. What do you hope to gain by attending? Whom do you wish to meet? What would you like the outcome to be?

4. Avoid too many hors d’oeuvres​ and cocktails. This is pretty obvious, but we all know that guy who misses the memo each year. Should you have one too many, take a cab or Uber home. Better yet, don’t drive to the event in the first place.

5. Talk to strangers. Get away from the usual crowd to meet new people. The people standing alone don’t wish to be alone. If they wanted to be alone they would have stayed home. Go introduce yourself and ask them what brings them to the event.

6. Ask questions and listen. When you ask someone a question, be sure to look them in the eyes as they are answering. Make them feel like they are the only person in the room. Ask a follow-up question, like “How did that make you feel?” or “What happened next?”

7. Don’t be a Las Vegas blackjack dealer with your business cards. Ask for someone’s business card after you have talked and a connection has been made. Asking someone how to find the bathroom is not an opportunity to ask for a card. Save some trees by refraining from handing out your cards, unless you are asked for one. Someone else’s card is far more valuable because you have their information to follow up. Otherwise you are left hoping they follow up with you.

8. Follow up. I wrote an article recently about the importance of following up. Following up is the second most important part of networking after showing up. The longer you leave it, the less likely you will reconnect with the person. This is a wasted opportunity to help them and build a new relationship.

Have a safe and happy holiday.

Dave Delaney is a Nashville-based digital marketing consultant, keynote speaker and author of “New Business Networking.” Say hello on Twitter at @davedelaney or by visiting Futureforth.com.

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