Say the word 'networking' to most people and they'll freeze with fear. Maybe it's the thought of making small talk with people they don't know, being lumbered with someone all evening just because they don't know how to exit the discussion, or, perhaps worse still, being left on your own with no one to talk to. Sound familiar?
When I was at a family Christmas gathering this weekend, it struck me that we practice the skills of networking all the time and yet it's only in certain situations that we consciously become aware of those skills and they feel 'clunky'.
For example, when you are at a party with people you really enjoy the company of, and you feel it is time to circulate, does it feel awkward making your excuses? Of course it doesn't, you do it naturally. One technique I saw at the weekend was saying you wanted to get more food and drink and asking whether the other person wants some. They'll either come with you (which is fine as you are bound to bump into other people you can talk to), or they'll see it as a cue for them to go circulate too.
How about, being left on your own? When new people joined the party this weekend, the winning strategy seemed to head for the food and drink - there is always someone hanging around there. Oh, and smile!
So what about small talk? Families do it all the time. The trick? It 's about asking open questions. Whether it's 'How was your journey?' to something deeper like 'How are you finding the credit crunch?', questions work.
So when you are out and about at parties this festive season and find that you are enjoying yourself, reflect on what natural networking skills you were using and replicate them when you are next networking.