Happy [Socially Distant, Yet Professional] Holidays!

Happy [Socially Distant, Yet Professional] Holidays!

Holidays are a good time to reach out to people you haven’t spoken to in a while, the ones you usually see only at holiday parties, and those who mean the most to you and your business. In this time of social distancing, extra thought must go into your holiday wishes, which can be in the form of an invitation to an online party, a phone call, a card or letter (snail mail or electronic), or a virtual gift. Whichever mode of connection you use, make sure it’s personal, yet professional.

Events

You’re probably already suffering from an acute case of Zoom Fatigue, and now there’s an avalanche of virtual holiday party invitations in your inbox. Despite your urge to hit the delete button, a smart lawyer will see these as an excellent way to renew relationships, build a professional network, and plant seeds for business development and career advancement. Therefore, despite your reluctance, attend as many of these virtual holiday parties and receptions as you can. If several events are scheduled on a single day, at least make an appearance at as many as possible. Stay long enough to “see and be seen” by most attendees. As soon as an electronic invitation hits your inbox, commit yourself right away, so you won’t be tempted to wiggle out of it at the last minute.

One of the benefits of the global pandemic is a further blurring of geographic lines. In the pre-COVID world of in-person get-togethers, guest lists were limited by the realities of time, travel, and budget. But, in this new virtual world, you can host or attend a party without these limitations. Take advantage of these opportunities to introduce your geographically diverse acquaintances to each other while adding new contacts to your network.

Conversation

Without the distraction of holiday party décor, refreshments, and sartorial glitz and glamor, the content of your conversation becomes the focus of your interactions. It’s even more important to perfect your gift of gab to captivate other attendees’ attention and be remembered in a positive light. It’s a good idea to have some festive opening conversational gambits prepared. For example:

  • We’ve all been learning to cope with the new realities of working during a pandemic. You can ask just about anyone their thoughts on their most challenging aspect or biggest upside of working from home. Have they engaged in a new interest online? What are they doing to exercise or keep moving, especially now that it’s cold? Have they found a silver lining in this new reality?
  • Do some research beforehand on the people likely to attend so you’re prepared to congratulate them on their 2020 accomplishments.
  • A new year is a good time for planning, goal setting, and reflection, so you can ask what they hope to accomplish in the year ahead.
  • A standard holiday party conversation starter—whether virtually or in-person—is to ask about their holiday plans.

No matter what strategy you use, show a genuine interest in their response, and you can’t go wrong.

Gifts

Another nice thing about virtual holiday celebrations is that you don’t have to worry about hostess gifts or—in most cases—about office gift exchanges. If, for some reason, you think a gift is required, you can make it a virtual one, such as gift cards, tickets to an online event or experience, or a donation to an appropriate charity in the person’s name. If you choose the latter, it will be most meaningful if it’s a cause close to their heart.

Or you can be inventive and curate a list to add some fun or value to the recipient’s life while letting them know a little more about you. It takes a little thought, but it’s unique and inexpensive to send your Top Ten list of, for example, your favorite books, music, binge-watching shows, or apps, unusual places to see in your town, or great places to have a business lunch or dinner (for when the world opens up again). Whether or not the recipient shares the same preferences, your favorites can become fodder for an interesting conversation.

Cards

Sending holiday greetings is a great way to get your name in front of others one more time as the year ends. Think expansively to develop a list of recipients and confirm their contact information. When choosing your greeting, be culturally sensitive and non-denominational. Pick something unique that feels authentic to you and your business or practice, but don’t be “salesy.” Rather than getting lost in the holiday rush, it’s best to send your greetings either early or late. Target a Thanksgiving message in mid-November, or a winter holiday sentiment in the first week of December, or Happy New Year wishes in January.

In this virtual world we now live in, this might the year to stand out from the crowd by sending holiday cards via snail mail. Emails are fine but, especially now, a physical handwritten card with a personalized note and an actual postage stamp creates an enormous impact. Don’t forget to SIGN it! A generic, unsigned card with your firm’s name foil-stamped on it does not send the message that “I care about you and value your business and our relationship.” Check that your signature is legible and includes your full name, not just a quick squiggle, so the recipient knows who is thinking about them.

Because a simple click can so quickly and easily send cards to numerous recipients, an electronic card might be seen as even less personal than an unsigned paper card where someone, somewhere, at least had to seal an envelope and lick a stamp. Done well, your holiday greetings should reinforce your unique brand message, or at least stand out somehow, so they don’t get immediately deleted and forgotten.

Phone calls

Make even more of an impact with a holiday phone call to people you haven’t spoken with for a while. Just pick up the phone to wish them a happy holiday and reconnect. Most people—though initially surprised—genuinely are pleased to hear from someone with no motive other than spreading cheer.

Rather than making many rote calls, aim for fewer but genuine conversations. Let the recipients know that you realize they probably are busy with year-end activities, but you wanted to take a minute to wish them a happy holiday. Put holiday cheer in your voice and keep the conversation short and light. Do a little research beforehand and, if the person you call made a career move or won a major victory since the last time you spoke, congratulate them. You can ask about their family, or holiday plans, or let them know you’ve enjoyed working with them and hope to do so more in the coming year. If your call turns to business matters and they suggest getting together in the new year or mention a potential referral, simply make a note to follow up after the holidays.

Chances are, given that most people are celebrating the holidays virtually this year, they’ll be spending lots of time checking their messages. Take a risk and reach out with holiday greetings to at least one person you’ve always wanted to meet but haven’t yet. A single Zoom meeting request, email, or phone call may turn into a new opportunity.

Valerie Fontaine
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