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Getting the Most Out of Your Holiday Party

Office holiday parties aren’t just about having a good time with your buddies, or dreading your headache the next day. They are actually great opportunities to meet new people, rub elbows with senior leadership and potential mentors, and create strong relationships for the future.

Busy executives often lack the time during business hours to develop the next generation of leaders. But if you catch their attention when they are away from their desks and feeling relaxed, it’s a great chance to forge a connection and hear their points of view on topics important to them and the organization.

In fact, nearly half of professionals (47%) say the office holiday party had a positive impact on their career, and more than one in four (28%) heard about a new job opportunity there, according to a 2017 LinkedIn survey.

I know it can be nerve-wracking to speak with the Chairman or CMO when you normally have almost no interaction. Just be authentic. Tell them something memorable (in a good way) about yourself and ask them open-ended questions about their lives: Are they going anywhere for holiday break? What are they most looking forward to? Do they make New Year’s resolutions?

Learn about their families, where they live, and what they like to do during their off hours. Actively listen for what lights them up, especially if it’s something you have in common, be it sports, hobbies, travel, or food. If you can get them talking about a topic they are passionate about and personally connect with them on the topic, I promise you will leave a lasting impression. Pretty simple right?

Avoid too much business talk and all office gossip. Don’t give spouses or partners short shrift, either. Not only will it get back to their significant others, it’s not nice.

“Introduce everyone with enthusiasm and include them in the conversation with eye contact, comments, and questions,” says Susan RoAne, bestselling author of How to Work a Room. “If you find yourself talking with someone about Technology and you know nothing about it, but met someone earlier you think they’d hit it off with, walk him or her over and make the introduction.” This is always a classy move.

Here are some more tips:

Don’t get over-served. If you really want to party, save that for time away from the office. One of the biggest mistakes is drinking too much. Don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t say while sober during business hours.

Expand your horizons. Seek out the cross-functional resources with whom your team/department works alongside, and spend some time developing these relationships. If there’s someone whom you feel may not be that keen on you, a holiday party can be the perfect opportunity to turn the relationship around.

Dress appropriately. Some people will change from work to holiday attire while others will go straight from the office. When in doubt, stay classy, festive, and elegant. I always tell women, when in doubt, dress like Jackie Kennedy.

Ask about the dress code, and keep in mind that the executive team evaluates your judgment in and out of the office. It may be a party, but it’s still a business event. They might be thinking whether they would they feel comfortable sending you across the country to entertain a new client. Better safe than sorry.

A gift. If the party is at someone’s house, be sure to bring a small host/hostess gift.

Steer clear of sensitive topics. The office holiday party is definitely not the place to bring up politics, religion, gender issues or race relations—all of which should also be off-limits during business hours. Don’t assume everyone votes the same way as you do or celebrates the same holiday. Change the conversation if impeachment comes up, and try saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Stay off your devices. Socializing with your colleagues is not the time to stare at your device or tweet to your best friend. Nor is your office holiday party the time to post photos of drunken colleagues or vent about work frustrations. In fact, the time for that is…NEVER.

Say thank you and good-bye. Be sure to make the farewell circuit and thank the party organizers. Follow up in the days ahead with short notes to anyone you enjoyed meeting.

What are your best and worst office holiday party memories?