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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

How to Network, Impress, and Still Have Fun at Your Office Holiday Party

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’Tis the season! Holiday party invitations are probably flooding your inbox faster than Santas are invading shopping malls.

And somewhere in all those invitations is probably one for a company party—a gathering that’s meant to celebrate the season and a year of hard work, but can be daunting, even for the most extroverted employee. Sure, there’s plenty of networking potential, but for many, the very thought of interacting with all those people induces flashbacks of mortifying karaoke and being trapped in a corner with Bob from accounting.

So, just how do you navigate the cocktail-infused waters of the corporate holiday party? Self-proclaimed Mingling Maven Susan RoAne, bestselling author of How to Work a Room, shared her top dos and don’ts for celebrating with your colleagues.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Do: Show Up

Whether you’ve been with the company for a decade, you just started, or you’re coming to the end of a short-term consulting gig, RoAne urges invitees to attend the party as a great opportunity to network and get to know those colleagues you may have passed in the lobby but never actually met.

It’s a great chance to build relationships and goodwill with your co-workers—or, if you’re hoping to make a move within the organization in the new year, the perfect chance to introduce yourself to the team you’re hoping to join.

Even if you’re between jobs but garnered an invitation as a result of volunteer or pro bono work you’ve done or as the guest of a friend, you should wholeheartedly accept. While a holiday party certainly isn’t the venue for “leafleting out your resume,” RoAne notes that the holidays are about generosity. So if the situation is right, discreetly hand out your card—in the spirit of the season, others may be more agreeable to make connections on your behalf.

Don’t: Ignore the Dress Code

If you don’t want to be misinterpreted, don’t wear a see-through blouse, RoAne jokes. But the sentiment is serious—she recommends that you make sure you “know the event.”

“Tuck away your tux unless the invitation says black tie, and if it does, don’t show up in slacks and a blazer,” she says. “Think carefully about what you’re going to wear. If you stand out like a sore thumb, you’re not going to be comfortable and you’re also going to look like you didn’t get the memo.”

For men, you can’t go wrong with a standard suit and tie, while women can dress up the ubiquitous black dress with pearls or a statement necklace (this guide might help you decide).

Whatever you choose, remember: This is a business event—not a second chance at prom night.

Do: Engage Everyone—Even People You Don’t Know

Company holiday parties usually aren’t only for employees—you’ll likely be meeting quite a few new faces, including your colleagues’ spouses and friends.

Even if you may never see these people ever again (unlike your co-workers, who you’ll see the next day), it’s important to treat them with respect, RoAne says. Chances are, they may not know anyone else at the gathering, and making them feel welcome and included is the polite thing to do.

As a bonus, no one has your boss’ ear like his or her spouse or partner, and making that person feel comfortable may enhance your reputation in a way even the best presentation might not, says RoAne.

“Introduce everyone with enthusiasm and include them in the conversation with eye contact, comments, and questions,” she notes. “If you find yourself talking with someone about IT 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.”

Keep an eye out for younger attendees, too. For example, if your boss’ children are there, acknowledge them and ask a question or two. Something as simple as “Have you seen Frozen?” or “How was your soccer season?” shows you’re interested in more than just yourself and the butlered hors d’oeuvres.

Don’t: Be Distracted by Technology

Detach from techie toys, including smartphones and tablets, and refrain from texting, emailing, status updating, or tweeting while you’re talking to people, RoAne advises. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on opportunities to learn more about your colleagues, and many may view your behavior as rude or self-involved.

She also reminds partygoers to avoid doing anything that they wouldn’t want to see posted on the internet or uploaded on YouTube or Snapchat. Further, don’t post pictures or comments without permission.

Think of it this way: Would you want to wake up the following day to find yourself tagged in photos or videos in which you’re striking strange poses beside a chocolate fountain or doing some of your worst holiday song-warbling? Enough said.

Do: Stick to a Two-Drink Maximum

While this pops up on nearly every holiday do and don’t list, it bears repeating, notes RoAne, cautioning that if you have too many of those free-flowing cocktails, you’ll probably pay for it later.

“People have great memories,” she says. “They may not recall where they left their keys, but if you drink too much, boy, will they remember that!”

Yes, it’s a party, that doesn’t mean the evening should devolve into an episode of Workers Gone Wild. It’s still a business event, so behave accordingly.

Don’t: Arrive Empty-Handed

Let’s say the party is at your boss’ home. You’ll want to bring a token of appreciation for the invitation and his or her hospitality at this busy time of year.

Bring a thoughtful gift,” RoAne says. “And don’t give something that’s going to make more work for your host. For example, if you bring flowers, now the host has to run and find a vase, wash it, cut the stems, and place them in fresh water.”

Rather, present something your hosts can enjoy later. RoAne suggests a fancy jar of preserves or some homemade fudge.

If you do arrive empty-handed, don’t panic and start patting down your pockets to see what you can quickly repurpose. After the party, make a donation—even one as small as $10 to $15—to a charity you know your host supports, and ask that a note be sent letting her know a donation was made in her name.

While holiday parties present a wonderful chance to celebrate, make sure what your co-workers are talking about in the new year is the event—and not you.

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