Jennifer Selby Long asked:
Copyright (c) 2008 Jennifer Selby Long
In the US and Europe, in November and December, we find ourselves with the corporate holiday party season upon us. Corporate holiday parties are one of the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. They’re a veritable minefield in which, if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you, and if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come — for all the wrong reasons. In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the later, I offer these tips.
1. If you are unsure how you are expected to dress, ask a few people whose judgment you trust and who have attended this particular company’s events in the past.
–Guys, for the record, I would not head to the men’s department and ask the clerks. Their job is to sell you something, and how on earth could they understand the meaning of the mysterious combinations found on the invitation, like “festive casual” or “black tie formal optional” at any given company?
–For the women, what can I say except that we face strange conundrums in the holiday business wardrobe department, like figuring out what constitutes a power evening gown.
2. Nobody cares what you do for living or what projects you’re working on. Yet, in American culture, like work-a-holic lemmings we instinctively ask, “What do you do?” or “What project are you working on these days?” Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work. Try, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work. Follow-up questions help, too. (“So your teenagers are musicians and you’re delighted that they’re into the new skull tattoo retro-funk movement. Wow. I’m not familiar with that. What is it?”)
3. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to less than your ego thinks you can handle. Particularly limit yourself to one or two drinks during cocktails, since there’s a lot more to come with dinner. If you’re tipsy, you might be terribly warm and charming, but odds are greater that you’ll just look like a fool. This tip applies even if your superiors are stone-cold blottoed. That promotion or transfer you may want will in part be based on your good judgment in a variety of settings. No, it’s not fair, is it?
4. Introduce yourself to every person at your table, and try to talk with each of them at some point during dinner, including the spouses, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office. Bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other.
5. When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. You can cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink. Try it now. See? Nifty, huh? Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a great conversation starter.