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How to Schmooze at the Holiday Party

Get five tips to help you mingle and schmooze like a pro.

By
Lisa B. Marshall
December 11, 2009

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With the holiday season around the corner it’s time for a refresher on how to properly schmooze. Today, I’ll cover five tips to help you mingle like a pro at your upcoming holiday party.

How to Schmooze At Your Holiday Party

Today’s episode was in response to this email:

Hi Lisa,

This is my greatest fear! I'm going to be attending my boyfriend's work Christmas party. I don't know anyone there and this is just scary. I don't even know what to say to people.

I read your "How to Start a Conversation" and "How to Introduce Yourself" podcasts. They're good, but I think this party is going to be a bit different. I'm a total stranger and I know nothing about engineers. Please give me some advice.

Hill C.

Well, Hill, you’re not alone. I know some people who would rather have a root canal than have to make small talk with a stranger. In fact, I think it makes most people uncomfortable (at least to some extent).

Making Small Talk Is Important

For me, making small talk has always made me feel uneasy. Very early on my career, I remember saying: “Well, I don’t understand the point. Small talk, it’s phony and boring. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” But as my career progressed, I realized the role and importance of small talk.

Of course, mingling is just a warm-up exercise. Like any warm-up, it helps your exercise, which in this case is a real conversation, not feeling strained or uncomfortable.

There is an art to mingling and building rapport--which of course is an important networking skill. So today, I’ll share with you my top five tips for holiday party schmoozing.

Oh, and if at the last minute you’re tempted to blow off the party, don’t. For your boyfriend it would be like missing an important work meeting, and more importantly, he would be missing the chance to talk with people he normally doesn’t interact with. And you would be giving up an opportunity to practice and master your mingling skills.

So here are my top five tips.

Schmooze Tip #1: Pay Attention

The goal of any office party is to practice your mingling skills by paying attention, taking the lead, listening, sharing, and appreciating.

First, before you go to the party, prepare by looking at the headlines. Look at local stuff and global stuff. You don't have to be an expert, just be aware. At the event, pay attention to stuff around you--the traffic, the parking, the venue, the artwork, the theme, the food…everything.

During the event, look around the room. The easiest thing to do is just talk to your boyfriend or talk to the same people he always talks with. But instead, challenge yourselves to join the noisiest group--that one with people who appear to be enjoying themselves the most. Or, look for someone who is standing alone and who returns your eye contact with a smile. And don’t stick like glue to the first people you meet. Set a goal to meet a certain number of new people.

Schmooze Tip #2: Take the Lead

Next, take the lead. Most people want to have a pleasant conversation and consider that a difficult task. So get into the holiday spirit by taking the lead. Make a comment, ask a question, or give a sincere compliment.

Hill, you don’t have to be an engineer or know anything about engineering, just ask about your shared experiences, "Did you find parking nearby?" or "This place is really, nice. I've never been here before; have you?” “Even though I’m not much of a gambler, I’m really having fun with this casino theme. Did you try any games?”

Of course, at holiday parties, you always have the holiday as a conversation starter.  “Do you have any special holiday plans?” “Are you all ready for your holidays?” or
“What’s your favorite part of the holidays?”

Can’t think of question? Try a sincere compliment. I emphasize sincere. If you don’t really mean it, don’t bother. Finally, it bothers me that I even need to say this, but tell your boyfriend to avoid compliments about attire. Unfortunately, this is still a WORK event for him the compliment could be misconstrued.

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