Those careerists knew how to play the game better than most. But how does one appropriately schmooze without coming off as brown-nosing? And, how can you aptly parlay friendly party chatter into an opportunity to showcase your talents?
Here are a dozen tips on how to "schmooze" your your holiday office party:
1. Whatever you think about it, keep in mind it is an office party first and foremost. Don't just (grudgingly) attend it and then get out at the earliest chance. Determine an objective for the evening. In advance of it, think through what the best possible outcome would be relative to potential career growth. Think through a few realistic scenarios of how you might work toward achieving your objective.
2. Debrief your guest. As important as it is for you to know who the "important people" are at an event, the same holds true for your guest. The person you have chosen to accompany you to a business function, and how they behave, reflects directly on you – whether positively or negatively.
3. Take the early bird special. Arrive at the event early. Make a point of speaking to and thanking your boss and the host of the party, introduce your guest, and generally spread good tidings. Show your humanity and connect on a different level before things really heat up.
4. Presence pays…literally. Generally speaking, great schmoozers are interesting and entertaining to those around them, and exude self-confidence. It's imperative to present a comfortable demeanor– however "important" or intimidating the other person may be. Appearing at ease during a time when others are feeling anxious or uncomfortable will make you look more like a "natural leader," thus making yourself a stand out.
5. Maintain your visibility. The location where you are situated should be highly visible. Stand in a place that is approachable - not behind chairs or the kitchen door where there is high traffic.
6. Maximize first impressions. How you introduce yourself to people, especially superiors, is important. Develop more than one way of introduction, and keep in mind that the secret to a good first meeting is self-confidence, poise and emitting a generally affable air.
7. Due diligence. There's nothing more awkward than standing face to face with a power player amid uncomfortable silence. Schmooze pro's always know the right thing to say. Review current news events before the office event so you may participate in – or, even better, start – mainstream conversations about the economy, foreign affairs, and relevant "happenings" around your city. This macro awareness can put you in a whole new light in the eyes of a superior.
8. The great can articulate. Being able to effectively communicate, off the cuff, what you do for an organization, without gloating or over-inflating, is critically important. Long-winded answers with ebbs and flows can render the actual answer lost in translation. When and if appropriate, use the opportunity to self-promote and impart any new ideas you may have in a way that will not be construed as bragging or credit hogging way.
9. Nix the narcissism. Rather than focusing on self-talk, make the other person your focal point. Feed their ego by asking him or her open-ended questions, and be sure to include everyone in the conversation –with both questions and eye contact. When it's your turn to speak, don't monopolize the conversation, use jargon or terms that others may not understand – they won't impress!
10. Calling card critical. Keep business cards with you at all times, which are often forgotten by those attending informal company meetings or social events, and dole out liberally. You want to not only remain top of mind, but also completely accessible, post-event.
11. Grievances need not apply. A social business event is not the time to clear the air about things, or people, that have been bothering you, nor is it a time to speak at another's expense. Speaking negatively about others will be a greater loss for your image and career.
12. Imbibe and socialize with caution. There is no quicker career killer than public displays of drunkenness at a business function. Don't embarrass yourself by dancing like a crazy person or like a predator at a club, get caught necking or act aggressive in any way.
Here's to your future!
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.