6 Steps to Wow the Big Boss at Your Company Holiday Party

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For junior employees, the office holiday party can present a rare chance to shake hands with the Big Boss. While acing that first impression can boost a young employee's reputation, botching it can be catastrophic.

Ron Aaron Eisenberg, a Texas-based media and communications consultant with The Eisenberg Group, recalls witnessing one such networking failure that took place decades ago.It was the early 1980s, and Eisenberg was a guest at a swanky New York City holiday soiree. As he chatted with the CEO of the hosting company, a very drunk young employee "walked up to the CEO, who was a prim and proper person, and gave him a great, big hug," Eisenberg says.

When the intoxicated employee lurched away, Eisenberg recalls, the CEO turned to his assistant and said, "What's his name? I want him gone by Monday."

While the annual get-together is a great time to meet the company bigwigs and earn respect from the bosses, it can just as easily backfire. Here's what to know.

1. Behave yourself. The office holiday party, with its unholy mix of cocktails and co-workers, is a minefield for misbehavior and mortification. "Keep it to a two-drink maximum," says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas.

Dress appropriately, steering clear of any outfit that looks too casual or revealing. "Dress the part," Gottsman says. "Don't show up in something like you're on your way to a sporting event."

2. Make the first move. When it comes to approaching the boss, "don't hesitate to walk up and introduce yourself," says Gottsman, who suggests carrying your drink in your left hand so that you don't begin with a clammy, cold handshake.

Since you may see this person only once or twice a year, it's polite to introduce yourself. Include your first name, last name and department, says Susan RoAne, networking expert and author of "How to Work a Room: Your Essential Guide to Savvy Socializing." She suggests saying something like, "I really appreciate that we have this opportunity to get together. Thank you for whatever you did to sponsor it. Oh, by the way, I'm Susan RoAne from the secretarial pool."

While being bold is great for networking, be careful not to overdo it. "Extend your hand," says John Baldoni, chair of leadership development at N2Growth, a global leadership advisory firm, and author of "Moxie: the Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership." "Don't charge across the room with your hand out."

He suggests starting with something like, "Hi, I'm John Baldoni. I work in packaging." You might want to add, "It's a pleasure to work here," he says.

3. Be social. Even though you're at a work event, don't talk business, complain about the employee health care options or outline your vision for the future of the company.

If you can't think of anything to say to the boss, try commenting on the event, RoAne says. After all, you're at the same venue, eating the same food and enjoying the same music. At the very least, you have those things in common.

Another faux pas to avoid: Don't hand a business card to the​ CEO, Gottsman says. If the big boss wants to get in touch after you chat, it shouldn't be hard to find you through an internal directory.

4. Be a sleuth. "You shouldn't walk in cold," RoAne says. To avoid an uncomfortable conversational lull when meeting the CEO, do some light stalking first, experts say. ​

If the CEO has written an article, been profiled or listed his or her alma mater on a LinkedIn profile, feel free to reference those details. For example, Gottsman says, you could say, "I really enjoyed the article in the business journal, and I didn't realize you were such a prolific hiker." Or you could reveal that you went to the same university or share a hobby or interest.

5. Include their guests. The fastest way to seem like a brown-noser or shameless corporate climber is to neglect the CEO's plus-one, experts say.

In addition to schmoozing with the boss, make eye contact with and include the boss's date in the conversation. "Whether your boss is a man or a woman, if you make an effort to be inclusive of their guest or their offspring, it's much more noticeable than you might think," RoAne says.

6. Make your exit. Don't let the conversation drag on ... and on. Gottsman, the Texas etiquette expert, suggests exiting with this line: "It was nice seeing you. I know that you have many people to greet tonight, but just wanted to say hello." Then head off to chat with other colleagues and their guests.

While it may seem intimidating, especially for newbie employees and young workers, remember that networking with higher-ups isn't rocket science.

"Be open; friendly," Baldoni says. "Be willing to shake hands. Keep the conversation light. Try talking about the holidays."
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