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Party hearty - and network too!

The holiday season usually guarantees three things for the busy professional: a dwindled bank account, some welcomed time off--and an invite to at least one office party. On the surface, office parties are great venues for making merry with colleagues, clients and friends. However, savvy executives know there's more to be gotten at these functions than just free food. In fact, office parties are potential gold mines of networking opportunities and can serve as career boosters.

To eliminate the anxiety some workers may feel at approaching senior executives of a large corporation, Derryl Reed, president of the National Black MBA Association in Chicago, suggests devising a game plan before you go. "Identify who you want to talk to and research something about that individual," he advises. By finding out about the person's role in the company or any of his or her known hobbies or causes, you'll have some basis for initial conversation.

"Rather than introduce yourself cold, align yourself with someone who knows the individual," says Joan Lloyd, author of The Career Decisions Planner (John Wiley & Sons Inc., $14.95) and president of Joan Lloyd Inc., an organizational consulting firm in Milwaukee. "Ask that person to make the introduction." If you can't find an intermediary, try waiting until the executive steps up to the bar or buffet table, stand next to her, order a drink or some food and start a conversation. As an icebreaker, you might ask her something about herself, such as how she got started in the business.

Senior managers may also feel uncomfortable about starting up conversation with individuals they don't know, so the onus may be on you to make initial contact, points out Lynn Taylor, vice president, corporate communications, of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Robert Half International Inc., a recruiting firm. She suggests you simply wish the exec a happy holiday and "if there's some aspect of your job you genuinely enjoy or are proud of, let him or her know. Senior management will be flattered to hear from you."

Be prepared to answer questions as well as ask them, as it's possible that the person you're talking to will ask you something about your job. "Be buttoned up on your area of responsibility," says Reed. "You only get one time to make a first impression." If you can't answer a question, turn a negative into a positive by giving a quick overview and then asking if you can explore the material in greater detail at another time. Reed suggests asking if you can call the exec's secretary to set up an appointment to discuss the issue further.

Even when your invitation says you can bring a guest, you should consider going alone. Otherwise, you may find yourself preoccupied with making your guest comfortable instead of being able to mix and mingle freely. Likewise, when invited to a client's office party, you can avoid being a burden by not expecting your host to be joined at your hip. "You prime the pump for potential contacts and your host doesn't feel he must baby-sit you all night," says Lloyd.

When hosting a client at your company's affair, decide ahead of time to whom you'll make introductions. After a few minutes of small talk, take your guest around to those people. Then make your exit. You can drop back periodically and introduce your client to other people if necessary. Check first to see if it's even appropriate to invite a client. "I wouldn't recommend it if it's not company protocol," says Taylor. "Don't try to do everything at once. Pick your objectives." You can't network and host at the same time.

In order to avoid the trap of standing with your usual office clique, excuse yourself by saying you need to freshen your drink, go to the restroom or hit the buffet table.

The biggest mistake you can make is forgetting that an office party is just an extension of your office environment. You should therefore maintain the same high level of conduct you would at work. "If everyone gets bombed, that doesn't mean you should too," cautions Lloyd, who acknowledges that you shouldn't feel pressured into imbibing if you don't want to. Also, it's probably not necessary (or wise) to be among the last guests to leave. "If there's alcohol and things are going to get out of hand, it will happen late," Lloyd adds.

Any opportunity for hard-working professionals to escape from their desks and take a holiday break in a business environment should be welcomed--and the office party is no exception. So eat, drink and be merry, but remember: They'll be watching!
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:office parties
Author:Pouliot, Janine S.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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