It’s that most wonderful time of year once again—office holiday party time! While it can be a lot of fun to celebrate the season with your employees, colleagues, and guests, corporate-sponsored events can also be stressful. Among the many questions that could come up, you might be wondering: “What should I say during my toast?” “What should I wear?” and “How should I mingle with others?”
Keeping a few simple tips in mind will help you navigate these professional holiday events with ease. Here are three recommendations to ensure that you shine bright this holiday season.
1. How to give a successful holiday party toast
Some toasts are funny and fill everyone with good cheer. Others are heartfelt and make everyone feel part of something bigger than themselves. Still others are businesslike, but appreciative and make employees feel their hard work has not gone without notice. While there is no one magic formula for giving a successful holiday toast, you do want to find words that will set a warm and uplifting tone.
As a leader, realize you may be called upon to say a few words at your company holiday party. Avoid getting caught off-guard by preparing a little something ahead of time. Consider the following when composing your holiday toast:
- Keep it short and sweet. No one wants to listen to a senior executive waxing elegant for 30 minutes, when they’re really at the party to mingle with colleagues, eat, drink, and be merry.
- Do it early. The best time to offer your toast is when most of the guests have arrived, but before anyone becomes distracted by the food and entertainment. Aim for about 30 minutes from the start of the party.
- Consider beginning with a story. This might make you feel a bit vulnerable. But there’s nothing like a speech full of generalizations or empty platitudes to put everyone to sleep. Instead, start with an anecdote. Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be personal. For instance, can you think of a single moment that encapsulates your company’s year?
- Touch upon the year’s biggest successes. This isn’t the moment to practice delivering your annual report or to offer a laundry list of accomplishments, but do briefly acknowledge one or two major wins.
- Express gratitude. Definitely honor and show your appreciation for employees and colleagues who have contributed to your success during the year. And don’t forget to acknowledge partners, spouses, and families, who are often called upon to make significant sacrifices.
Finally, don’t forget the toast at the end. Raise your glass so the crowd will follow your cue, then offer something simple, like “here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous year ahead.” Or choose something classic, like “Here’s to a bright New Year and a fond farewell to the old. Here’s to the things that are yet to come, and the memories that we hold.”
2. How to dress for success
Dressing for the office holiday party can be tricky. There’s no work setting, so if you dress exactly as you would dress for the office, your colleagues and employees may label you as addicted to your job, or worse, the firm’s “Mr. Scrooge.” Of course, if you go too far in the opposite direction, you’ll leave a whole different impression. So when you go to grab something out of your closet, how should you approach this type of event?
First, identify the dress code of the party. This may not be obvious—it’s probably not clearly stated on the invite. But in general, dress no more than one step down from your typical office dress code. For example, if your typical dress code is business professional, dress business casual for the party. If your colleagues tend to wear business casual Monday-Friday, feel free to wear jeans and leave the tie at home.
Also, realize that you can contribute to the festive mood by strategically using color for the occasion. Kaarin Huffman, Founder of Kaarin Huffman Color + Image, says “it’s fun to wear color during the holidays and a good way to spread the cheer—for yourself and your colleagues or associates. Reds, greens, blues, pinks, and purples can raise the energy level of the room. A pop of festive color in a coat, sweater, dress, tie, blazer, or shoes can signal that yes, this is the time for merriment and celebration.”
The office holiday party is the perfect place to play around with fun accessories too. “Add texture and sparkle for visual interest to clothing and accessories,” says Huffman, “even if the cut of the garments remains modest, as appropriate for most work occasions.” So don’t be afraid to spice up a typical blazer with a bright scarf or a statement piece like a candy cane broach. And, guys, you can definitely partake in the fun by pairing a charcoal suit with some festive holiday socks and a matching bow tie.
Here’s a final hint: “Be comfortable—as well as stylish—and you’ll enjoy yourself even more,” advises Huffman. For women, flats and low-heeled shoes are here to stay, she says, as are breathable fabrics, which have movement and are very forgiving. And both men and women will benefit from dressing in layers—think wraps, sweaters, vests, and jackets—that they can add or shed if the venue becomes too cool or too warm.
3. How to mingle with others
Often holiday parties can feel a lot like a middle school dance with the senior executives clustered in one corner of the ballroom, while everyone else huddles together trying to think of a reason to insert themselves into the conversation. Take this opportunity to get to know some of your employees or colleagues outside of your business unit better. You can neutralize any awkward tension by intentionally making small talk with others. For instance, if the evening includes a sit down dinner, make the rounds to meet and greet guests at each table during dinner. If the group is too large or food is served buffet style, position yourself near the desserts and chat with associates over cheesecake.
Yes, remember you are there to relax and enjoy the party, not to hold a business meeting or make executive decisions. So, avoid topics that are better suited for conversations in the workplace. Instead, bring up something interesting in the business marketplace, industry, or the local economy, talk about a common interest you share, or even mention a favorite holiday tradition. Genuinely engaging your employees in conversation is an excellent way to get to know them in a more informal setting.
In particular, there are three specific types of people you should seek out:
- The person or people who planned the party. Be sure to show them some appreciation and offer a quick in-person “thank you.”
- Your board members and their significant others. If they are in attendance, wish them happy holidays and make pleasant conversation.
- Any other special guests. Keep a mental checklist and make the rounds to introduce yourself to any guests outside of the organization.
Setting yourself up for success this holiday season doesn’t have to be stress-inducing. Simply take some time to visualize yourself dressed for success, giving a warm toast, and comfortably mingling with colleagues. Then, all you have to do is relax and enjoy the season!