How to talk to anyone from the CEO to the interns at your company holiday party

Avoid putting your foot in your mouth when chatting with your boss or coworkers at your holiday party, and maybe even help advance your career in the process.

How to talk to anyone from the CEO to the interns at your company holiday party
[Photo: Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images]

It’s that time of year when parties fill your calendar. Mingling with both people you know very well and those you never speak to, you might be a little nervous. But little nervousness goes a long way to helping you get ready. Saying the wrong things can be career limiting, just as saying the right things to the right people can be career enhancing.


If you want to make a great impression, think ahead to what you’ll say. When the corks are popping and hors d’oeuvres are being passed around, you’ll have some key messages to deliver. Here’s how you can prepare to be spontaneous in  four conversations you can expect to have at your office holiday party:

What to say to the CEO

You might worry most about speaking with your CEO–or with any high-ranking executive. With that in mind, you could decide to give it a pass. But that’s a no-win strategy. Instead, take a deep breath and walk over to that senior executive. Make sure she’s not engaged in a conversation with someone else. If she is, wait, watch, and go for it when the she is free. That itself takes a keen eye.

Extend your hand, and introduce yourself. Don’t say, “I’m Aesha, I work in sales.” That introduction will go nowhere. As you shake hands, be sure to share your full name, and do so with confidence and eye contact. Tell your CEO not where you work but what you contribute. So, if you’re in sales, you might say, “I’m Aesha Patel, and I’ve helped corporate banking have its best year ever.” Or you might state, “I oversee our expanding relationship with NBR Bank.”

Now you’re talking your CEO’s language. Any one in authority will love to hear these positive messages, and will be able to build upon your narrative. If it sounds like boasting to you it will sound like success to your company’s officers.

How to connect with your boss

Don’t even think of avoiding your boss, even if you’re shy or don’t particularly care for the person you’re reporting to. This is a great opportunity to strengthen those important ties, and present yourself as a confident person, comfortable in your job. The key is showing your boss you appreciate him.

As you plan for this conversation, think about the one thing you admire, respect, or like about your boss. It could be his ability to inspire his team, or his dedication to the department’s success. You might appreciate that he mentors you and others. You might also respect him because he’s a great dad who manages to balance work and family.


Think ahead and get your message clear in your mind. Here are some possibilities: “I want to thank you believing in all of us on the communications team and being such an excellent mentor.” Or, “You know, one thing I’ve noticed this year is how devoted a dad you are. You’ve shown us by your example how to make the work-life balance successful.”

Chatting with a colleague

The fun conversations often are with friends and close colleagues. Networking with them can be full of laughter, sharing confidences, and making plans. But here again you have an opportunity to build relationships. So take full advantage of these encounters.
As you’re thinking about the event, decide which of your colleagues and friends you want to spend time with and what you want to say. In each case, there is an opportunity to take the relationship to the next level.
Here are some angles: If a colleague and you have been working on a project, tell them it’s been a great experience, and suggest what you might do in the next year. Or if you know your colleague is hunting for a job, say you may have someone she can talk to. If you two have young children, share the excitement of having little people during the holidays. Suggest getting the kids together in the New Year. The point is to build the relationship.

Approaching a Stranger

There will no doubt be people at the holiday party that you don’t know. Well, be sure to take time to reach out to a few of them. They might be new employees, clients, spouses, or partners. Make them feel welcome by going up to them and saying, “Hi, I’m Donovan Elliott. Great that you could join us.”
What unfolds is not necessarily a conversation you could have planned, but it will be special because you’ve taken the time to give an outsider a warm welcome.

If it’s a client who’s been invited to the event, tell them, “We love working with your team.” If the person is a new employee, ask how they like their job. Offer to have a lunch with them in the near future to discuss any questions they might have. The important thing is (1) that you have made a point of reaching out and (2) you do a lot of listening. They’ll remember you for those gracious qualities.

Basically, it’s a party, so keep your discussions warm and positive. Avoid contentious topics that can drive things off the rails. And contribute to everyone’s joy (and your own career success!) by preparing what you’ll say, whom you want to talk to, and how you’ll reach out to those you don’t know.