As soon as you see your colleagues, you're going to be tempted to complain or gossip. Zack says this is one of the riskiest things you can do because you never know who might overhear, remember or repeat your comments. She was once in a bathroom when two co-workers were gossiping about a third. Suddenly, the victim threw open the door of one of the stalls and said, "You don't know anything about me!" before storming out. "They were deservedly mortified," says Zack.
Step 7: Move to a new group after every third sip of your drink.
Make it a point to circulate before you hear (or tell) the same stories twice. Refer to your list of easy conversation enders: "I'm going to the bathroom," "I'm going to the bar for a glass of water," and "I'm going to the buffet." Zack's more professional standbys include, "I'm sure you have other people you want to talk to," and "I promised myself I'd circulate." We once knew an executive who was able to introduce us to the nearest co-worker (in a flattering way), quickly summarize what we'd been talking about and then hand off the conversation and slip away with a smile.
Step 8: At karaoke parties, play to the crowd.
As much as you avoid stepping up to the mike in your personal life, you're part of the company, which means your job tonight is to sing at least one song. Period. We asked the managers at some of the country's most popular karaoke bars to tell us the crowd-pleasers that even a novice can handle. Every single one nominated "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey. "When this song starts playing, everyone will join in," says Teddy Mui, general manager of Winnie's in New York City. Did someone already sing this? Go with "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. "It's the best song for office parties—and nonoffice parties too," says Frank Huang, the karaoke host and event coordinator at the Mint in San Francisco. "Everyone knows the chorus: 'So good! So good!' So catchy!" Want to get the crowd swaying and snapping instead of belting out the tune with you? Elton John is your best friend: Mui and Huang recommend "Tiny Dancer" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," which is great for duets.
Step 9: Just say no to the after-party.
There is nothing to be gained—and lots to lose—by staying out late. Whatever happens, whoever screws up, everyone will be talking about it on Monday.
More ways to prepare for the office celebration: