Even if you've never, ever been the kind of employee who had to call in mortified the day after an office party, chances are that you aren't thinking strategically about the kind of impression you want to give at this year's event. More likely, you're just wondering how long you should feel obligated to stay. Consider this annual get-together as your chance to help as many people as possible make a positive association between your face and your email address. Here's how...
Step 1: Talk to everyone except your cubicle mates.
This party is your chance to find out where the extra freight elevator is located, why the color copiers are always breaking down and who handles all of those irate customer service calls (and how she does it). It's also your chance to thank people from outside your department who make your job a little easier, like the IT guy who cheerfully unfreezes your computer and the studio manager who helps you make the final FedEx pickup of the night—every night.
Step 2: Embrace the awkward first 15 minutes.
Show up when the party starts, says Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking
, and it will be easier to talk to other early birds before their friends arrive and the music drowns everyone out. If you have to go late, another strategy for meeting new people is to find a line, whether it's for the bathroom or the buffet. "You can talk to the people in front of you and behind you, and there's a natural close to the conversation when you get to the front of the line," says Zack.
Next: The best way to get the VIP to remember your name