Step 3: Get the boss talk out of the way.

Don't avoid your supervisor; she'll inevitably notice and remember this when you're back in the office. "Your boss doesn't want to talk about projects at a party," says Zack. Not even a five-minute quickie suggestion that you know will save everyone hours of work next week. Now is just not the time. You do, however, have a highly effective nonwork conversation topic at your fingertips: New Year's plans. Ask her what she's doing and the conversation might lead to how she feels about New Year's Eve or resolutions...but if it ends with you wishing her a safe, fun trip to Cortina, that's not bad either. If your boss is the one who missed the memo about getting drunk as well as the one about blabbing about hitting on the client, "the best way to handle this is to exit the conversation ASAP and never speak of it again—not to your boss or anyone else," says Zack. The worst thing you could do, Zack says, is to sprint over to your friends and repeat the conversation word for word. If your boss goes down in a blaze of humiliation, so will you.

Step 4: Don't be tempted by the free top-shelf tequila.

Stick to one drink. Yes, this is standard (not to mention boring) advice, but in case that initial drink awakens an intense craving for a second, remind yourself of what British researchers recently found: that people who drank alcohol at an event or place they hadn't done so before (not unlike an office conference room) tended to be more uninhibited than those who drank the same amount in a place they were familiar with (like their patios). For real-life supporting evidence, look no further than the Manhattan publishing executive who was sued a few years ago by a female employee who said he prodded her to kiss another woman at a holiday party or the AOL U.K. employees who used a photo booth at an office party to snort cocaine and strip off their shirts—without realizing all photos were immediately uploaded to a company website.

Step 5: Don't go up to the VIPs unprepared.

There he is: the best-known, highest-paid decision maker in your organization. You maneuver your way through the crowd to his side, introduce yourself and then...offer your opinion about the canapés. This is not a good use of anyone's time. Later, you realize you should have mentioned his holiday email to the staff or his last big, well-received idea. This is where the planning comes in. Zack suggests being specific and avoiding general comments like, "I heard your book was great." At the very least, thank him for the party. "Executives have told me that after a party with 40 employees, only one person will thank them," says Zack. (It's a sure bet they remembered who that one person was.) The VIP might ask you about your role at the company. "Don't just say, 'I work in production,' which is what most people do," says Zack. "Instead, tell them one thing you love about your job. People tend to light up when they talk about things they enjoy," she says. Keep the conversation brief: "Two to three minutes, tops."

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