December 2022 Leader Letter

Happy Holiday Talk!

Brush up on how to participate with poise at year-end parties—then lead by example.

By Renée Covino

Illustration of four people at a holiday party

Remember holiday parties? In-person mingling? Live sidebar conversations? Impromptu toasts and award acceptance speeches in front of a crowd? They're back!

Does that find you excited or anxious—or a little bit of both? Now imagine how those who look up to you feel.

Year-end holiday and department gatherings can be a way to get back to healthy socializing, build team connections, and have some fun, provided attendees are comfortable with how they act and sound. As a leader, you can set the festive stage for communication excellence. Consider these party prep/party talk tips, gleaned from the “Let's Talk Holiday Talk” webinar, hosted by Toastmasters in November, featuring Moderator Netania Walker, founder and CEO of a training/coaching firm, and Panelists Michael Varma, master magician, instructor, author, and Diane Windingland, business owner, coach, speaker, author.

Be aware that COVID protocols could still be in play. Find out before you attend which, if any, protocols are in place, and don't judge or pressure anyone who doesn't want to go or who will only attend masked.

Decide, ahead of time, what you expect out of the event and what type of energy you will show up with. It's great to be the life of the party, but it's also great to know your limits and comfort level for how long you want to stay and how you plan to participate. Even if those parameters change for you while you are there, it's good to set expectations and boundaries for yourself beforehand to reduce anxiety.

Check to see who's going. Good party attendee preparation also involves checking out who else is going and deciding ahead of time who you want to get to know and/or network with. It's also okay to do a little internet research as background to start a conversation, just be careful not to come off as a stalker.

Practice the art of small talk. Engaging with people at a party or function begins with knowing how to make small talk. Find someone who is not involved in conversation and greet them or introduce yourself. You can comment on something you observe, such as the food, something you know you have in common, such as the town you live in, or just ask an open-ended question, such as “How do you know our host?” Then, get ready to really listen, so that, like a game of catch, you can bounce back and forth with questions and responses. Topics should be light and enjoyable; you can even practice your Table Topics® skills here!

Use body language to make the exchange friendly and relaxed. A smile is your best nonverbal communication tool. While it may seem forced at first, smiles are contagious and can't be overemphasized. Nodding in agreement is also a good way to show interest while conversing. Uncross your arms and legs in a natural, welcoming stance. Above all, shut your phone off and don't look at it when mingling. If you are waiting for an important message, walk outside or away from the party atmosphere to take out your phone.

Know how to make a conversation exit. A simple tactic is to introduce two people you know to one another as your way to excuse yourself and “let you two talk.” If no one else is nearby, you can simply recap your conversation—"it was great hearing about…”, then excuse yourself while you “continue to mingle,” and promptly walk away unapologetically.

If you forget someone's name, own up to it. “Your face is so familiar, but your name has escaped me,” is a perfect way to handle a forgotten name with grace.

Work-related events are still work-related. How you handle yourself in social settings with the people you work with is still on the level of a potential job interview. Especially for leaders, this is not the time to let loose.

If you are presented with an unexpected award, accept it with excitement. Start with thanks and end with thanks. Read the inscription on the award, if appropriate. Tell a team-related story that relates back to what you're being awarded for, if appropriate. Don't make it all about you. Keep the entire speech under two minutes.

If you are expected to toast someone, makes sure it is a toast, not a roast. Introduce yourself and how you are related to the person being toasted. Focus on them, not you. Include a positive, appropriate story that encapsulates the person's attributes or why they're being honored. Notes are okay to use, whether on your phone or on an index card. Keep the entire speech to two or three minutes.

Additional Resources:

7 Tips to Brush Up Your Small Talk

Tips for Toasting

Let's Talk Holiday Talk