By Alison Griswold
It's that time of year again - the office holiday party. Unlike other work events, the holiday party is one that most people actually attend. It's an opportunity to meet new people, and gives you face-time with pretty much everyone in the company, from the CEO to the most recent hire. That means you'd be smart to show up prepared.
We talked to Nicole Williams, the official career expert of LinkedIn, to get her top tips on how to strike up a conversation with anyone at the holiday party.
For starters, she suggests coming up with a list of people you're hoping to talk to in advance. Then, she says, do some quick background research on them: skim their LinkedIn page, Twitter account, or blog.
You're looking for shared interests, shared experiences, and really any commonality you could use to strike up a conversation. "Ideally you learn something about them because that shows respect and vested interest," Williams explains.
Once you've done that, you'll be ready to use any of her favorite questions and talking points, which we've compiled below.
Conversation Starters for Company Leaders
I read that you went to...
Your go-to conversation starter should be something that demonstrates your interest in the person you're talking to, Williams says. Plenty of things can work. She also suggests: "I read a report that you contributed to" or "I read a blog that you wrote." Both are flattering and open-ended, likely to generate a conversation rather than a simple yes or no response.
How did you get into the industry?
A favorite topic, especially among executives, is how they got where they are today. Because of that, Williams thinks this question is particularly good for striking up a conversation with the CEO or another high-level company member. "People enjoy talking about themselves, and they enjoy reminiscing about what brought them to the work in the first place," she says.
What's one of your goals for 2014?
Another talking point with the CEO and top execs is goals for the upcoming year. Williams says asking this will help you understand what's most important to the company and its leaders on a more personal level. Plus, once you know them, you can think about how to align your own goals with theirs.
What was the best piece of advice that you got early on in your career?
Williams admits that this query is a bit cliché, but says it's still an effective way of connecting with higher-ups in your office. "You can ask for advice, insight, wisdom," she explains. All of these will come off as flattering to the recipient.
Conversation Starters for Anyone
What's one of your favorite parts of this job?
Williams says this is a good conversation starter for anyone in the office. It's about work, but also personal enough to generate a real discussion of things people like and value. And you might find that you care about the same things as the person you're talking with.
Have you seen any movies? What have you read lately?
The best part about these questions, according to Williams, is that they create endless follow-up questions. For example, if your coworker recently saw "Captain Phillips," you can ask what he thought of it. If you've seen it too, you can have an entire discussion of it.
Did you take a vacation this year? Where did you go?
If you're looking for a friendly topic that anyone would enjoy, vacation is it. Williams says everyone loves to talk about time off. It doesn't matter if they traveled or stayed home - asking about vacation will help you learn what your coworkers enjoy doing and how they unwind away from the office.
Lastly, Williams adds that it's important to follow up on your conversations. If someone recommended a book to you, shoot them an email saying you got it and are looking forward to reading it. If you and a coworker discovered a mutual interest, find a related article and pass it along.
"You're learning something about them so that you can follow up after the event," Williams says. That's how you build a relationship that will last beyond the holiday party.
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