Four Ways to Rule the Company Holiday Party

December 4th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Holiday No Comments »

officeholidayMany corporate holiday parties are among the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. Few companies are able to seamlessly blend the two, so the parties become a veritable minefield in which if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you, and if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come – for all the wrong reasons.

In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the later, I offer this simple advice to avoid awkwardness and create a pleasant atmosphere, without excess effort.

Question: I don’t really like parties, and I have a lot of work to do before year-end. Do I really have to go?

As my fantastic former boss used to deadpan: “Folks, this event is optional-mandatory.”

Yes, you have to go and you have to stay for the whole thing, or at least until 60 minutes before the scheduled end time. No one may ever tell you that, but read between the lines and RSVP with enthusiasm, even if you hate parties.

Why am I so unyielding in this advice? When I interview employees about their work experiences, they tell my how let down they were when managers and executives skipped the holiday party and other optional team-building events, even though I don’t ever ask the question specifically. Employees do all of the work to make this party happen, in addition to their regular duties, and it’s more trouble than you think.

It’s also often the case that while this particular party may or may not be important to you, for some of your staff, it will be the nicest, kindest, and most festive thing they do through the whole holiday season, so step up with a smile and do your bit to make it a great experience for them.

Question: I’m no good at small talk. What should I say?

Here’s the good news: it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you ask.

Nobody really cares what you do for a living or what projects you’re working on. Yet, in American culture, like work-a-holic lemmings, we instinctively ask the spouses (or “plus one’s”), “What do you do?” and we ask co-workers, “What projects are you working on?”

Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work at all. Try, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work.

Follow-up questions help, too. (“You do scrapbooking with your friends. I didn’t realize that was a group hobby. How did you become interested in it?” “So your teenagers are budding Oaklandish t-shirt designers. I’ve never heard of that. Tell me more.”)

Don’t bolt from conversations with lower-ranking employees the minute you see a prospect, E-suite executive, or other prestigious individual. With few exceptions, you’ll not only be laughed at by the people you abandon, but you’ll be secretly laughed at by the VIP’s, too.

Speaking of VIP’s, the holiday party is not the place to corner VIP’s with your great idea for the business. Say hello, engage in brief conversation, offer to introduce them to others, and move on. It’s o.k. to follow up with your business ideas after the party, but during the party, leave it alone.

If the event involves sitting down to eat, introduce yourself to every person at your table, and talk with each of them at some point during dinner, including the spouses and guests, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office.

Question: These events are embarrassing because I can’t remember names. Can I get better at this?

You get major bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other. It’s worth putting in the extra effort to learn how.

Here’s a great trick for remembering names. Kirk and I swear by it. As soon as you’re introduced, say the individual’s name, as in, “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” Then use it two more times early in the conversation. The repetition makes it stick in your head like glue.

Another trick that works well for me is to immediately associate the name with a character in a movie, a famous person, or someone else with a similar name — and the more absurd the connection, the better. If a woman introduces herself as Dorothy, for example, think to yourself, “Wizard of Oz! Wizard of Oz!” Every time you see her, the wacky connection will bring her name right to the front of your brain.

And Now, my Favorite Tip for a Sit-Down Meal….

When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. Cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink.

Try it now. See? Nifty, huh?

Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a sure-fire conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light…”

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Four Ways to Rule the Company Holiday Party

December 4th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Communication, Holiday No Comments »

Toast!Many corporate holiday parties are among the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. Few companies are able to seamlessly blend the two, so the parties become a veritable minefield in which if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you, and if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come – for all the wrong reasons.

In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the later, I offer this simple advice to avoid awkwardness and create a pleasant atmosphere, without excess effort.

Question: I don’t really like parties, and I have a lot of work to do before year-end. Do I really have to go?

As my fantastic former boss used to deadpan: “Folks, this event is optional-mandatory.”

Yes, you have to go and you have to stay for the whole thing, or at least until 60 minutes before the scheduled end time. No one may ever tell you that, but read between the lines and RSVP with enthusiasm, even if you hate parties.

Why am I so unyielding in this advice? When I interview employees about their work experiences, they tell my how let down they were when managers and executives skipped the holiday party and other optional team-building events, even though I don’t ever ask the question specifically. Employees do all of the work to make this party happen, in addition to their regular duties, and it’s more trouble than you think.

It’s also often the case that while this particular party may or may not be important to you, for some of your staff, it will be the nicest, kindest, and most festive thing they do through the whole holiday season, so step up with a smile and do your bit to make it a great experience for them.

Question: I’m no good at small talk. What should I say?

Here’s the good news: it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you ask.

Nobody really cares what you do for a living or what projects you’re working on. Yet, in American culture, like work-a-holic lemmings, we instinctively ask the spouses (or “plus one’s”), “What do you do?” and we ask co-workers, “What projects are you working on?”

Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work at all. Try, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work.

Follow-up questions help, too. (“You do scrapbooking with your friends. I didn’t realize that was a group hobby. How did you become interested in it?” “So your teenagers are budding Oaklandish t-shirt designers. I’ve never heard of that. Tell me more.”)

Don’t bolt from conversations with lower-ranking employees the minute you see a prospect, E-suite executive, or other prestigious individual. With few exceptions, you’ll not only be laughed at by the people you abandon, but you’ll be laughed at by the VIP’s, too.

Speaking of VIP’s, the holiday party is not the place to corner VIP’s with your great idea for the business. Say hello, engage in brief conversation, offer to introduce them to others, and move on. It’s o.k. to follow up with your business ideas after the party, but during the party, leave it alone.

If the event involves sitting down to eat, introduce yourself to every person at your table, and talk with each of them at some point during dinner, including the spouses and guests, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office.

Question: These events are embarrassing because I can’t remember names. Can I get better at this?

You get major bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other. It’s worth putting in the extra effort to learn how.

Here’s a great trick for remembering names. Kirk and I swear by it. As soon as you’re introduced, say the individual’s name, as in, “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” Then use it two more times early in the conversation. The repetition makes it stick in your head like glue.

And Now, my Favorite Tip for a Sit-Down Meal….

When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. Cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink.

Try it now. See? Nifty, huh?

Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a sure-fire conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light…”

Let me know how it goes in the comments!

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In the News

September 5th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Holiday No Comments »

FireworksHappy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday, Traveling Li-ight!
Happy Birthday to You!

Traveling Light turns 100 today. Yes, amazingly, this is our 100th issue. Some of you have been with our unflappable on-line e-zine administrator, Janet Smith, and me since the first issue in April 2007.

I decided then that I wanted to take everything I had learned about leadership, teamwork, strategy, and organizational change and break it down into five-minute training sessions that I would give away for free to anybody who wanted them.

The mission of Traveling Light remains unchanged to this day. Leadership is an exciting, sometimes arduous, always unpredictable, and immensely important journey. I’m grateful you’ve chosen me to be on the road with you. Strap on that backpack, lace up your boots, and let’s hit the road for the next 100 adventures together.

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Chinese New Year parade

March 18th, 2011 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Holiday, Just For Fun No Comments »

If you live in the San Francisco area, have you attended the Chinese New Year parade? It’s the largest CNY parade outside of Asia.

This gorgeous dragon is the grand finale of the parade, 250 feet long and fully lit in the dark, chilly night. Kirk got this picture, and yes, the dragon really was that close. We even reached out and touched it.

I’m absolutely mesmerized by it, and we race alongside to the end of the parade, with hundreds of other dragon-crazed parade-goers, until the parade ends in the ear-splitting explosion of a 20+ foot row of giant firecrackers.

It’s our second year to attend and I absolutely love this parade. No matter how cold or drizzly it is, bundle up next year and join us!

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It’s the Most Awkward-ful Time of the Year

November 26th, 2010 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Communication, Holiday, Management No Comments »

We have very few traditions here at Selby Group, but one is our annual advice for making the most of the company holiday party. Far be it from us to disappoint, so I now share with you this year’s update.

The good news for those who dislike company parties in general is that full-blown corporate holiday parties are slowly trending down, replaced by either nothing at all or simpler workday events with no alcohol. Still, the vast majority of companies will offer some sort of event, and it’s best to be prepared so you can remain at ease and make the most of it.

Corporate holiday parties and their sibling, the corporate-sponsored charity event, remain one of the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. They’re a veritable minefield in which if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you, and if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come – for all the wrong reasons.

In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the later, I offer this simple advice to avoid awkwardness and create a pleasant atmosphere, without excess effort.

As my fantastic former boss, Phil, used to joke: “This event is optional-mandatory.” You have to be there. No one may ever tell you that, but read between the lines and RSVP as enthusiastically as you can manage. When conducting organizational assessments, I hear employees express their disappointment if managers and executives skip the holiday party, even though I’m not asking the question.

Once at the event, remember that nobody really cares what you do for a living or what projects you’re working on. Yet, in American culture, like work-a-holic lemmings, we instinctively ask the spouses, “What do you do?” and we ask co-workers, “What projects are you working on?”

Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work. Try, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work.

Follow-up questions help, too. (“You do scrapbooking with your friends. I didn’t realize that was a group hobby. How did you become interested in it?” “So your teenagers are budding Oaklandish t-shirt designers. Wow. I’ve never heard of that. Tell me more.”)

Don’t bolt from conversations with lower-ranking employees the minute you see a prospect, C-suite executive, or other prestigious individual. With few exceptions, you’ll not only be laughed at by the people you abandon, but you’ll be laughed at by the VIP’s, too.

Speaking of VIP’s, the holiday party is not the place to corner VIP’s with your great idea or product. Say hello, engage in brief conversation, offer to introduce them to others, and move on.

If the event involves sitting down to eat, introduce yourself to every person at your table, and talk with each of them at some point during dinner, including the spouses, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office.

Bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other. Here’s a great trick for remembering names. Kirk and I swear by it, and we both do much better with names now that we’re using this trick. As soon as you are introduced, say the individual’s name, as in, “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” Then use it two more times early in the conversation. The repetition makes it stick in your head.

And Now for my Favorite Tip for a Sit-Down Meal

When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. Cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink.

Try it now. See? Nifty, huh?

Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a sure-fire conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light, too…”

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How to Avoid Awkwardness at a Corporate Holiday Party

December 14th, 2009 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Communication, Holiday No Comments »

Despite the weak economy, or perhaps because of it, there seem to be quite a few parties this year.

As a leader and representative of management for your company, it’s important to strike a tone that is festive without appearing to lose sight of the larger contex – that we are very early in the recovery and it’s been a tough year for many employees.

Remember that all eyes are on you, even in non-office settings – perhaps even more so in non-office settings where your behavior will be seen as “the real you.”

Corporate holiday parties and their sibling, the corporate-sponsored charity event, remain one of the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. They’re a veritable minefield in which if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you, and if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come – for all the wrong reasons.

In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the later, I offer this simple advice to avoid awkwardness and create a pleasant atmosphere, without excess effort.

Nobody really cares what you do for a living or what projects you’re working on. Yet, in American culture, like work-a-holic lemmings, we instinctively ask, “What do you do?” This is a particularly sensitive subject this year as many employees and spouses at the event may be part of the 10% of unemployed Americans – and the numbers aren’t much better in many other countries, either. Resist the urge to open with the familiar, “So what do you do?”

Become the greatest conversationalist they’ve ever met in their entire lives by not asking about work. Try, “What interests you outside of work?”, “What are you doing these days for fun?”, “What are your kids up to?”, or anything else that invites conversation on a subject of interest other than work.

Follow-up questions help, too. (“You do scrapbooking with your friends. I didn’t realize that was a group hobby. How did you become interested in it?” “So your teenagers are budding Emo-Punk t-shirt designers. Wow. I’ve never heard of that. Tell me more.”)

Don’t bolt from conversations with lower-ranking employees the minute you see a prospect, C-suite executive, or other prestigious individual. With few exceptions, you’ll not only be laughed at by the people you abandon, but you’ll be laughed at by the VIP’s, too. A holiday party is not the place to corner them with your great idea or product. Say hello, engage in brief conversation, offer to introduce them to others, and move on.

Introduce yourself to every person at your table, and talk with each of them at some point during dinner, including the spouses, who will speak highly of you forever simply because you steered the conversation away from endless droning on about the office.

Bonus points if you remember names and introduce people to each other. Here’s a great trick for remembering names. Kirk and I swear by it, and we both do much better with names now that we’re using this trick. As soon as you are introduced, say the individual’s name, as in, “Pleased to meet you, Kate.” Then use it two more times early in the conversation. The repetition makes it stick in your head.

And Now for my Favorite Tip for a Sit-Down Dinner

When you sit down next to the CEO, avoid eating his or her food by remembering that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right. Cue yourself by forming an “o” with your index finger and thumb. On the left hand, this forms the letter “b” for bread, and on the right hand, the letter “d” for drink.

Try it now. See? Nifty, huh?

Don’t worry about getting caught doing this. It’s a sure-fire conversation starter. For example, the person next you just might say, “Ah, I see you read Traveling Light, too…”

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Note from Jennifer

December 11th, 2009 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Communication, Holiday No Comments »

As we near the end of 2009, I would like to wish each of you a wonderful and restful year-end. We’ll all need to rest a bit after the rollercoaster of 2009 and what promises to be a very busy 2010 as the recovery moves along and the strongest players grab market share and deepen their investment in business and leadership development.

In the spirit of following my own advice, the Selby Group office will be closed December 16 – January 3. I will be available by cell phone through December 20, but expect some delays in my response time.

Today I feature what has become an annual tradition – how to survive and even excel at that most awkward of leadership situations, the holiday party.

Even if you were fortune enough to have your company’s holiday party cancelled “due to the economy” (translation – “any excuse to skip this awkward evening will do”), you will no doubt have at least one event to attend which crosses business and social lines.

No matter what the event, you are the representative of the company whether you want to be or not, you lucky devil. Today’s abbreviated article guides you in making this event passable or even a pleasure through effortless and engaging interaction – plus a sure-fire icebreaker for the dinner table.

Thanks for another great year in the Traveling Light tribe!

Success and Happiness,

Jennifer

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Looking Back and Looking Forward

December 30th, 2008 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Holiday No Comments »

This year has been simply amazing. I am so grateful for the many opportunities to help leaders, consultants, and other dedicated professionals skyrocket their impact.

I am also grateful for my team. I literally could not have accomplished all of this without them. 2009 is going to be even bigger for me, and it can be for you, too. Now is not the time to shrink back and hope no one notices you. That’s playing not to lose and now, more than ever, you must play to win.

Every crisis provides an opportunity for those brave enough to see it or create it. There are no exceptions.

No matter what your financial situation or the financial situation of your company, in 2009 there will be something just right to help you skyrocket your impact and lighten the load in your life. I get all excited just thinking about it!

Soon we will roll out the programs and systems you’ve been asking for. If you are a leader or dedicated professional who is absolutely committed to your personal and professional growth (and the financial benefits that come right along with it), stay tuned because 2009 is going to be your year.

And on that note, I wish you a Very Happy New Year!

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Happy Holidays!

December 19th, 2008 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Holiday No Comments »

We tried to get Bill to pose as a reindeer with us, but it’s not easy to get a 14-year-old cat to do what you want him to do.

I had better luck with the decorations, holiday activities, and our good friend and best man, Rocky Zion, in downtown San Francisco, and with the human subjects at the Pantheon holiday party and at Kirk’s EMBA program party at the home of Professor John Dopp.

You can see more photos below. My personal favorite just might be the “SKATE AT YOUR OWN RISK” sign, which was hysterically out of place amongst all the holiday cheer.

I would like to extend my warmest thanks to those of you who have invited me into your business to boost your financial success and personal happiness. It has truly been an honor.

And to all of the members of the Traveling Light eZine community, I look forward to continuing our dialogue in 2009 and providing opportunities to connect you with one another, too.

I wish you all much peace, much love, much joy, and much success!.

And here is everyone skating!

And a holiday tree:

 

And another!

 

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Thanksgiving Update!

December 2nd, 2008 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Holiday No Comments »

What a whirlwind this time of year is turning out to be!

It launched with a Thanksgiving visit from my parents. Here we are with Mom, Dad, and friends Linda Pulver and Jim Meadows. We had a ton of fun just trying to get this picture right with the camera’s perplexing and uncooperative self-timer.

Now we’re in the middle stretch. Kirk is working and studying 24/7 until his last class of the semester on December 18.

It’s a good thing we’re taking a week to relax on the beach after Christmas. With Kirk’s EMBA schedule, we’ll be in town a lot over the next 20 months, so we leapt at the chance to get away. I can just taste that drink with the little umbrella in it now. Ah!

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