According to some, I am the “Queen of Parties.” I truly love going to parties and I host plenty of my own get-togethers too. I know at least a dozen people I could call right now to invite to any kind of celebration. I have a running list of quick foods and appetizers I can prepare and I can make small talk with anyone and have a great time doing it. To me, a party is not a stress. It is just fun.
Some might be shocked at the pace of my social calendar. Since mid-November, I have planned and attended the Marine Officer Wives of the China Lake Marine Air Division’s pre-Marine Corps Birthday Ball cocktail party and the Marine Corps Ball itself, a monthly wine club tasting dinner I’m a member of, Thanksgiving turkey sourcing, my son’s 3rd grade Great American feast potluck, my son’s piano teacher’s concert, the Marine Air Division Kids Holiday Party, our squadron’s adult Christmas party, as well as our annual Kids Party for the squadron where Santa arrives on a helicopter. (And that is the very best thing of all!)
Anne tells me that not everyone is this social and asked me to give some survival pointers to those who are less enthusiastic about attending formal parties, specifically, the office holiday party.
First, why have an office party at all? It’s not like we don’t see each other every single day of the entire year. The reason is to get to know one another on a different level. During one holiday party dinner, two gentlemen I was sitting with had worked in the same industry for over 20 years together. For the first time in all of those years, these two men discussed extensively their antique car collections, muscle cars and races and all things cars. They never knew each other’s passion for this subject. And I learned a lot about cars that evening. It’s always fascinating to see what other people’s interests are outside of work. And the best way to do that is the office party.
At another party, I discussed with a coworker of 5+ years, golf. It turns out he competed extensively all through high school, was the member of prestigious golf clubs in the southern California area, and gave me start-up tips and even helped me select my clubs. (Which are fabulous, I must say!) I NEVER would have found this out (or it would have taken MUCH longer) just in a normal work environment. So when you attend these parties—sit by someone you don’t know and learn something about them. As you can see, being open to learning something new and asking a lot of questions are some of the secrets to great conversation.
The first thing you need for a good office party is someone that WANTS to plan it. I will never forget Karen and Lori—who for one Halloween maximized a small budget and decorated our conference room to the 9s!! It was so much fun! The company sponsored pizza and soda, and people brought a dessert to share. So send out an email asking for a volunteer(s) to plan the event.
Don’t just randomly assign the party planning to someone who may or may not want to do it or the person or position who “always does it.” The energy of a good planner (or better yet, a planning committee) translates into all aspects of the party and has a big impact on whether people want to attend and whether they will have a good time. I find that a three to four-person committee works best for party planning with a coordinator (to oversee, keep everyone energized and promote the party–this is usually me), several artistically talented folks to help with decorations and invitations, and of course, a good cook to organize the food. A side benefit of a planning committee is that you have more people invested in the party who will then attend to show off their handiwork.
Office parties don’t have to be complicated. A party can be as simple as making reservations for lunch out of the office at a local restaurant. A change of scenery does wonders for morale! The restaurant does not have to be expensive either–a local diner, local chain restaurant or even fast food restaurant all can work with the right planning and promotion.
Potluck is also a common office holiday party tradition. Potlucks are great because they are cheap (or even free) and also offer built-in conversation starters (“Yum! This is delicious! Who made this?” “What’s in this?” “Someone else loves ____ as much as I do?!?”) At one company I worked for, everyone was asked to bring their favorite food for the potluck. While we enjoyed many delicious and lovingly-homemade foods, there were also pre-made deli plates and, most famously, one friend brought literally 15 cheeseburgers from Burger King to add to the menu.
Entertainment is key! Yes, there must be an activity/game, something that will bring people out of their shells. (No groaning, please!) If musical chairs or limbo are not your style, read on for some other suggestions. At one company I worked for, we had great fun with a DVD exchange. For those of you not schooled in the “exchange” system, I will review the rules. Everyone that wanted to participate bought a DVD, wrapped it and then we each drew numbers. #1 gets to pick first, then #2—and you can steal the other person’s DVD if you liked that one better. Usually the 3rd owner of the DVD keeps it and it can’t be stolen after that—and at the end of the game #1 gets to steal any DVDs that haven’t had 3 owners at the end of the game. Hilarity ensues as everyone argues over the best presents. A great DVD gift item from that party was Phil’s—he bought the movie Ratatouille, added a bottle of inexpensive French wine, and included a recipe for Ratatouille. Very clever! New kids’ videos were also a hot commodity. I ended up with “Knocked Up”—very funny movie if you haven’t seen it. In place of DVDs, a white elephant could be done instead where anything—good/bad/ugly can be wrapped. That can be an absolute hoot! Last year at one party I received a broken ceramic rooster. That’s a keeper for sure!
Also company trivia (or any trivia) contest can be good. One company nicknamed their database Claven—after Cliff Claven (the know-it-all) on Cheers. Or a raffle of 5 or 10 low-priced items, like movie tickets, Starbucks $5 gift cards–small things that are fun to receive and use and make people interact with each other.
If you are not very excited about going to an office party but you have to go, what can you do personally to make the experience more fun? Show up with a positive attitude. That’s the best thing ANYONE can contribute—because after all, someone has gone to the trouble to plan this event. Whether it’s any good or not is most dependent on the people who show, and the attitude they bring. Fun people can trump a bad menu, lack of entertainment, whatever problem may arise. So enjoy yourself! Usually these are just once a year!!
What are your favorite office holiday party memories or ideas? Please post in the comments.