Use these 5 ice breakers to schmooze with the execs at your holiday party

Forget the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. With the right game plan you can dive into the most important part of the company bash—dishing with your boss’s boss.

Use these 5 ice breakers to schmooze with the execs at your holiday party

These questions will smooth out networking nerves.

Your company holiday party, group luncheon, bagel breakfast, [insert festive form of revelry] is right around the corner. And your game plan for these types of events should involve more than just diving into the spinach dip and guessing which of your colleagues will make fools of themselves on the dance floor. These are the best ice breaker questions that can help you mingle with everyone in leadership. It's much less stressful than it sounds.

Approach the party as an opportunity to get valuable face time with leadership. Make sure you've got the basics covered:

Arrive on time. Check.

Scope out the room to locate executives. Check.

What comes next—approaching and attempting to drum up actual conversation—is the important part. There are a variety of ice breaker questions for work situations to get things rolling. Avoid asking any inappropriate questions; start with these and you’ll be able to schmooze (ahem, we mean “have a meaningful exchange”) with the best of ‘em.

“Are you staying local for the holidays or traveling?”

Great ice breaker questions invite the others to talk about a topic they love: themselves. Ask the person about his or her holiday plans. Will they be traveling? If so, start talking about that location, the cuisine of that location, or flying during the holidays generally. If they’re staying local, are there any household projects they’re working on? Perhaps they’re hosting relatives from out of town, and if so, where do they live?

Think of it this way: Many people will use standard small talk, “Great party, isn’t it?” or “This food is terrific! Gotta love sushi.” Your conversation goals should be centered on having something memorable and meaningful to exchange, even when you only have a few minutes.

“What are you most looking forward to about the holidays?”

This is a slightly different tack that helps you understand what the person values. Perhaps his or her answer will relate to family time, going skiing or other outdoorsy pursuits, or going to the movies. It’s the kind of question you should be able to build follow-ups on fairly easily, which means you’ll have a longer more engaging conversation. And if the boss asks you back, it’s your chance to let him know who you are outside the office.

“What do you see on the horizon for the coming year?”

While the tone of the conversation should be light and friendly, it’s OK to ask a work-centric question posed out of curiosity. After all, you have access to leadership. You may want to tap into this opportunity to learn more about the company priorities for the coming year.

Similar to a job interview, do your homework ahead of time. If you’ve heard buzzwords about what’s ahead for your department and/or the company or your industry, be prepared to contribute to the conversation with questions and knowledge when applicable.

“Nice work on that presentation.”

Sometimes the best ice breaker questions aren't exactly questions. This one implies you want to know more. It always helps to use flattery as an entry point, but pulling this card out of your hat requires some advance research. Has the exec done something really impressive lately? Demonstrate interest in something the person said, wrote, or did.

You may say something like, “I really enjoyed your presentation at the all-hands meeting in which you showed how the sales team penetrated a new market this past fall. What challenges are you anticipating for the new year?” And then you can ask a follow up question, “How do you think we overcome them?”

A note of caution: Be authentic in your praise. Don’t compliment the exec unless you really mean it.

“Did you know I speak Mandarin?”

Find an inroad to revealing something unusual and memorable about yourself, but keep it professional and hold off on the bizarre. Let’s say you’re learning how to speak Mandarin. You can say something such as, “This Chinese food is great! Actually, I’m learning how to speak Mandarin and at the end of December my class has to bring in a Chinese dish…”

The person may ask about your interest in the new language or mention a recent trip to China…whatever the case, it opens the door for an interesting and memorable conversation. Chances are the next time they see your name on the organizational chart or walk by you in the hallway, he or she will think of your new linguistic skills.

The best ice breaker questions in all the world won't help you if you forget to enjoy the opportunity to interact in a casual setting—‘tis the season to network and of course, be merry. Could you use some more help learning how to stand out from the crowd? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice, job search tips, and workplace insights to help with your professional development.