You better not pout Job loss. Foreclosures. Pay cuts. The events of the past year do not make for cheerful small talk. How to party like it's 2009.

Any seasoned holiday partygoer has a well-crafted toast, conversation starter and escape plan in place before he or she rings the doorbell. But the current economic climate calls for the addition of some rarer skills to the partygoer's tool kit: discretion and tact.


Fa-la La-La Lah - and how are you?

Fearful of a foot-in-mouth moment at the punch bowl?

Karen Bussen, a New York City-based entertaining expert and best-selling author, shares 5 smart ideas to help you schmooze and make all the right moves at this year's holiday parties.

Conversation starter

"Focus on something that's great about the party," Bussen says. Start in a general area, like food or décor.

Conversation ender

There's nothing wrong with offering a simple handshake and smile, wishing the other guest a "wonderful time tonight" and moving along. If you feel the need for something more elaborate, "Ask a question like, 'Hey do you know where the ladies' [or mens'] room is?'" Bussen suggests.


"Keep it nonreligious, nonpolitical and all inclusive," Bussen warns. She recommends reciting a quote. If you don't have the best memory stick to these safe topics: health, happiness, prosperity and good cheer. Remember, "It's a toast, not a roast," says Bussen. Keep it short.

Change the subject

When a conversation drifts into an undesirable subject area, "change the topic in a fun and upbeat way," Bussen says. Bring up a holiday memory or ask a question.

Escape line

"Avoid making people think you have somewhere better to go," Bussen warns. She recommends dropping a line like "I wish I could stay longer, but my baby sitter has to leave early."

- Taniesha Robinson

A party is no time to inquire about - or divulge - financial setbacks and personal difficulties. Etiquette experts say that in recessionary times, taking care to avoid those land mines is essential to helping create some holiday cheer - and should serve you well both at the party and after. It's time to brush up on the new rules of engagement for recession-era holiday partygoing.

Beware the opening line

For anyone out of work, the prospect of hearing "And what do you do?" throughout an evening's festivities is enough make a few hours of résumé rewriting look like fun. Don't let insecurities about being unemployed wreck a pleasant evening, says Diane Gottsman, a San Antonio etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Devise a bulletproof response that may nudge the conversation in a new direction: "I was previously in the banking business but am looking forward to new opportunities in teaching," for example. You'll be off talking about your new passion, not your old job.

Look on the bright side

Before any party, it pays off to spend a few minutes thinking about how to respond to standard party inquiries: How has your year gone? How is work? This is no time to dwell on grim news. You don't want to be the person talking about your foreclosed-on home at an upbeat party, says Andrea Lyons, a Richmond, Va. event planner and president of All About Presentation. If you find it difficult to find the silver lining in your own cloud, prepare plenty of questions to ask others to take the focus off you, Lyons advises.

Don't mix business and pleasure

Parties, whether personal or professional, can be a great way to meet people in a relaxed environment. But that doesn't mean that they are networking free-for-alls. By all means, meet people, talk about your interests and expertise. But don't ask for a job or even job-hunting help at the party.

"There is no worse buzz kill at an event where people are drinking, eating, talking about their holiday plans, and someone interjects that he or she is looking for a job, as if he or she expects to get hired on the spot," Lyons says.

No matter how perfect a match you are, the person you imagine to be your prospective employer doesn't want to work at a party. Follow up afterward, perhaps sending a note with a lead or a tip you discussed.

"If you do [networking] right, you will leave a favorable impression," says Kesi Stribling, CEO and chief strategist at Washington, D.C.-based KSG Strategic Consulting. But she also cautions that it is possible to leave a negative impression. If you are employed yet job-seeking, consider getting a personal separate business card to give out for networking purposes. If you give out your current company's card, you may give a prospective employer the impression that you're doing personal business on company time.

Mix and mingle

Regardless of the economy, a holiday party is only a networking plus if you meet new people, not if you stand in the corner alone next to the cashews. Stribling suggests you make a deal with yourself before you walk in. Set goals. If you're an introvert, start by making a pact to meet 5 percent - 10 percent of the guests. If you're an expert mingler, shoot for 50 percent - 75 percent.

Don't sweat the small stuff

If you've been laid-off you may be concerned about the costs that come with holiday merriment, but you should not stay home just because you can't afford an expensive hostess gift. A handwritten (and heartfelt) thank-you note the next day will go just as far as a bottle of wine brought to the party. Don't fret about not having a new outfit to wear, as long as what you have is clean, pressed and in good shape. Having polished shoes and a good hair cut go further than a new dress, says Lyons. If your holiday parties are pinching your budget too much, pick and choose the few that will be most useful in your job search.

Watch your intake

Regardless of the economy or the season, the No. 1 rule for holiday parties is to watch your liquor consumption. And, if you are hoping to make contacts for a new career, the stakes are even higher. You must be alert and quick on your feet: Don't drink enough to impair your ability to be articulate and charming. To monitor your consumption, suggests Lyons, "drink out of your glass/bottle once every five minutes or so and never when networking and talking with the person in front of you. Think of [the drink] as an accessory like a handbag or a watch."

If you're at a party with a cash bar, think of it this way, Lyons adds: "The fewer drinks you buy for yourself, the more you can schmooze and buy for someone else."

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