Holiday gatherings can be fun, awkward and stressful all at once. They can be especially challenging if you’re attending the party as a guest of a client or prospective client.

There’s the pressure of having to mingle with strangers, striking the right topic of conversation and setting boundaries for yourself as a professional. You want to use the opportunity to expand your network while respecting the fact that it’s a celebration, not an occasion to promote your business.

To help you make a good impression on your hosts and your fellow guests, here are a few things to keep in mind, whether you’re attending a cocktail party or a sit-down dinner:

> Respond in a timely fashion
Give the host proper notice that you will be attending. Don’t wait until the last minute to decide if you can make it, or show up without sending an RSVP, says Leanne Pepper, general manager of the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto.

Read the invitation carefully to see if you can bring someone with you. And when you respond, ask if there’s anything you can bring. After the party, remember to follow up with a handwritten thank-you note.

> Bring a small gift
Even if the host has insisted that your presence is enough, Pepper says, don’t show up to the party empty-handed. Come with a small token of appreciation such as a bottle of wine, a gift for the host’s child, a plant or a box of chocolates — to name just a few ideas.

And while you don’t want to be the first to arrive, avoid showing up too late — or risk losing out on the opportunity to mingle.

> Keep talk of business to a minimum
If you do find yourself involved in a conversation about business with someone at the party, be mindful that your shop talk doesn’t overtake your entire exchange with that person. You can swap business cards, says Pepper, but offer to have a deeper discussion at a later date over coffee or lunch after the holidays.

If you must discuss business, Pepper says, move the discussion to the side or away from the crowd.

> Maintain a professional decorum
While a holiday party should have a casual, festive tone, Pepper says, you should still act as though you’re on company time. That means avoiding situations that could compromise or undermine your image as a professional.

For example, you may join in on the dancing, but avoid becoming the talk of the town the next day because you took it too far with your dance-floor moves.

> Dress appropriately
Opt for professional attire, but feel free to add a festive look through your accessories, Pepper says. For example, you might incorporate a fun Christmas tie or funky holiday socks.

This is the second part of a two-part series on holiday parties. Click here for part one.

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