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Tips On Being An Exceptional Party Host

Posted by Rae Lynn on 12/9/2011 to Party Planning
The party host assumes responsibility as the ultimate authority and decision-maker for the evening.  Wield your power to deliver an enjoyable and memorable event for each guest. 

This is a big task, but achievable by breaking it down to four segments of capability:
  1. Attitude
  2. Tasks
  3. Etiquette
  4. Interaction
Attitude

Regardless of how many parties you host, each one prepares and teaches you for the next one.  Not only do you get better at hosting, your guests will quickly learn to match the effort and investment you make to each event.

With this knowledge, embrace your mistakes as learning decisions.  In fact, your guests will feel more at ease when they know the host makes mistakes too. Take control and be decisive, but also be flexible and quick to laugh at yourself.
 
Guests will take their cue from their host.  If you are nonchalant, relaxed and having fun, your guests will be less restrained and more comfortable. Lively conversation, lighthearted banter, and big smiles all become quite infectious rather quickly. 

The key is to be confident and playful.  Be gracious to an insulting guest, indifferent over a spilled cocktail, and composed when faced with a burned hors d'oeuvre.  Insert humor everywhere.

It should be about your guests having fun…not about what they think of you. If they have fun, they will think you are fabulous.

Tasks & Duties

Once you have the attitude in place, there is nothing you can't do.  Which is good, because the task and duties you perform are the foundation of your cocktail party.

This site covers the many tasks and duties of the host in detail.  Generally, these include planning and executing:
  • Party details
  • Guest list
  • Invitations
  • Party Layout
  • Lighting
  • Decorating
  • Cocktails
  • Hors d'oeuvres
  • Music
  • Disaster recovery
During the party the host should:
  • Dress in the spirit of the theme
  • Get each guest's first drink
  • Keep guests' drinks filled
  • Keep the bar stocked and clean
  • Oversee food service
  • Instigate birthday festivities
  • Arrange for someone to take some photos (optional)
  • Call a cab or arrange a ride home for inebriated guests

For your own reference in planning future parties, keep a folder and journal of all the details. Include the guest list, invitation, and photos.

Practical Etiquette

Etiquette refers to a "conventional code of social behavior according to contemporary norms".  In other words, a set of social ground rules to minimize misunderstandings and show consideration and respect for others.

Practical etiquette is behavior that shows consideration and respect for others, first and foremost, over rules and technicalities. When you apply practical etiquette as your guiding principle, your guests will feel relaxed and assured in your presence.
  • You should be there to greet the first and, ideally, every guest.  Do not be late, do not make an entrance.  If you invited them to be there at 6, you be there and ready at 6.
  • It is not advisable to serve a food or wine gift brought by a guest. If it is a gift, it is intended for your personal use at a time of your choosing and should not be given away to others.
  • Do not clean during the party, but keep spot remover handy for quick spill clean-up. If something is broken, quickly clear anything that might cause injuries to others. You want events at your party to be positive and fun, so never make a big deal over spills and breakage, plus there is nothing you can do about it now.
  • If a party guest is injured, take them to a back room, away from the party area, to treat them.
  • Try to introduce everyone, but focus on those guests that seem to know the least number of other attendees first.
  • Send thank you notes to guests that brought you gifts.
Interaction & Conversation Tips

Interaction:
  • Be observant of guests that are not interacting and engage them in conversation. After a few minutes introduce other guests into your conversation. Strive to create groups of 3 or more, not including yourself. The more your guests are interacting, the more they will help your party be fabulous.
  • Ask very shy guests to help you with something. This will give them a level of comfort and purpose that will enhance their experience.
  • Never leave someone alone, especially to go talk to someone else.  It is acceptable to leave a guest if you have a task that requires your immediate attention, such as cooking or an emergency. 
  • If someone interrupts your conversation, say excuse me to the person you are talking to and answer the interruption with brevity, then return to your original conversation.
  • Try to greet each guest with warmth and enthusiasm at some point during the party. Depending upon your style, greet guests with hugs or you may shake hands with your right and place your left hand over the back of their right hand or wrist at the same time.
  • Introduce as many guests as practical.
  • Take photos or ask someone outgoing to be in charge and creative.
Conversation Tips:

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."  --  Eleanor Roosevelt
  • During any conversation, maintain eye contact and give your undivided attention, never glance around the room or over their shoulder.
  • A point worth repeating: Maintain eye contact when greeting and talking to your guests.
  • Not surprisingly, people report a positive experience when a conversation is 75% about them and 25% about you. Too little about you makes you seem not forthcoming or interested and too much about you as self-centered. Volunteer some information about yourself then ask them questions in more detail.
  • Avoid asking people what type of work they do unless they bring up their job or working.
  • Redirect conversations that are getting dark or negative.

Starting or redirecting conversation:

  • Compliment a guest on something, but only if it is sincere.
  • Keep it light and fun with humor, think butterflies and rainbows.
  • Tell about an embarrassing story.
  • Ask questions to find common interests, it's always good to answer the question about yourself first. For example, I am from Nashville, where were you raised?
    • What do you do for fun?
    • Where did you go to school?
    • How was your day?
    • What was the highlight of your week, so far?
    • Do you have any trips planned or been anywhere fun lately?
    • How did you and your boyfriend meet?
    • Do you have pets?
    • Who is your favorite author?
    • Do you cook? What is your best dish?
Practice makes perfect, so the more events you plan and the more conversations you start the better your parties will become. Have fun!

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