Friday, February 22, 2008

Planning a Party:Entertainment Expert

For many of us the thought of attending a social gathering and making small talk with strangers is a nerve-wracking prospect. It can be extremely difficult to enter a room full of strangers and engage in a conversation. But it doesn't have to be so hard. There are a few survival techniques that you can adopt to turn these burdensome social occasions into networking opportunities.

Breaking the ice

The first step is arguably the greatest. Approaching someone and opening the conversation can be difficult. What should you say? For one, you should keep the subject matter light-hearted and general. Don't dive in there with a political question or a personal remark about their clothing. This is a high-risk approach and the receiver may think you aggressive or just plain rude!

Staying non-controversial and non-offensive to all might seem a tall order but it really isn't. There are some easy icebreakers that the most nervous guests would be able to mutter and which are guaranteed to get a response. Here are some examples:

How do you know Sarah (hostess)/James (host)? - This short question will immediately give you into a brief background of the other person and will allow you to introduce yourself.

What do you do for a living/Where do you live? - These general background questions will perhaps uncover some common ground. If not, asking the other person about their lives is a sure-fire way of ensuring that a conversation starts - people are always happy to talk about themselves!

It's all about momentum

What might be even scarier than opening a conversation is having it grind to a halt. It is therefore important to play your part and keep the momentum of the conversation going.

Be prepared! When the other person is talking don't get distracted and let your mind drift off. Listen to what they have to say. It makes them feel important and it also allows you to store vital information that you can later use as conversation ammunition.

We have already mentioned that people like to talk about themselves and this is very true. You may find that even the shyest person at the party is happy to chat about their lives. If you ask questions, not only does it reinforce the fact that you are listening but it will help make them feel special and comfortable.

What not to do...

Of course, some of us are confident speakers. We don't mind approaching new people and finding some common ground for conversation. However, just as it is considered rude to sit back, with arms crossed and stay silent, it is equally, if not more of a social crime, to be too inquisitive and too friendly. Here are some helpful tips to ensure that you do not cross the conversational line.

There is a saying that famously suggests that sex, politics and religion are topics to be avoided at all costs in social situations. Judge for yourself whether your party is an appropriate forum to air your views on any of these. Unless it's a small gathering of very close friends, it is unlikely to be. Stay appropriate to the surroundings.

Asking questions is good. This we know from the previous section. Interrogation, to the point of nosiness, is however, bad. Try not to fire questions at the other person. Some people don't want to go into great detail about their work or their private life so take the hint if you see signs of reluctance.

If you have a clash of opinions on a subject, don't just ridicule the other person or raise your voice and argue with them. Whether it's a dinner party, a drinks gathering or an industry-related networking event, an argument is guaranteed to disappoint and confuse everyone else in the room. Remember, its social acceptable to have a friendly disagreement, a near violent warring of minds is not as fun.

If, after speaking to the person(s) for a few minutes, you want to move on, don't, whatever you do, leave mid-conversation. This is hurtful to the other party, who may think they have either offended or bored you. Bring the conversation to a gradual end and excuse yourself to go off and mingle with the other guests. If you enjoyed speaking to them and it's a networking event, give them your business card and suggest a future meeting. If you have something in common, suggest chatting later on during the party. Alternatively, if you really were bored by their conversation, be polite, say that you enjoyed meeting them and wish them well for the remainder of the party.

The rundown

Here is a quick summary of what we have talked about above. These are just a few of the key points that you should keep in mind when attending your next party:


*Be open - crossed arms and a scowl will not endear you to anyone. Smile, walk tall and make eye contact with other guests.

*Listen - if you don't listen to the conversation occurring before you, you won't be able to contribute.

*Look interested - if you pay attention to what they are saying you will be more able to read their body language. Don't roll your eyes, look at your watch or let your eyes wander mid-conversation. This is a giveaway of distraction and very rude.

*Speak up - if the music is loud, you will have to increase your own voice volume. Equally, if you cant hear the other person ask them to repeat. Nothing is worse than nodding with a smile to a comment and then finding out that it was actually a very sad statement. Getting them to speak up will avoid this faux pas.


*Don't be a wallflower - you may be shy or you may be tired, but resist the temptation to sit in the corner on your own. You will get so much more out of the event if you chat to a few people and it's easier than you would imagine.

*Don't rush - although it is very honourable to want to speak to everyone at the party, rushing all your conversations will not be rewarding for either you or the other attendees.

*Don't interrogate - this isn't Newsnight, it's a party, so aggressive questioning will have your conversations ending quicker than you thought possible.

*Don't drink too excess - drinking can be socially dangerous. Secrets can be confessed, insults can be dished out and arguments can be started. Bear this in mind when you go to the bar for your fifth drink of the night.

*So there you have it. Making conversation at a party should not be an ordeal. It should be fun. Keep smiling and keep friendly and you will find that any self-conscious falls away as soon as that conversation gets going.

Planning a Party: Top Ten Rules

Are you a host that could do with brushing up your party-giving skills? Follow the advice laid out below and you cannot fail. This is the foolproof top ten list to party planning:

1. The guest comes firstWhen you are in the thrust of party-planning mode, one thought should always come first - the guests. Think about how they are and how that is going to effect the party you are intending to hold. If its only close friends invited, then think about arranging an informal affair. Any event with distant acquaintances or with more of a networking focus should be more formal. Also keep in mind that some of your guests will have special dietary requirements. Plan to serve a range of beverages and food dishes so that everyone is happy.

2. Preparation, preparation, preparationThis might seem a bit like stating the obvious but planning ahead is a wise nugget to keep in mind. If you want to use a special ingredient, make sure you buy ahead of time to guarantee its availability when you need to use it. Getting to the supermarket on the day and finding out that the cut of fish you planned your whole dinner party around is sold out will not get the night off to a good start. The idea is that blips are avoided so that also means getting the majority of your meals or party foods made ahead of schedule. Not only will this allay any host nerves but it will also maximise the amount of time that you actually spend with your guests. When they arrive the food will be ready to serve and you will be ready to party.

3. Think simpleBy all means, if you are an exceptional cook you can plan a food menu that puts Gordon Ramsay to shame. If your culinary skills fall someway short of such ability then keep it simple. Choose dishes that you have served before and that were particularly well received. Plan courses that complement each other. Don't serve too much of any one ingredient. You don't want to overwhelm your guests with too much meat for example, or a three course carb-laden affair. Balance and simplicity will go a long way.

4. Extravagance has its limitsElton John is lauded for his fabulously extravagant parties. You need not aspire to rich such dizzy heights of excess. It's far better for your pocket and for your guest's comfort to keep things appropriate. If it is an informal gathering with close friends you don't need to spend way over budget to impress them.

5. Keep it appetizingSatisfying your guest's appetites is more than just flavour. Both the food and the venue should make good use of colour to stimulate your guests. If you decorate correctly the ambience you intend to create will be easy. Think carefully here. A candlelit room can create a gentle, intimate atmosphere, perfect for your nearest and dearest. Inviting your boss over and wining and dining him to candlelight might not be so appropriate. In all cases, make use of garnishes, interesting glasses and plates and tasteful centrepieces for the tables. These are the things that people notice.

6. It's all about the musicIt goes without saying that a themed party, like a sixties night, should be married with the appropriate music. The evening's soundtrack should go some way to define the mood of the evening. Classical music says grown up and sophisticated, Ibiza chill out tunes says laid back and re-runs of the Macarena say something else entirely. Give this some thought and keep the volume at a level that still allows for conversation.

7. Battle the wine minefieldIt's worth researching wine. Consider what wine you should serve. If your nose is not that of an expert ask in your local wine merchants. They are normally happy to recommend a grape that will suit your food and your budget. Think about picking a range of red and whites as people do have preferences. Don't forget the water - pick up a choice of still and sparkling.

8. Dress to impressIf you want the evening to be black tie, say so. Make it clear on your invitation. If you don't then your guests will simply assume the smart/casual uniform. If you want to make a specific dress code request, keep it clear. No guest wants to spend hours deciphering your mystic and original dress request. If it's casual, keep it casual, if its themed make the theme explicit.

9. Make sure your guests are comingThe RSVP's may not have come flooding in but that doesn't mean that people will not turn up. Guests are sometimes lazy about RSVP'ing, particularly if it means writing a letter. Give them a courtesy email or phone call to save them the hassle. This will help you plan seating arrangements and the amount of food that you will need to serve.

10. Be a gracious hostIf you are nervous, flustered and stressed, keep it under wraps. Guests will be able to sense such emotions and it will make them feel uncomfortable and as stressed as you. If you have prepared well in advance and kept things simple, your party will go with a bang and everyone, including you, will be very happy.

Setting The Table

There are so many rules and etiquette guidelines that you can follow when setting your dinner party table. Fine bone china and crystal glasses are not pre-requisites but keeping everything looking good definitely is.

Get Technical

The amount of cutlery and plates you use will depend on the type of dinner party being held and the sort of guests you will be inviting.

If you are having a few close friends round then you may wish to dispense with formality. They will surely forgive you for any breaches of the etiquette rules!

If the guest list consists of business associates or people you do not know that well then pay close attention to the rules.

In general glasses should be placed to the right of the setting. Depending on the type of event you are having you can have up to three glasses: red, white and water, and maybe, for those special occasions, a champagne glass.

It is customary to have a charger plate to define the setting, although it is not strictly necessary. If you do go for this option, place a main plate on top of the charger and a bread plate to the left, with a separate knife for this.

The cutlery used will depend on the type of dishes served. We all know the order – start from the outside and work your way in. There are however, different types of cutlery for different dishes. For example, if you are serving fish, make sure that you have the correct implements available for your guests. Don't overlook this kind of detail - your guests may well notice.

Look and Feel

Once you have dealt with the technical aspects of setting the table, consider the look and feel. Executed well, this will make the biggest impact of the night!

Think about implementing your seating plan in an original way. You could always tie up the cutlery with gauze and insert a place card between the knife and fork. This is a pretty and unique way of letting your guests know their place.

Another idea is to get some dried flowers and a line of faux pearls and tie them together. Place a hole in the top left hand corner of a place card and tie the end of the pearls through it and knot the pearls. You may have to invest some time preparing this but the pay off is an expensive looking display.

The plates and cutlery themselves should fit the theme. If the dinner party is very relaxed and, for example, has an eclectic theme, mismatched plates can be forgiven. If the dinner party has a high-class theme then the plates and cutlery should be the finest in your collection.

Centre Point

Each table should have a centrepiece. Keep it simple with a glass vase, coloured glass stones and a string of beads floating through the water. Alternatively, spend time and money preparing something special.

A mirrored centrepiece adds some sparkle to the table and with a smattering of candles; the table will be full of flattering light. Get a mirrored tray and place flower petals and scented gel candles on top of it. An oversized champagne glass can be placed in the middle with either a candle floating in it or full of glass stones is an elegant touch.

As you can see, it’s all about effort. You don’t need to spend an absolute fortune to create a table or an atmosphere to remember. The right lighting and use of accessories will leave your guests, whoever they may be, seriously impressed with your hostess skills.

No comments: