I'm not generally one to blow my own trumpet (it's a ribcage thing) but it has been said that I throw excellent parties, after a few years of doing this I started to get asked for advice on how to help people throw their own parties. As I have no desire to become a party planner, I have put together this handy guide containing all of my top tips.
TIP 1: It's all about the guest list.
A common instinct of most people who are planning a party is to invite everyone they know. This - whilst admirable - is a mistake, whilst you may love all of your friends, it is a fairly safe assumption that they don't - necessarily love each other. It’s just as likely that you have a few social circles who never get to meet. It is there for important that you balance the guest list perfectly. Let me give you an example:
Let’s say you have three separate social circles:
If your home can comfortably fit 20 people in it then those 20 people should get along like a house on fire, it’s absolutely fine if they have not yet had the chance to meet, meeting people at a house party is a great way to make new friends, however if someone from your work circle and someone from your uni circle have a habit of not getting along then either make sure the party is big enough for them to stay away from each other without spoiling the party for anyone else or (and I'm afraid this is the more common option for house parties) Don’t invite one of them.
It is completely understandable that you would feel bad about this, nobody wants to be the guy who has to say ‘Sorry, you are not invited’ but you have to look at it from a ‘greater good’ perspective. The chances are (as I have discovered in the past) that if you were to invite both of them, the one you spend the less amount of time with is going to end up feeling left out and won’t enjoy themselves anyway so it’s actually nice to just not invite them in the first place. Just make sure that they understand it’s because you don’t think they would enjoy the sort of group that you are inviting. Most of the time, they understand.
The second part of this tip is to make sure you are inviting like-minded people, again for the same reasons listed above, if you generally hang around with a bunch of intelligent and polite people but you happen to also have a few friends who are not quite as bright or civil as the rest (as is often the case when uni and school friends mix) then it’s just going to ruin the party for everyone, the uncouth people will end up feeling victimised and the others will be likely put off by their behaviour. The best result you can hope for if you allow two opposite groups to intermingle at a party is that they will develop cliques and a clique is the death of any good party.
That being said:
TIP 2: Don’t worry about cliques at the beginning
Most people, when confronted with a large group of strangers feel a little bit awkward, so it’s quite understandable that the first few hours of the night people are likely to split up into familiar groups. However once the party has been going for 2-3 hours and the drink has started to flow, the groups should feel a bit more relaxed and ideally will have started to mingle with the rest of the party.
If this does not happen then it is the job of the host to get the ball rolling, introduce people who you feel would get along, start a party activity that will involve everyone (See below for ideas), the best way to help groups mingle is to give people different start times for the party. Get a few people who you know will talk to anyone to come a little earlier and then give the new/quiet people a start time that is 20-30 mins earlier than the rest, that way they will likely have been ‘warmed up’ by the time the main guests get here, it’s vitally important that the talkative people get here before or at the same time as the quiet people though otherwise it will likely just make things even more awkward, don’t forget that the start of a party is usually the most hectic time for the host.
One of the main causes of cliques at parties (apart from an unbalanced guest list of course) is the fact that often friends will bring their own friends to a party. This creates something of an x-factor which you cannot hope to control, the only way around this is to immediately engage with the friends of your friend (or get one of your talkative friends to do this if you have to), once they have gotten to know you a little better they will be more comfortable, plus it gives you the opportunity to get to know them as well so that you can introduce them to other party-goers (or at least determine if they should be shuffled into the corner away from everyone else).
TIP 3: Don’t underestimate the friendliness of strangers
Although the host is the social hub of the party, it is important to remember that you are not the god of the party. You should never think ‘This guy is awful, no one will like him, in the corner with you!’. Sometimes this IS obvious but it is up to the party goers to indicate this to you (usually non-verbally), rather than for you to make the judgement yourself. I’ll give you an example:
A few parties ago, a mate of mine brought a guy to one of my parties, he was a perfectly nice guy but he seemed really strange, I was immediately concerned upon meeting him that he would freak other people out and unbalance my party. However within an hour of his arrival everyone loved him, he is definitely weird but he is that kooky kind of strange that people love to be around. He has been to every party of mine since and I now count him amongst my friends. People are more willing to accept people than you may think so even if you think ‘oh bugger’ when you first meet someone, give them a chance to mingle and see how it goes.
Obviously it goes without saying that (unless you are a bastard) you shouldn’t actually send someone to the corner, just encourage them to leave the heart of the group, it is quite likely that they have already detected that they are not fitting in and will de-mingle themselves anyway.
TIP 4: Allow for the ‘freak clique’
I realise that a lot of these tips make me sound like a bit of a heartless and judgemental bastard but please don’t be fooled; that is exactly what I am... when it comes to parties. The idea is for everyone there to have fun and you have to make sure that you control what happens to make sure this works out.
If your place is large enough then one ‘all night’ clique generally won’t hurt, usually you will find that people who don’t ‘fit’ with the general vibe of the party will either be so out of their usual element that they’ll migrate to a corner by themselves anyway or they will find that they naturally gravitate towards other people who don’t really feel like they fit in. I call this the ‘freak clique’ not because everyone in it is a freak (although that is sometimes the case) but because they are the unknown element in the party, allowing them to form a clique of their own will only have positive effects:
They will stick to their own clique and, despite not really fitting in with the rest of the party, will still have a lot of fun and maybe make new friends.
Groups have their own social pull, even a freak clique can attract other people to come and talk to them and eventually that will help them to mingle, remember, many people who join that clique may be fantastic people who just need time to come out of their shell.
TIP 5: Bring the entire party together to do something
The absolute best way to break a clique up is to have an activity, now this is a sensitive subject when it comes to party planning as games can be considered as structured fun’ which few people enjoy and can make the party feel forced. Until lately I’ve used late night competitive karaoke (using Lips on the Xbox) to bring people together, the confident ones immediately jump on the microphone and the others watch, more often than not, even the ones who are not quite as confident will eventually get up and join in. Even if they don’t, they still have fun watching others make a fool of themselves.
However on New Years Eve last year a group of people in my building (I usually put posters up saying I’m having a party to encourage other residents to meet each other) came to my party from their own party and brought with them a game they called ‘Orange Battle’, this was incredibly popular and resulted in a showdown between both parties. It was so popular that we successfully used it to reduce the ‘clique effect’ a friends party, the majority of attendees had never been to one of my parties and absolutely loved it. The rules are very simple and anyone can play but people get so excited about it that it really works to bring people together. Don’t bring it out too early though, wait until everyone is sufficiently sozzled for maximum effect.
TIP 6 - Use social networking to engage people (before the party)
Whilst traditional invite methods (word of mouth, phone, email etc...) should not be overlooked, the easiest way by far to organise a party now is to create a facebook event. The events page is a great way of making sure all of your guests see the information that is needed for them to get there but is also a great way to connect with guests, as you have a wall that you can chat to people on and people can look at the list of invitees.
One caveat here though: not everyone uses Facebook and even some of those that do, still don’t check their event invites, it’s also a good idea to send a message to people separately to let them know about the party. Also don’t let the ‘going’ or ‘maybe’ count worry you, it’s very rare that those numbers match up to the actual people attending. For the party above for example, the ‘going’ list said 6 and the ‘maybe’ said 4, at it’s busiest my party had almost 30 people there.
TIP 7 - Use social networking to engage people (after the party)
Every party I have thrown in the last two years has had a webcam set up in the corner, it doesn’t record standard video (it would be too long and not worth watching anyway without some serious editing), it takes a single photo every few seconds, then the next day I compile them all together into a time-lapse movie. The videos always go down a storm as they capture everything that happens at the party perfectly.
There are a few things to consider when doing this:
1) Technical stuff - I’ll write a proper tutorial about this soon but until then what you need to know is that you’ll need a webcam capable of automatically taking still frame shots at timed intervals, as far as I know all cameras can do this if you use the right software, I use a paid program called TinCam but I’ll try to dig out a few freebie versions for the tutorial. You’ll then need to stitch the photos together after the party. I use Windows Movie Maker for this as it’s free and does the job perfectly.
2) Keep a few privacy zones - Not everyone will be happy about there being a camera in the room, even a time-lapse one so make sure that you keep one or two corners out of frame.
3) Warn people beforehand - You don’t need to make a big deal about it, just pop a line on the facebook event saying you have a webcam set up or when people turn up just point the webcam out to them, if they don’t like it, point out the privacy zones. I’ve never had a person leave yet because of the camera.
4) Set the timings up right - I’d say this varies depending on personal taste but you have to make sure that the intervals between each photo is short enough so that you can a) detect movement (otherwise it’s just a slideshow) and b) capture all the best parts of the night, it’s possible to go too far the other way too though and take too many shots, then the video will be too long and nobody will want to watch it. Personally I suggest one shot every 5 seconds.
Once the webcam video is up and running, you can then upload it to YouTube and share it on facebook for all your friends to see, this usually sparks a few good conversations
Don’t forget to take photos and record videos using your camera phones (or actual cameras if you insist) as these still produce the best close up party memories.
Another perk of the timelapse idea is that you have literally thousands of still photos of the night. Even though it can be a little arduous, I always make sure I go through each and every one of them and pull out any that look good/funny and upload them to a facebook album I made especially for the party. Don’t forget to tag people!
TIP 8 - Don’t forget the music
As Madonna once said “Music makes the people come together”, and whilst that particular song would probably only serve to unite people in hate, the woman had a point.
Many parties have a ‘party mix’ that the host has made, this is fine if you are technologically limited to CD’s or you know the musical tastes of every attendee there but it is a lot more engaging to instead set up a playlist that people can have access too.
I generally create a shared playlist using Spotify, add the songs I want to it and then share the link on the facebook event, that way everyone ends up with songs they like. Sure the playlist is pretty eclectic but even terrible music is good for sparking up a good conversation and the really bad stuff can always be skipped. For extra fun, keep the playlist open and on shuffle during the party and allow people to add to it as much as they like.
Here is an example playlist that I made for a party last year, as you can see it became eclectic pretty quickly, feel free to use it yourself, it’s collaborative so you may mess about with it all you like :)
I would advise a few rules though otherwise it can tend to get chaotic, for example make sure they don’t spam the playlist (eg add 100 songs by the same artist) and that they can only add songs to the playlist itself and not switch to another playlist or medium (like YouTube for example). This makes it fair for everyone.
TIP 9 - Don’t assume people will bring things
This tip can be considered optional and is entirely dependant on budget, more often than not, people DO bring things to a party but the best parties are fully catered for in advance. This isn’t usually as expensive as you think as if you buy enough booze, it should last you for at least two parties (as people often will drink their own stuff anyway).
I generally buy the following (although depending on the taste of you and your friends - your milage may vary):
- 2L Vodka
- 1L Navy Run
- 1L White Rum
- 1L Whiskey
- 1L Gin
- 2 crates of beer
- 4 bottles of wine (which rarely get drank as the winos nearly always bring their own)
- ½L Brandy
- 1L Vermouth
- 2L Ginger Ale
- 2L Tonic Water
- 2L Soda Water
- 8L Fresh orange juice
- 1L Blackcurrant Juice
- 1L Lime Juice
- 1L Lemon Juice
- 6L Cola
- 4L Lemonade
- 1L Grenadine
- 1L Strawberry milk
- 1L Malibu
- 2L Taboo (original)
- A bag of citrus fruits (Lemons, Limes, Oranges. usually about 6-8 of each)
I find this combination of alcohol and mixers is enough to make quite a few of the more popular cocktails (plus one of my own invention) and is generally enough booze to accommodate everyone at the party, I often find at the end of the party I still have quite a bit left for the next one.
Food works well at a party but unless it is a dinner party, I’d advise against anything that could be considered a ‘meal’. Party snacks always go down a treat, again my shopping list usually consists of the following:
- 2 Tubes of pringles
- 3 Bags of Doritos (different flavours)
- 1 large bag of peanuts
- 4 tubs of dip (usually, sour cream, salsa, hummous and nacho cheese)
- A hand full of carrot and celery sticks
- A couple of pizzas
Plus my sister often bakes some muffins (or if it’s a special event, a cake).
TIP 10 - Do something unique
This does not have to be something 100% original nor does it have to be unique from party-to-party but your parties should always have something for guests to look forward to. If you can become known for how good your parties are then each one you have will be better than the last.
For example, if it’s Halloween, don’t just put some plastic bats on the kitchen table and the monster mash on the playlist, make the effort to turn your place into a haunted house.
Don’t just put drinks out, invent (or google for) a really great tasting cocktail which people will love to drink and put it in a punch bowl. I invented a cocktail a few years ago which people always ask about now when they come to one of my parties (don’t ask for the recipe, it’s closely guarded :P), recently I bought a drinks fountain to make it into a centrepiece.
All in all, your parties should be fun, if you are going to make it structured fun then hide the structure as much as possible as the fun should feel natural and dynamic, if you put the extra effort in before the party then it will pay dividends.