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At a party
How to host and attend with class

01/14/16
By Angie Sykeny asykeny@hippopress.com



 If making small talk, buying a host gift and choosing an outfit are sources of stress for you, you’re not alone. To set the record straight on party dos and don’ts, the Hippo consulted Armida Geiger, an etiquette expert and owner of Adelie School of Protocol, a Durham-based mobile classroom. Whether you’re the host or the attendee, check out these tips to help you navigate any party this year with confidence and poise.

 
Hosting how-to
Being a good host starts long before the guests are at your door; the invitation sets the tone of the party and lets your guests know what to expect. In addition to the basic info, state if your party is “open house,” meaning it’s a casual atmosphere where guests can arrive and leave at any point and, unless otherwise noted, bring a plus one. If it’s not open house, specify your expectations. You should send invitations at least three weeks in advance, and while mail is the preferred method, electronic invites aren’t off limits.
“If you don’t want to mail them, you can substitute a paper invitation with an e-vite,” Geiger said. “E-vites are a very commonplace and accepted form now.”
On party day, make sure your house is prepared to accommodate guests. The walkways and common areas should be well-lit and clear of clutter. If you have rowdy pets or are inviting people who may have animal allergies, confine your pets to a separate part of the house. If you have children, consider hiring a sitter to supervise them in another room. You can even set up a kids’ area with food, crafts, movies or games so your guests can bring their children as well.
When your guests arrive, you should be ready at the door to greet them. Take their coats and any food or host gifts they’re holding. A common mistake, Geiger said, is doing last-minute tasks while your guests are there.
“Having everything completed is the most important thing,” she said. “If your guests see you’re still putting out the ice bucket or the napkins, they’ll feel like they didn’t come at the right time.”
During the party, focus only on your guests. You should constantly be making the rounds to socialize, give introductions and ensure everyone has what they need.
Help your guests feel comfortable leaving by positioning yourself within eyesight of the door. That way, they don’t have to search for you to say goodbye. Retrieve their coats, thank them for coming and offer a hug or handshake, depending on your relationship. They’ll leave the party on a high note, and you’ll feel like an awesome host.
 
Perfect attendance
When you receive a party invitation, RSVP as soon as possible via the same method it was sent. (With mailed invites, it’s OK to respond by phone.) If after several days you still don’t know if you can attend, it’s better to just decline than to keep the host waiting.
Look closely at the invitation to determine the style of the party. If it’s addressed solely to you and doesn’t mention anything about bringing a plus one, you should attend alone, even if you have a spouse or significant other. The invite will usually give an indication of what to wear. Typically, attire for outdoor or afternoon parties is casual, while evening parties are dressier. When in doubt, it’s better to overdress than underdress.
“You can always take off your suit jacket or pearl necklace when you get there if it’s not as fancy as you thought,” Geiger said.
Regardless of how formal the party is, you should never show up empty-handed. Bring a host gift like gourmet cookies or candy, wine, a box of notecards, a nice napkin set or a jar of quality jam. Don’t forget to attach a small “thank you” card so the host knows it’s intended as a host gift.
When you enter the general party space, socialize a bit before having any food or drink. Start with either one person standing alone or a group of three or more.
“A larger group may seem intimidating, but their conversation is usually more casual, so it’s easier to break into,” Geiger said. “Don’t go up to two people because they could be having a more private conversation.”
If you’re approaching people you don’t know, introduce yourself (and your date, if you have one) and ask how they know the host.
“That’s always a great question to ask,” Geiger said, “because the host is what brought everyone together. [Knowing] the host is something everyone has in common.”
Small talk should consist primarily of inquiries about the other person, not facts about yourself. You can artfully conclude a conversation by asking if they have tried the refreshments yet or, if they are already holding a snack or drink, where the refreshments are located. Then, make your exit with something like, “Well, it was very nice meeting you. I think I’m going to get a drink. Can I get you anything?”
Finally, be sure your phone ringer is off, and never take out your phone during a conversation. 
If you aren’t sure how to act in a certain social situation, just remember the Golden Rule.
“That’s what etiquette is all about,” Geiger said. “Making each other feel as comfortable as possible.” 





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