Party Basics

Music is perhaps the single-most important ingredient to the paella that is your party. Without music, you run the risk of long, uncomfortable silences, during which your party can nose dive. A prominently displayed CD collection will also give nervous guests and wallflower types something with which to occupy themselves until the party has moved into full swing.

Music sets the atmosphere; consider carefully the soundtrack for your party. If you can, coordinate your music with your party's theme: country/western for barbecues, disco for disco parties, and swing for martini parties. Also think about the types of activities you'll feature, and coordinate your soundtrack to reflect the mood you'll want to set. For example

  • For a seated dinner, plan a few lively CDs for pre-dinner festivities. When the guests move to the dining table, switch to mellow music – classical, vocals, or ambient house music – so you can hear conversation without shouting. Also remember to adjust the volume accordingly.
  • A casual mixer will fare well with classic or contemporary rock, country, bluegrass, or R&B – just make sure to keep the volume loud enough to hear, but quiet enough to encourage chatter.
  • If you're having a cocktail party, opt for smooth jazz, swingy '60s vocals (Peggy Lee or Frank Sinatra) or low-key house music. Again, watch the volume.
You'll want to experiment with different sounds and styles before the party. Try to achieve a mix of the standard and the unexpected. For interesting ideas, visit your local independent music store and chat up the clerks.

After you select your party soundtrack, check each CD to ensure there aren't any scratches. Also, make sure you keep the remote in your pocket at all times, just to make certain the volume fluctuates with the party.

If you're on a budget and your CD collection reflects it, visit used CD stores, where you can find great albums at rock-bottom prices. Also considering visiting your local public library, where you will find many great CDs – free!

Whatever your soundtrack, select your CDs ahead of time. You don't want to waste valuable party time fumbling with CD cases or rifling through your collection. Stack up about 10 CDs next to the player, in the order you'd like to play them. Toward the end of the party, as things wind down (or get nuts!), take requests.

Incorporating Activities
Party games and other activities might seem passé, but really, they aren't. When presented with the proper attitude – mirth, optimism, and a tongue-in-cheek attitude – games and activities can add an element of fun to even the stuffiest gathering. You might be surprised by how many guests will demand games and activities at your next party.

Although you'll do best wandering through a game store or consulting a party activities book (yes, these do exist), keep in mind a few options that have worked well for me:

  • Adult party games – Allowing guests to showcase their particular talents, knowledge, and skills, adult party games can bring disparate guests together into a cohesive group. Although you probably don't want to pull out the Trivial Pursuit game for a party of 40 people, smaller gatherings are perfectly suited for an hour or two of challenging mind games. See the sidebar for specific ideas about which games work well.
  • Scavenger hunts – This childhood favorite can become a favorite with adults when given a mature spin. At the beginning of a destination party, hand the guests a list of items (perhaps a few naughty items?) they should be able to locate throughout the evening. You also can host a video or musical scavenger hunt, or plan an entire party around a city-wide scavenger hunt.
  • Shower games – Although some guests will claim to abhor the silly little games played at wedding and baby showers, I adore them. Keep it simple, no more than two or three games per party, and offer fun prizes. If you adopt a festive spirit, your guests will, too.
Although some gatherings, such as a Games Night, demand certain activities, games should never be forced on anyone. Take your party's temperature before pulling out the Pictionary game: If everyone is having a great time already, leave well enough alone. If your guests seem to be looking for something to do, suggest an activity or game.

Before your party, make sure all your boxed games contain all the pieces and that any tools you'll need are on hand.

If you can't afford a bunch of adult games – most cost around $25 – don't despair. Hit the kids section of your local Target or Wal-Mart and select a few lower-priced options, such as Uno, Yahtzee, or Operation. Look for games that allow several players, and don't forget to hype up the kitsch value!

Please offer prizes for winners! Although selecting and wrapping these small gifts might seem like one extra chore, prizes make the games even more fun, giving guests something to vie for. The prizes don't have to be expensive – scented candles, a CD or DVD, or a funky coffee mug – but they should reflect some thought. Don't forget to remove the price tags!

Next: Party Games >>

More on: Pop Culture

Reproduced from Plan a Fabulous Party In No Time, by Tamar Love, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing.

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