Make detailed introductions
Names don't really mean anything. It's nice to know who the other people at the party are, but when you've never met someone, starting a conversation can be tough. As the hostess, go one step beyond basic instructions and get more detailed. Along with providing names, share a few tidbits of information about the people you're introducing – how you know them, the fact they just got back from a trip, what they do for a living – the point is to help people feel more familiar with one another and give them a starting point for discussion.
As the hostess, one of your most important jobs is to ensure everyone gets introduced to everyone else.
Work the room
Don't hide in the kitchen – get out there and mingle! It's your party, and that means you need to have a presence among your guests. If they see you having a great time they will be much more likely to get in the holiday spirit, relax and enjoy themselves. Being out among your guests is also the only way to see if anyone needs anything or if there's someone who might need a little extra nudge to integrate into the party. As you walk among your guests, look for anyone who looks out of place and introduce them to someone you think they would get along well with. Being in the party (as oppose to on the outskirts) will help you be a better hostess.
Set a festive scene
Don't discount ambiance when it comes to hosting a memorable party. You don't need to channel your inner Martha Stewart. but do put some thought into making the space look special. Get rid of clutter, light some candles, create a playlist of upbeat music and decorate using seasonal elements – a bowlful of pomegranates and clementines, a large glass vase filled with Christmas balls, for example. Just keep it simple but stylish.
Create a signature seasonal beverage to offer guests as they arrive. It's a nice welcome and a great way to make everyone feel at home.
Create conversation opportunities
Get guests to loosen up by breaking the ice with some cute conversations starters. There are many simple but amusing ways to get people mingling. These are some of our favorites:
- Give everyone a tag when they arrive but don't let them look at it. On each tag write the person's name, along with an object or famous person (past of present). For the rest of the night each guest has to guess who or what is written on their tag by asking other guests yes-or-no questions. Whoever guesses first gets a prize.
- On each person's place card write a true or false question (and answer). Guests can take turns asking and answering throughout dinner.
- Give each guest a "task card" as they arrive – anything from "tell a joke to the person standing next to you" to "use the word 'fruit cake' in a sentence." Each card should also have a number on it; at various points throughout the evening, call out a number. The person with the corresponding card has to perform their task.
Keep things flowing
The last thing you want to do is usher everyone immediately into the dining room or make one specific area the only place to get food or drinks. Instead, let the party unfold naturally and make sure there are several areas to get appetizers and drink refills. The more that people circulate, the better the evening will go. That way guests get to talk to more than the one person they're sitting beside and everyone gets to know one another even better.
More holiday tips
An old-fashioned Christmas
Tips for reconnecting with faraway friends
Our best tips for stress-free holiday travel