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How to party during a pandemic

The holidays are right around the corner which typically means the holiday party circuit is too. Unfortunately, with the continued spike in coronavirus cases across the U.S. many in-person holiday parties will be put on hold.

So what is a hostess with the mostest to do?

Be positive, get creative and put on a virtual cocktail party that will get everyone in the spirit and reconnect with friends and family. Here are our tips for a fabulous virtual party that makes everyone feel welcome and included. The key is to put as much effort into this virtual party as you would the real thing (don't phone it in - pun intended!). You need to push through the potential awkwardness of a virtual party by being positive and joyful. We give you some prepping tips so that you don't show up at your party as a frazzled, disorganized hot mess. Instead you'll be poised and joyful - in a nutshell you'll be a marvelously well-mannered hostess.

It's important to make it festive - remember, as the hostess, you set the tone! As Catherine likes to say, "If you don't make it special, no one else will either." There are a number of ways to make a virtual party feel like a fun event.

Start off on the right foot with fun electronic invitations from paperless post, evite or minted to name a few fun online invitation sites. They are so much more thoughtful than a plain old email or text. As you know we are fans of paper invitations but during the pandemic, we are relaxing our normal recommendation. Include a start time and an end time and stick to them - setting it for an hour or ninety minutes can help guard against virtual conference fatigue, especially if everyone is on video work calls all day.

Your invitation should reflect the type of party you want to throw. Themed parties are fun - costume party, ugly holiday sweater parties, spa night parties, tea party, Hawaii theme, television show or movie themed, etc. Pick something fairly easy so that people can participate just by shopping their closet.

If you do enough pre-planning you have time to send to everyone a little something for the party - some of the ingredients for the party's signature cocktail plus the recipe or a delicious dessert option - cupcake in a mason jar, cookies in a jar, or pies in a jar. Be clear in your directions, are you making them together while online (like the cocktail) or should everyone bake their dessert beforehand to be able to eat it together? If you don't want to send them something physical - emailing them once they RSVP the recipe for a signature cocktail is a fun alternative.

Do your call from a clean and neat area of your home. Nothing kills an elegant and entertaining atmosphere faster than a view of a pile of dishes or laundry. Select an area of your home for party central and jazz it up with a bouquet of fresh flowers, holiday decorations or candles to make it more special. Mind you, the candles should not be considered a source of light for the camera. You need normal lighting so that everyone sees your smiling face and not a black box on-screen containing a shadow of a person. An additional setup tip is to do the call from a laptop or your computer which is much easier than having to hold your phone the entire time. Make sure your camera is at eye-level - much more flattering than setting up the camera to look up your nose. Put it on gallery view so you can have a clear view of everyone at your party.

Dress for the occasion. Don't show up in sweats or a baseball hat or any old article of clothing. Put some effort in to make the party special.

If everyone doesn't know each other, welcome and introduce them to others as they join the call. It may seem daunting at first, but if you keep the guest list to under ten people, which we recommend, it is easy to do. When introducing people mention their first and last names and offer a tidbit of information so others have context of how everyone fits in. "Mary, I'd like to introduce you to my old college roommate, Karen Tree. Karen, Mary Flemming works with me at the law firm." You may want to utilize the "waiting room" feature to help you - this enables you to "greet" each person as they arrive and gives you an opportunity to introduce them to the crowd at the same time. "Hi Linda, it's great to see you. Everyone this is Linda Streeter, she and I worked together at the law firm and have kept in touch ever since." Then introduce others to her. "Linda, please meet Joe Parker, in the red shirt. He lives in the apartment next to me." Then introduce the next person, and so on and so on.

Do a welcome toast. On your invitation note the time of the toast so people know to be on time. Punctuality is definitely more appreciated at video parties. There is no "fashionably late" here. Remember to hold wine glasses by the stem and drink from one spot on whatever glass you use to avoid a wreath of lipstick smudges around your glass.

As the host, it's your job to help guide the evening. Have a few stories and questions handy so that you can help bridge conversations, get the conversation going, keep it on track and steer it back to fun topics. For example, "what is everyone bing-watching" or "has anyone picked up a new COVID hobby?" If you see someone being quiet for a bit - more of a bystander than a participant, take that as your cue to be a gracious host and help steer the conversation their way - by asking a question or mentioning them in a fun, lighthearted story that puts them in a good light. You may want to use the private chat feature where you can have a one-on-one conversation with someone if they're subdued on the call. Check in on them and then draw them into the conversation.

Like all other parties - conversation should be on upbeat, fun, topics - now is not the time to be a Debbi-Downer by talking about lost jobs or serious health issues. It is a delicate balance, while you're the host and it's your job to help guide the conversation - particularly since people are unable to break off into separate conversations like they normally would do at a gathering, it's important that you not monopolize the conversation. Instead, ask questions of others to give them an opportunity to speak. And when you do speak, make sure you build in pauses so that others can more easily jump in.

While normally we would advise against eating on a video conference call - this is a soirée so yes, you may eat and drink. But steer clear from sloppy or hard to eat foods. Take small bites, chew with your mouth closed (preferably on mute) and have a cocktail napkin ready to delicately dab your lips. The goal is to look elegant. And set up your food nicely - no paper plates for you. A small wooden board or a pretty decorative platter, along with crystal glasses, make it look more special. And you're worth it! Don't forget a napkin.

As the host, it's important for you to not let the party drag on and die a painful death. Signal that the party is coming to an end by smiling and saying, "I see we're coming to the end of the party, but before everyone signs off I wanted to propose a little toast ...." and thank everyone for coming. Bring the evening to a close. Easy. Breezy.


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