Overcoming anxiety about hosting a party?
October 11, 2017 6:10 AM   Subscribe

socially anxious but loves-to-socialize person hosting first party. However, all the people I invited don’t know each other. I’m also afraid no one will show up. (Though this may just be my anxiety talking.) tips, strategies, to get through the party planning and party itself as a host? How to make it fun for everyone and help the mingling happen?

We will all be in our 20s, and it’s a mix a people from all different kind of backgrounds and groups.

It’s essentially “grown prom” that I decided to throw as my boyfriend never went to prom in high school, so I thought it could be a fun excuse to dress up and have spiked punch. Everyone I invited is bringing a date or a friend, so I know they won’t be alone. But it’s just like Noah’s Ark, two by two people come but the only common factor they have is me that I know of. And I’m afraid it’ll be super awkward and I don’t have the skills to get everyone mingling, or I will be mentally exhausted trying to keep the party fun.

At the very least, I plan to have music or karaoke hooked up. There will be alcohol. It’s in my small apartment so people don’t have many places to hide. Drinking games aren’t so popular in our 20s in this friend group, but I thought of getting a game like Cards Against Humanity (or the meme version) to whip out if it gets too quiet. Later on, we will all usher ourselves to the bars for dancing. It’s just the lead up that I’m nervous about.

How do I keep it fun as a host when no one knows each other? I haven’t merged friends from different groups before when I’ve hosted a party.
How do I not make myself go crazy with worry that no one is having fun?
How do I also stop freaking out and worrying if no one shows up?! Or just one couple shows up?

Yeesh this may be my first and last party I host until I have a kid or something. Kids are so straightforward to entertain
posted by socky bottoms to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Loud music is, for me, the #1 deterrent to socializing at a party. Keep any music ambient and quiet so that people who don't know each other well can talk without yelling or being uncomfortably close to each other.

Set up tables & seating in bunches (even in little open circles) so that people will naturally group together in conversations.

Have food. Trust that adults can manage themselves.
posted by brainmouse at 6:20 AM on October 11, 2017 [10 favorites]

Invite way more people so when a lot don’t show up you still have a good group (this is friend-circle dependent; your rsvps may be more accurate than mine). Alcohol and music will take care of a lot. Also have snacks. All parties are quiet for the first hour, hour and a half as everyone settles in and has a drink and gets familiar with the setting. No one’s going to come in ready for karaoke right away. I PERSONALLY think games are a party-killer and would only have them out if there were enough people for a small group to be playing but not the entire party.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 6:23 AM on October 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've done stuff like this! I'm shy but I like having people over and hanging out with them and I like theme events as well. Having a party gives me all the joy of socializing without the downside of leaving the house. It will be fine and you will have a great time! Here are some thoughts:

-If you have friends from a lot of different groups that's easier than friends from two or three different groups where they just clump up with people they know and don't mingle.
-Try to keep the lights low; don't make it too dark, but I feel way less shy about talking to people I don't know at a party when it's dim. Conversely, if it's really bright I am more inhibited about socializing.
-Try to have snacks and stuff on a different table from the drinks because that gives people two different places to congregate while they're all still in the meandering phase before the party really gets started, plus they can talk about like "oh my gosh this is so tasty" or whatever.
-People dressing up will help! It means people can say "OMG I love what you're wearing!" to strangers so I think the prom thing really works in your favor.
-If you can have an outside space for people who smoke OR just want to get outside that helps too because it means people can socialize with a smaller group which is often easier.
-I think the music will help! I don't know how much space you have but if you can do like a dining room with food/drink tables and lowish lights and then another room with music that's even darker that's great!
-Think about bathrooms -- decide which one(s) you're comfortable having people use and if there are any non-obvious ones like in a basement or upstairs that are open to the public put up a sign with an arrow.
-Don't run out of mixers! I have been to very few parties that run out of alcohol but a lot that run out of mixers. MIXERS!
-There's not really a way to stop worrying that no one will show up because there just isn't but you can mitigate it. I keep a spreadsheet to track who has responded to me (yes/no/maybe) and then chase my non-responses (some would say "hound") so I have a general sense of who's coming. I set up a formula for minimum number of guests (yeses plus the number of guests each "yes" is bringing") and maximum number of guests (yeses and guests, maybes and guests, and people who haven't yet responded although in theory if every one of them showed up with a guest it would be higher than my maximum) and this calms me down a bit. SEND OUT A REMINDER THE DAY BEFORE! Let people know you're really looking forward to seeing them, remind them of the time and location, and ask them to let you know if they've changed their plans. I think if you let people know that you expect a "yes" to mean they're actually coming they are more likely to show up.

I think this party sounds like lots of fun and everyone will have a good time. Of course you will be anxious about it, there's no way to avoid that, but you are doing your best and if I could come I would because it sounds great. Have a wonderful time!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:38 AM on October 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

I agree with brainmouse about letting people get on with it. One thing that irritates me is having a keen hostess break up an interesting conversation I'm having to make me go and have a stilted one with someone else. It's not speed dating, dammit.

I once read or was told that typically two-thirds of party guests who accepted the invite actually turn up, and it feels about right to me. If you get more than that, I reckon you can congratulate yourself on a big success/massive popularity.
posted by Segundus at 6:41 AM on October 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I also agree with jeweled accumulation; I really enjoy games but games are for board game nights and not for a party, especially not one where you want people to dance. Once the games come out everyone focuses on them and nothing else really gets started, and it's weird because not everyone can play. Save them for the afterparty. I also don't think karaoke is necessary because it's more of an individual thing so I'd maybe stick with just having music for dancing and people can sing along if they want, perhaps set up a computer with Spotify or something and people can add songs they want to hear to the playlist.

Also yes, invite probably two to three times as many people as you want to attend because a lot won't be able to come and some will flake, unless your friends are super, SUPER reliable.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:41 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

How do I keep it fun as a host when no one knows each other? I haven’t merged friends from different groups before when I’ve hosted a party.

Earlier this year I had a party like this. When someone new showed up, I made an announcement to the room that "hey this is [Sid and Nancy], and I know [Sid] from [this place]." In a couple instances I knew that two of my friends who hadn't met had a common interest, so in that case I specifically introduced them to each other ("Hey [Nancy], this is [Monica], she also likes yarn art" or whatever).

And then I stepped back and gave them the space to continue the conversations themselves, with whom and how they chose. In a couple cases two totally different people made connections I didn't know about (at that last party, I tried to introduce two friends who I thought were into fitness; but one of them ended up discovering another person was into fantasy novels, and the other turned out to belong to a kayak club I didn't even know about so she was hanging out with the friend who's into a dream of a boating club and they were happily trading "holy crap this club had crazy people" war stories).

The most people need to start a conversation is just one ice breaker to start things going. if you give that little ice breaker, they can take it from there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on October 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

When I do this, I wheedle at least one friend/ family into 100% committing to come, and to arrive right at the start of the party. That way you don’t feel sadly unpopular and awkward if someone else you don’t know as well arrive 45 minutes before anyone else.

My different social circles do pretty well at making things work amongst themselves. If you’re worried, you can try to think of some commonalities in advance that might help you introduce people: “Oh hey Sally, Bob here also works in construction” or “Ben and Andy, you both like to knit” or whatever. But for the most part people work it out… and if they don’t, honestly, it’s not your fault. Their social ineptness doesn’t have to be your problem. :)

If you drink alcohol, having a drink before people arrive might help your stress level.
posted by metasarah at 6:56 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think it's sometimes a good idea to have a visually interesting film that people will recognize on mute on your tv. Can make for a conversation piece for strangers to engage in. Maybe also have a cool coffee table book opened to your favorite page.

As a host, when people show up, ask them what they want to drink and make it for them. While you are making them a drink and talking to them, introduce them to the people nearest to you and maybe try to think of something they might have in common. For example:

"Oh, Jon and Brian, hi, thanks for coming! Come on in, let me get you a drink. I have beer and wine or I could make you a moscow mule or gin and tonic. What would you like? [walk them to kitchen, start making drinks] Jon and Brian, here meet Kate and Steve. Jon, Kate also lives in your neighborhood/is also a teacher/is also from the South/is also applying to grad school/is also a marathon runner/etc, etc." If you can't think of anything in common, just tell them how you know each other. And they can go from there.
posted by greta simone at 7:02 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your friend groups are probably different than mine but in mine, dancing is a high bar to achieve. If everyone is having a good time, don't feel all IT IS TIME FOR DANCING AND NOBODY IS DANCING OMG FAIL. Also it might make you feel better to have a backup plan; mine is "if this is totes awkward and bad, gather everyone up and bail to the bar across the street."

But having said those things, I think if you follow everyone else's good advice, introduce each set of new people to at least one other set of people when they arrive, and spread out the food and drinks so people need to circulate, keep the lights dim, and rely on people to manage their own social integrations, it will be fun!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:03 AM on October 11, 2017

A great game that can work as an "uhhhh, we don't have anything to talk about right now" party saver is the Heads up! Charades app. It only needs to be on one peron's phone. One person holds the phone with the app set up at their forehead, and whatever number of people either use verbal clues or charades to try to get the person to guess the word or name on their forehead. Once guessed, the person holding the phone gets to try again until their timer expires, then the phone passes on to the next volunteer. This game is great for parties because there aren't really any rules (or, rather, it's still fun if you don't follow them much) and playing/not playing is totally flexible. Folks can pass by and make a few suggestions or take a turn as the guesser and then drift away at will.

Of course, there's also the old-school paper version of this game, which could also be fun but I think probably requires a bit more structured participation.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:11 AM on October 11, 2017

Oh right, games. My crew has glommed onto Exploding Kittens like whoa - each game is fairly quick, the rules are fairly easy to wrap your brain around and there can even be a spectator element.

I threw a board-game party at my place once, and had a shit-ton of other games out, and introduced Exploding Kittens first as a sort of ice-breaker, with the idea tha then people could break off and start their own sessions of Scrabble in one corner, Checkers in another, etc. But people kept on just wanting to play Exploding Kittens over and over. For three hours. And the only reason we stopped was because someone had to go home and feed their own cat or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just prepare yourself mentally for the fact that the first 30-45mins of just about EVERY party are a tiny bit awkward until you reach a critical mass of guests where they start breaking away into sub groups and chatting among themselves. So don't panic that when that happens the party is totally doomed. Rest assured that at a certain point, things will gain their own momentum.
posted by penguin pie at 7:42 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Back in college, my roommate and I started a weekly dinner, where we invited our various friends to have food and hang out. Like your party, not everyone knew each other, and I think the only thing we had figured out was having enough food to feed everyone. Luckily, everything worked out, and we continued the tradition for a while, maybe a year or two.

Everyone was outgoing enough to chat with other people who were there, and everyone was "pre-vetted" because they our friends, so I think that decreased some of the awkwardness that you find at larger parties where people don't know each other or have a shared interest beyond social drinking. I think the first dinner or two everyone was pretty happy chatting and getting to know each other. In other words, try to relax about people being OK together, and I agree with others who say that games could be a fall-back in case everyone gets too quiet and you feel awkward as the host. Don't feel like you need everyone to be active all the time. But if everyone's on their phones, that might be the time to switch gears and try a game.

As for games, I like Fluxx games, which are card games with changing rules and goals, depending on who plays which rule and goal. There are a ton of themed sets (official website; Board Game Geek), so you could pick up a deck or two to cater to the known interests of your group. Games can be quick and over in a few rounds, or they can last up to an hour, depending on how cut-throat and goal-driven people are and if the cards fall well.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 AM on October 11, 2017

I would not recommend Cards Against Humanity - there's just too much risk that people who don't know each other very well may end up inadvertently really offending someone. It's really best for groups that know each other really well and allowed to bring out the worst in each other. And I would save karaoke for after the bars. I would never sing (and feel so awkward about hearing other people sing) unless quantities of booze was already consumed.

I second the Head's Up app, it's always gone down well for me and it's super easy to understand how to play.

I think any sort of 'theme' gives people something to talk about. It could be about dress ("oh i love what you're wearing!") or food ("which dish did you bring?") or alcohol ("which craft beer did you bring?")

Don't worry too much about people having fun. All you can do is provide the right elements and then try to have fun yourself! Food, booze, music - you've got the basics covered. Everyone is a grown up, don't stress yourself out about how they handle their own time.

How many people are you planning on attending?
posted by like_neon at 7:47 AM on October 11, 2017

Oh my god if it's prom could you set up a photo stand area? Nothing fancy, just a corner of the room with a patterned bed sheet taped up and a polaroid camera or something. Get some props if you fancy it. The prom picture is an essential element of the prom experience!
posted by like_neon at 7:50 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

It sounds so fun, I'm sure it will go well! One thing I have to remind myself when I throw parties is to not focus or feel bad about the people who didn't come but to enjoy the heck out of the people that did. I can get caught in a brain space of "oh no, not enough people came, everyone hates me, the people who are here think I don't have any other friends" and have to consciously put that aside and look around and appreciate the people who ARE there and how happy I am to be with them.

Also enthusiastic yes to a photo booth and to asking one person (or even better, one couple) to come right at the beginning so you're not plotzing for an hour before folks show up.
posted by EmilyFlew at 8:04 AM on October 11, 2017

To set your expectations, it is completely normal for the time on the invitation to arrive with no guests in sight. Many's the time I sat in my party finery, with everything set up around me, and wondered why no one liked me enough to attend. But within 30-75 minutes, the guests had shown up and the joint was jumping. Lessons from this include:

  • Don't panic. And don't let your boyfriend panic.
  • Refrain from doing last minute things like lighting candles, filling the ice bucket, and putting the sherbert into the punch until the first people arrive. They can help.
  • Have food that can sit out and pop other food (e.g., hot appetizers) into the oven such that they're done 30-60 minutes into the party.

    The only thing worse than anxiety about guests showing up late is anxiety when guests inexplicably show up 20 minutes early. Have a checklist to keep you focused and so you can easily give the early arrivals some discrete tasks to do. And that brings me to: help guests help. Some people want to help, either because they're friendly and grateful to you for hosting or as a coping strategy against whatever party anxiety they experience. So:

  • Put post-it notes in dishes and on trays about what food is intended for it to avoid serving platter misallocation problems;
  • Make it obvious where recycling/ trash is and have replacement trash bags prominently displayed;
  • Anticipate that someone will want to wash dishes and have the bubble sauce and drying equipment out.
  • If it's cold where you are, pick a place (bedroom?) for coats. Early arrivals can help subsequent guests divest themselves of outerwear and purses.

    I think it sounds like a terrific party in the making!

  • posted by carmicha at 8:26 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

    Name tags (hear me out!): When attempting to mix disparate guest groups (el_lupino and I have historically had to blend food people and philosophers), I've put name tags and markers on a table outside the party and a poster instructing people to write the name they'd like to go by and a brief, interesting fact about themselves. It results in everyone wanting to go around finding out what other people have divulged and inevitably starts conversations.

    Participatory food: A hot food station that works piece by piece encourages people to work together. I've done this by putting an electric skillet (tape down the cord) and a big platter of sliced halloumi cheese on a low table near seating and giving a few people quick instruction on how to fry it (it doesn't need oil). Most people like fried cheese and the process is simple enough that whoever comes by with interest can be shown how to do it. You can do something similar with fondue or hot pot.
    posted by jocelmeow at 8:59 AM on October 11, 2017

    Wow thank you for all the great advice! This is making me feel less anxious a bit having some ideas ahead of time.

    -Yes, I will have a little photo area! Prom always needs awkward pictures haha, and everyone wants to post one to Instagram.
    -I only invited about 15-17 people. So it’s quite small, but all these people are new friends as I’m in a new city! So it’s gonna be a crap shoot with who shows up and what not. Even I’m new to some of my friends I invited and who say they will attend.
    -I only have one bathroom. It’s a one bedroom apartment so quite small. I’m hoping this will be enough space for 15ish. I also am anal about people taking off their shoes but am going to try to fight myself on this as not everyone wants to take off their shoes for prom.

    Anyone have a OH SHIT this went terrible mediation phrase? In my head, I imagine the worst case scenario is that maybe one couple shows and I’ll be apologizing profusely for it not living up to the fun prom I had hoped. I don’t mind *me* being disappointed, but I really want it to be fun for my boyfriend and the friends I invited.

    Thank you all for your party help!
    posted by socky bottoms at 9:19 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Hey, I have had multiple parties where only two or four people showed up. We had a party this past Sunday where we facebook-invited 35 people and one friend and my dad showed up (we knew this was a possibility). You know what? Those parties were fun! It's fine. Don't apologize (or at least not *profusely*), just own it and say, "I'm so glad you guys were able to come, though!" And then you either have a two-couple prom (could be worse) or you settle down to play cards against humanity or whatever.

    Maybe watch this song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a couple of times to reassure yourself that your worry that no one will show up to your party is normal and shared by many many people: I Have Friends.
    posted by mskyle at 9:28 AM on October 11, 2017

    My trick is I make food and drink that I like, tons of it. That way if no one shows up, I have a giant pile of my favourite foods and drinks!

    Also if you have small groups of chairs (oh the awkwardness of a party where there are plenty of chairs but they're all ranged around the walls of the room facing inward) positioned for chatting, you can have a great party with just another couple. It'll be like a fun conversation but it still counts as a party.

    Other tips - good party music (a mix of old oldies, songs everyone knows the words too, uptempo dancey stuff, and a sprinkling of some new or otherwise unfamiliar songs seems to work well) played at the correct volume (loud enough that silences aren't obvious), soft enough you can talk over it); low lighting (now if the time for candles and Christmas lights); disposable cups, napkins, utensils, etc. for easy clean up before you head to the bar.

    And my family's party motto is always offer drinks, alcoholic or not. Just don't let people not have a drink in hand.
    posted by hydrobatidae at 9:29 AM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Also, if people don't show up or are grumpy or anti-social or weird or whatever, just remember all of the times that you have bailed or didn't bring your A game for reasons that had NOTHING to do with your host. If you're like me, that's lots of times. So don't take it personally. You are providing all of the elements of a party, and that's all you can do.
    posted by oryelle at 12:34 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Introduce people. Chris, have you met Pat? Pat and I are taking the same painting class. is an easy way to give the people you just introduced a topic to start with. Food is a great way to get people to move around. If you bring food out at different times, that gives people a chance to form new groups. And if someone looks shy, you can ask them to help you with a tray of pastry-wrapped hot dogs, maybe even pass them around.

    Grown-up Prom? What a great idea. I think it will be a blast.

    What if it's just 2 other couples? Take pictures, play a board game, have fun.
    posted by theora55 at 1:48 PM on October 11, 2017

    It sounds ridiculous, but I create worry lists for parties, just so I can put all my concerns in one place. For example:

    -No one will come to my party, and I will be embarrassed.
    - Too many people will come to my party, and I will run out of food.
    - ... and chairs!

    It's a party, so remember that you can screw up and it will still be fun.
    posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:18 PM on October 11, 2017

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