What makes a good host anyway? Part 1

In my dreams, I’m a brilliant host.

You can drop by my house and I’ll whip up something simple, yet perfect. I’ll clip something from my garden, pull a jar from my pantry and slip something out of the freezer and before you know it the airs smells buttery and I’m serving you a warm mug of tea or glass of chilled wine. And the whole time I’m comfortably chatting away with you about anything and everything.

In reality, I’m an anxious host at best… The kind of person who obsequiously asks you if you’d like a glass of water or if you’re hungry enough times that you develop a nervous tic.

OK that might be a bit extreme, but I definitely drive myself up the wall planning, checking, and worrying. My parties lack casual grace, and my work facilitations tend to be a bit … intense.

I know I’m doing something wrong. I’m so far from my sun-dappled, calm culinary dreams that I don’t even know where to buy a roadmap. I find myself scratching my head and asking…

What makes a good host anyway?

I turned to a friend and professional event planner, Carolyn Jeffs of Events by Jigsaw. We’ve been in the trenches together – dipping over 2 tons worth of bacon strips into Callebaut Belgian chocolate for Toronto’s Distillery District’s Christmas Market– so I knew she’d be the perfect person to help me understand the basics with no nonsense efficiency.

Why are you having this event? Keep it in mind… always.

Who’s coming? How many people? Make sure you’ve invited folks who help you meet your intent and then make sure that they’re going to have a great time.

Is your space right for your audience? Will it feel cavernous for 20 people? Will Aunt Ethel and her bad hip mind climbing 3 flights of stairs?

Format & Time of Day
What is your event going to be? Will a lunch better achieve your goal or should it be a tea?

Food & Beverage
What are people expecting? If they’re in Wyoming on a ranch, are they feeling something heavy and gamey like bison? If they’re in a gallery are they expecting something tidy and aesthetically pleasing? Do you want to lean into that expectation or create an opportunity to delight them with something unexpected?

The right music sets the energy level in a room. Think about your vibe and DJ appropriately. Visuals (printed materials, slideshows, videos) are your opportunity to share your message.

How can your space be fun but workable? Carolyn rents furniture for her events, but something as simple as getting folks out of their normal meeting room can be enough.

Event Flow
“Consider every part of the experience from top to bottom.” Have a plan for what happens when people get there, what they’ll do during their time there, when they’ll eat, drink, dance, watch a video, view an exhibit… and, eventually, when they’ll leave. Make sure you end when you say you will and thank your guests – Maybe with a parting gift? Maybe with a follow up email or a handwritten card?

Of course there are a million other details to consider when planning events, but Carolyn’s core message was: a good host, considers every moment their guest will experience, from invite to thank you, and always refers back to their intent.

Carolyn left me with this final thought:

“Stay calm, organized and manage the chaos that ensues.”

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me Carolyn!

In Part 2 of this article, I’ll explore how Annie Swank of Drink Tank creates an ideal hosting environment for collaborative conversations … with beer!