For most of us, throwing a party means pressure. Many people find the stress of organizing a gathering enough to burst their balloon, so to speak. But this need not be the case. Everyone should be able to throw a murder mystery, birthday, anniversary or dinner party with confidence! Here are seven tips to ensure the planning process is not a pain in the – er – patella.

1. Keep lists

When planning a party, keep a list of preparations in your pocket, purse or wallet. It’s instant peace of mind! Some people prefer to keep their lists on a computer, but there are benefits to choosing a notebook instead, which you can keep with you at all times. First, don’t underestimate the power of striking an item off your list. Accomplished items are tiny triumphs that will keep you motivated. Also, ideas come at the most inconvenient times (like in the shower, while driving, in the dentist’s chair). With your piece of paper and a pen at the ready, you will be sure not to forget a moment of creative genius! Third, the act of writing something down on a piece of paper clears it from your mind, and you will find it easier to think, relax, sleep and be ultimately more productive.

2. Plan “buffer days”

When I host a party or facilitate someone else’s murder mystery game, I allow myself one or two “buffer days” before the party. To create buffer days, you must plan to have the pre-party tasks completed one or two days before the party. Then, if something does go wrong, you have time to enact a contingency plan. For example, a vital guest cancels at the last minute leaving you with a character (or a place at the dining table) to fill. Because you’ve planned buffer days, you now have two whole days to find someone to take their place. Buffer days also help with food preparation, cleaning – anything else that could go wrong. If the heavens smile on you and everything goes to plan, you now have two days to relax so you greet your guests with a friendly smile rather than a forehead full of worry wrinkles.

3. Be assertive with RSVPs

Dinner parties, mystery games and surprise parties require the host to know who is attending ahead of time so she can assign characters, create place cards or ensure everyone is in place before the guest of honour arrives. Many hosts feel uncomfortable calling guests who are on the fence to ask if they will be attending definitively. Remember, you do not have to be aggressive, but you do want to be assertive. There is nothing wrong with calling your guests who haven’t committed and asking them for a solid answer. If they can’t commit, tell them you’re sorry to hear that, but you’ll have to move someone else into their place. With the guest list solidified, you will have one less thing to worry about in the final hours before your party.

4. Make the dress code clear to your guests

Picture it: you’re hosting a late-October murder mystery party. You put on dress clothes, light candles and set the table nicely. Your first guests arrive in jeans and t-shirts. The next guests arrive dressed up as their character. Your third group of guests arrives in zombie costumes, assuming it was a Halloween theme. You’re not the only one who can be embarrassed in this situation. Guests also worry about being under-dressed, over-dressed or inappropriately dressed. This can all be avoided with a simple “formal dress”, “cocktail dress” or “dress your character” notation on your invitations.

5. Craft a fabulous guest list

With a fantastic guest list, your party will undertake a life of its own. With a dull guest list – er, well, your party will follow suit. Think of the people you know. Though they are all your friends, some may thrive as a murder mystery game character and slinging accusations as fast as they do martinis, while others may thrive in a quiet dinner party setting. Craft your guest list to your party theme, sit back and watch the magic.

6. Prevent anticipatory anxiety

Hosting an event can create anxiety and tension. Anticipatory anxiety – that is, trying to solve problems that do not yet exist, is the number one reason throwing parties can be stressful. Remember – not everything has to be perfect. The only person expecting perfection is you – your guests are probably just delighted to see you and excited to attend. So ease up on yourself and don’t expect perfection. If you begin to feel anxious when you think of your upcoming murder mystery party or dinner event, relax. Sit down for fifteen minutes and do something you like to do, like reading a book or taking a bath. You will recharge your body batteries instantly and prevent a physical reaction that is harmful to your health.

7. Keep a crisis companion

Designate a crisis companion – someone who can be on-call at the last minute in case things go horribly wrong. This could be a spouse, an older child or a friend. Your crisis companion can help you by running last minute errands, finding more chairs when your guest list suddenly doubles, or even reminding you to remain calm if you freak out. If you choose a friend as your crisis companion, you can return the favour and become her crisis companion for her next event. Even though you may not use your crisis companion, knowing they are there to help will make your preparations less stressful.

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