Archive for April, 2007

Mom, Step-Dad, Dad, and Step-Mom At Your Wedding

Monday, April 30th, 2007

In theory, no matter how much your divorced parents may dislike each other, they love you more. The question is: do they love you enough more to not only behave themselves, but to put your happiness first?

Weddings are stressful, even when all family members are on good terms. The additional element of divorced parents (especially if one or both currently have “significant others”) is enough to make elopement seem like a really good idea. Here are a few more ideas that have proved their merit in blended-family nuptials.

1. Hire a wedding coordinator. Experienced professional wedding planners are valuable at any wedding. But when divorced parents are involved, they are absolutely indispensible. It is far better that they be put in the middle of any dispute than the bride or groom. Pros know the proper etiquette, have probably been through similar situations in the past, and are being well-paid to take the heat. Let them.

2. Communicate your expectations clearly. Sometimes, feuding parents simply need a timely reminder that you have no intention of letting them make their problems into your problem – not at your wedding, anyway. Get a commitment from them in advance that they will stay on good behavior – no matter what the other parental unit does to stir things up. (You might allow them to believe that the other parent has already agreed to your terms. No divorced parent wants to be seen as doing less than the other.)

3. Stay out of any squabble. Families that put the “fun” in dysfunctional know which emotional buttons to push to trigger reactions in you and others. When the hook is dangled in front of you, don’t bite! Do not respond to the stimulus, no matter how tempting it is. Instead, remind the offending parent (or step-parent) of item number 2 above – their promise not to do anything that will ruin your special day.

With luck, all your moms and dads will keep their priorities straight. But, if things get tense, just remember that you hold the ultimate trump card: visitation rights with any future grandchildren. That should snap them to attention for the duration. Good luck!

A Tale Of 2 Parties (But Only 1 Was Good)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

The original Mickey Mouse Club used to reserve one day a week for “Anything Can Happen Day.” Sounds like a lot of parties I’ve attended.

Face it – stuff happens. When it does, all your organization and planned-to-the-minute timelines no longer matter. What does matter is how you react.

Twice recently, I’ve been at events where slow dinner service destroyed carefully thought-out schedules. One party had too few waiters for the number of guests, causing the meal to run almost twice as long as had been planned. The other gala’s guest list simply outgrew their room. Tables were jammed so closely together that the servers couldn’t get through. The end result was the same – a r-e-a-l-l-y l-o-n-g meal.

But at the first event, a wedding reception, the mother-of-the-bride took charge. Items on the agenda that had been scheduled for after the meal were moved forward. Toasts, cake cutting, and ceremonial dances (bride and groom, bride and dad, etc.) all helped conceal the fact that some people were already finished with each course before others had even been served. Nobody had a chance to get bored, and most were probably unaware of the problems. Mom saved the evening with her quick thinking.

Unfortunately, Mom wasn’t at the second party. (And we sure did miss her!) This was a Woman’s Club Valentine Gala, so there were many chiefs – each in charge of one particular committee and one part of the night. I’m sure there was either a club president or party chairperson who could have served as our surrogate “Mom,” but no one did. So the meal drug on and on, folks got fidgety, and some got downright cranky. The official business of the night didn’t start until the last dessert plate had been cleared (which was just about dawn, as I remember.) And a wonderful time was not had by all.

You want your party to be a “night to remember,” but only for good reasons. Somehow, the idea that “this will be real funny – in a few years” isn’t much consolation when all your efforts are derailed by an unforseen glitch. So be prepared for that moment when your event needs a good “Mom” to take command. Your guests will thank you.

Cinderella, Your Clock Is Ticking

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Whenever Cinderella is a guest at a royal ball, she has a royal ball. There’s just one problem: at midnight, her husband always turns into a pumpkin. In fact, he starts sprouting leaves about 11:15.

Whether they think about it consciously or not, your guests have an internal clock. And it’s ticking. For many of them, the alarm will go off after three to four hours. They will begin to get restless, start eyeing the door, and go through the litany of non-verbal cues designed to signal their significant other that “it’s time to go.” You’ll notice them standing with their arms folded, bodies rocking from foot to foot, faces set in a long-suffering grimace. Your other guests will notice them, too. In fact, everyone, with the exception of their spouse, will get the message.

There are two things you should know about this phenomenon:
1. It’s not directed against you personally.
2. You do it, too. (Remember your mate’s last class/family/bowling team reunion?)

However, as host, you should be alert to such behavior. If someone other than chronically- grumpy old Uncle Harold starts acting the same way, you may need to adjust your timeline.

Brides, for instance, frequently base their weddings on a six hour schedule. Hour One is the ceremony, Two is for cocktails, Three is dinner time, Four is for cake and toasts, Five is dancing and the bouquet/garter toss, and Six is more dancing while the bride changes into her travel ensemble. Unfortunately, in the real world, adhering to this timeline means that several guests will be gone before the cake is even cut. And the departure of the bride and groom will take place before less than half the invited guests.

Flexibility on your part is one solution to the problem. Re-set your own inner clock to Guest Standard Time. (You don’t want them to be bored, do you?) Pace your event so that it fits the majority of your guests (neither Uncle Harold nor your night owl friends of “The Wild Bunch,” but somewhere in between.)

Best advice: Uncle Harold doing his “go home” Macarena is not a criticism of your party – it’s just old Uncle Harold. But if that dance catches on, be careful, Cinderella – it’s pumpkin time.

Do You Wanna Dance?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

If your goal is an event where everybody dances, all the time, here are some tips:

1. A big dance floor (subliminally) tells your guests you hope they will dance. Conversely, 100 guests in a room with a 12′X12′ dance floor (subliminally) tells them you aren’t expecting this crowd to boogie.

2. If you are the host or guest of honor, and you want the crowd to dance, don’t tell them – show them. Get a few of your closest friends or family members to help you “prime the pump.” Dance early, and dance often.

3. Speaking of dancing early, the sooner you inaugurate the dance floor, the sooner others will follow. At a typical four-hour event, waiting until after cocktails and dinner to begin the dancing means that your party will be half-finished before the first dance. This is a waste of space (the dance floor), time, and good music. Consider having a dance or two between each course of your dinner. The party will then flow naturally from dining to dancing.

4. It’s your party, but you want every guest, of every age, to have a good time. So plan for both your musical selections and the music volume to be appropriate for your entire crowd. If you have a wide age range present, play the vintage songs first, and keep the volume where it will be comfortable for your older guests. They tend to be the first ones to go home. As the party transitions from dinner to dance, you can begin to work in newer and hipper tunes, played at a higher volume.

5. Finally, if you really want everyone to dance, avoid these no-no’s at your event which tend to decimate the pool of dancers:
a.) Cigars. A guy who steps out to smoke a cigarette will be back in 5 minutes. A group of guys with their “El Stinko Grande” cee-gars may never be seen on the dance floor again.
b.) TVs showing sporting events. Again, many of the guys (and some of the ladies as well) will be elsewhere, when you wanted them on the dance floor.
c.) Too much light on the dance floor. The dancing area doesn’t have to be pitch dark, but an over abundance of light tends to diminish the number of dancers. And finally,
d.) Un-danceable music. Some songs are beautifully composed and have thought-provoking lyrics, but don’t have a beat that gets people up out of their chairs and onto the dance floor. As much as possible, stick with familiar songs that scream, “LET’S DANCE!”

(At least, they scream it – subliminally.)

Emcee Or Not To Emcee (That Is The Question)

Monday, April 16th, 2007

What does a professional emcee mean for your event?

In a word, insurance.

The same factors that led you to consider professional photographers and/or videographers (rather than your cousin’s brother-in-law), veteran caterers (as opposed to your mom’s bingo buddies), decorators, event planners, and musicians also apply to Masters Of Ceremonies – and for many of the same reasons.

The Pros (in all of these professions) have experience that can benefit you. They have talent, a proven aptitude for their respective tasks (after all – they are making a living at them), and – as their references demonstrate – a track record of knowing what does or doesn’t work.

The professional emcee’s job is to get the audience’s attention, lead the applause, and keep the event moving smoothly. When the next person or item on the agenda is delayed, good MCs fill the empty space seamlessly, just as they invisibly push the program along when it is behind schedule. True pros bring an almost endless fund of jokes and stories, a well-honed sense of timing, and the gift of knowing which lines not to cross. They even have their own tuxedos!

Because they come from outside your company or organization, hired emcees aren’t subject to internal politics. And – because they are pros – they aren’t overcome with stage fright/amnesia when the beam of the spotlight hits them squarely in the eyes.

Not every event needs an emcee to warm up the crowd, waken them again after dull, dry speakers (also known as the “cool-down”), and remind them to get their valet parking tickets validated on the way out the door. And not every car you own will be involved in a wreck. But isn’t a little insurance a good investment – just in case?

Music, Music, Music!

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

The music you choose for your special event speaks volumes to your guests. Instantly, they will know if they are walking into a party, a Party, or a PAR-TAY! What, then, is the right music for the mood you wish to set? That depends on you, and your goals for the evening. But here are some possibilities, beginning with the least expensive.

Almost any venue can provide Muzak, or “canned” music for your event. It will probably be (a.) generic light classic rock (instrumental versions of Beatles ballads, for instance), (b.) played at background level (high enough to be heard, but at a low volume which will not interfere with conversation), and (c.) thoroughly inoffensive. If your event doesn’t include dancing, and if the majority of your audience is older, this may be all you will need (and it should cost you nothing!)

No more intrusive, but way classier, is live background music from a harpist, classical or jazz guitarist, or pianist. Because they are live, they can play your favorite songs (as opposed to whatever is on the Muzak program.) Harp music is delicate and light, yet has the unusual ability to “drift” throughout the room – never loud in any one place, but heard everywhere. Similarly, a centrally-located guitar or piano creates whatever mood you choose. They can even provide adequate back-up for a ceremonial first dance. Add a flute to any of the above, and the effect is enhanced even more, without raising the decibel level in the room.

A strolling violinist, with or without accompaniment, is able to take the music everywhere your guests may be. This may be important if your party is spread over more than one room. (Pianists can’t stroll.) The music of a string quartet (typically, 2 violins, viola, and cello) is perfect for wedding ceremonies, cocktail receptions, and dinners.

The deejay has literally thousands of songs from which you can choose, and can play them at any volume level. Deejays can also make announcements over their PA systems. Many bring special lighting which add excitement and variety to the dance portion of your event.

The right band for your occasion may actually cost only a little more than a top deejay, and its members can perform all the functions detailed above. Ceremony, reception, dance, and dinner music are all keyed to your personal tastes. Most bands can also provide CD or i-Pod music during their breaks, and can handle announcements and introductions.

Your vision of the event (and your budget) will dictate the final choice for which music is right for the mood you wish to create. Whether you wish to party, Party, or PAR-TAY, music is an important element to the success of your plans.

Buffets, Sit-Down Dinners, Or Food Stations?

Monday, April 9th, 2007

So – should you sit your guests down and stuff them, or just let ‘em graze?

At a traditional seated dinner, guests are served each meal course by waiters. Upside: everyone is at about the same place in their dining at the same time, making the scheduling of dessert, speeches, or dancing simple. Downside: not every guest may really want each and every course, or they may wish for more of one item (salad, for instance) than is offered.

Buffets give your guests more choices in both their selections and portions. Upside: guests not only get what they want, but they also get it when they want it. Downside: the first through the line are finished with their meals and ready for the next event in the evening, long before some of the others have even begun eating. The pace of the night thus becomes – by default – too slow for some and too hurried for others.

Food stations, also known as “grazing,” allow guests to pick either the shortest lines or their preferred foods. Upside: a finicky eater, or someone who wishes to sample three different main courses, has complete freedom. Downside: as with buffets, the leisurely pace of some diners will complicate the timing of your plans for dessert and beyond.

“You Oughta Be In Pictures” (And Video, Too)

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Sadly, there are too few happy occasions at which we can gather. Most families’ “reunions” are held at the funeral home. So, when joyous opportunities do arise, we want a camera to record the moment. I treasure the photos of my grandmother dancing on her 97th birthday, my wife and now-grown (but then, small) son at an anniversary celebration, and countless other snapshots which perfectly capture such memorable moments forever.

For your special event, photos and video will provide vivid reminders of everything from the decor to the smiling faces of your guests. As host or honoree, you will be far too busy to see all that the camera can record. Viewing the images later, you will be amazed at what you missed. And you will be so glad that you made provision for having cameras present.

Some of your options include:

Disposable cameras. A camera at every table ensures two things: (1.) a lot of wasted film, but (2.) a few once-in-a-lifetime treasures.

Professional photography. A gifted photographer develops (pun intended) an instinct for being in the right place at the perfect moment, knows how to cajole a smile from the most camera-shy of guests, and (this is important) buys film in bulk. Which is to say, he or she takes hundreds of photos of every aspect of the event. Plus, being a pro, most of these shots are actually in focus and not washed out.

Professional videography. Video not only records the visual images of the event, it also captures the sounds (music, toasts, and greetings from guests). Your evening lives, again and again, every time you view the DVD. Most videos come fully edited, with titles and special music which make them seem like mini-movies, with you as the star.

One bit of advice: if you choose to have both photography and videography at your event, be aware that not all the pros in these two disciplines work in complementary fashion. Your event doesn’t need a “battle of the shutterbugs.” So, since you will engage either your photo or video professional first, get some suggestions from that person regarding whom they recommend for the other job. This will result in better video and photos, and one less headache for you.

Toasting, Roasting, And Speeches In General

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Toasts are an important part of wedding receptions, birthday and anniversary celebrations, retirement parties, and many other gatherings. They pay tribute to the guests of honor or to the hosts of the event.

Roasts are humorous insults directed at the honoree, and funny stories told at that worthy person’s expense.

Speeches are… boring (to everyone except the person talking).

Now that we have defined our terms, let’s look more closely at how and when each is appropriate.

A toast is short, sweet, and G-rated. It should be delivered from the heart, not from prepared notes. (If it’s longer than a paragraph, it isn’t a toast – it’s a speech in disguise.) A single quote from the Bible, Shakespeare, or Will Rogers is fine. Multiple quotes and anecdotes are s-p-e-e-c-h-e-s. Toasts (remember: short, sweet, and G-rated) are appropriate at any gathering.

A roast is funny. Both the honoree (the butt of the joke) and the guests should be amused. In the real world, this requires restraint and maturity on the part of the roaster. PG or R-rated stories must only be told in front of an age-appropriate audience. It is okay for the roastee to blush, but not to flush (become angry or embarassed.) It is never permissable to tell a story from the honoree’s past that will create a problem for them with their spouse or family in the future.

A speech is any address which can be outlined (Intro, Main Points, Conclusion) or written as more than one paragraph. At gatherings where guests have come great distances or are themselves honored personages, it may be advisable when introducing them to the audience to have a written list, so that none are left out. Similarly, when thanking multiple hosts, committee members, or contributors to a party, a written list is appropriate. Finally, a short letter to the honoree from a head of state or other dignitary can be read to the guests. Otherwise, speeches longer than 60 seconds have no place at most receptions and galas.