Archive for January 30th, 2008

Managing Those “Anything Can Happen” Moments

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Ever watch “The Price Is Right?” I do okay guessing the actual retail values of the products. How? It’s easy – they are always twice as much as I think they should be.

One element of some parties is like that: those open-ended, open-mike moments when guests get up to speak. Whether it’s a 90th birthday party (which I played last week) or a school fund-raiser (where I also entertained last week), anything can happen when your carefully-wrought script and timetable go out the window. The only thing for sure is that such moments usually last twice as long as you imagined.

What can you do? How can you loosen the reins, without losing control of your party? Well, here’s how my hosts dealt with their challenges last week.

At the 90th birthday, it was a given that family members and friends would want to roast and toast the honoree. Knowing the family well, our host (the honoree’s son) polled the usual suspects to see what they had planned. Discovering not one but two Top 10 lists, he cleverly combined the best elements of both. The result: a shorter, yet funnier, tribute. A cousin’s humorous song followed, after which came a tear-filled eulogy to those no longer present. Sensing that it was time to cut the cake and move on, my boss then delivered “the last word” himself, a clear signal that we were proceeding to the next phase of the evening.

At the fund raiser, apparently nobody told the chairman that there would be a series of performances by the children of the school. We hastily shifted mikes and piano into position so the little darlings – ultimate beneficiaries of our gala – could perform. It was precious and perfect for the crowd, but delayed the start of dinner (which threw off the timing on the live auction, and all that followed.) Our veteran chairman and his auctioneer quickly switched the schedule to start the auction as soon as dessert began. It was the right call. Everyone was not only still present, but they were still in their seats and even quiet (their mouths were full.)

In both cases, my hosts understood the tricky and sometimes fickle nature of guests. Older invitees, especially, tend to depart at a pre-determined time (usually really early) – whether the cake has been cut (or their pockets picked by the auctioneer) or not. Shifting your schedule as needed means those guests won’t miss the party’s highlights.

“Anything Can Happen” moments are – by definition – out of your control. Simply knowing that such things can – and probably will – occur allows the savvy party planner to budget a block of time, “just in case.”