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Become A Party Animal

Not all of us are geared to the exciting life of being a popular social animal.

However, if you complete our ten tasks set out below you are sure to become the star of the show in any social situation thereafter. Wallflowers need not bother. :)

Learn 5 Tried-And-True Conversation Starters
As a rule, avoid conversations about politics, religion, sex and money at any given social situation. Even the closest friends can get a little weird around these subjects and such discussions should be kept to one-on-ones unless you want full-on group warfare. However, most of the time the problem is stilted conversation, in which case it's useful to arm yourself with five perfect conversation starters that can be employed on anyone, anywhere.

Asking a guest about themselves always works -- their job, their travel plans or their opinion on something that's happening in the room -- as most people feel comfortable talking about themselves. Secondly, ask them about other people in the room. Do they know them? How do they know them? Observe, and you shall find something to talk about. You can zone in on topics most people like and will have something to say about, like movies, music, travel, food or culture.

Finally, don't be afraid of silence. It's always better to take a breath, sip your drink and think about something seamless to say rather than randomly bring up something that is awkward for you both. Never, ever resort to talking about the weather. You're above that.

Build And Stock A Proper Bar
There's an art to stocking a decent bar, whether at home or at even event, so listen up. I've been to enough parties that are dry, only serve Cosmopolitans, can't open a bottle of wine (true story) or take so long between each drink that you've sobered up before you've began.

Firstly, decide where you'll be serving your drinks from; make sure there's enough room not just for bottles and glasses, but also empties. Next, ensure you have the kind of glasses you need to best present your drinks in -- nobody wants to drink a martini out of a tumbler or a glass of champagne out of a wine glass. Then it's on to the tools you'll need to manage drink-flow, from wine opener to cocktail shaker.

Drinks are next, and you'll need to stock the basics such as vodka and gin in addition to wines (red, white) perhaps cava/prosecco/champagne if the occasion calls for it and, of course, a smorgasbord of mixers. Garnishes aren't a necessity, but plan ahead and see if your cocktails would look better with them. However, the best host will know what to do with those dusty, long-forgotten bottles at the back of the bar and have a general stock of mixers to combine them with. For example, a bottle of never-used Campari can be still be worked up into a decent drink even if you don't have the necessaries for a Negroni by using simple orange juice, a glug of prosecco or over ice with a slice. Knowledge is power and the best host ensures the party never runs dry.

Find 3 Different Ways To Light Your House Based On Occasion
Arguably one of the most important roles of any host is to create atmosphere. And when it comes to atmosphere, lighting is key. Take, for instance, a dinner party around a perfectly laid table; no matter how small the group, it won't feel intimate without subdued lighting produced with candles, fairy lights or a dimmer switch. Anyone who's ever had a romantic meal for two at home should know this, and it's no different when you have groups of friends over for food. Secondly, the same is true of a lively living-room party; the general rule of thumb is that lights should start off bright but get gradually lower as the night goes on. That's not to say you'll end up in complete darkness, but as people drink more the last thing they want is for a dentist-style lamp highlighting tiredness, drunkenness or the like. Thirdly, the holidays are a no-brainer -- sparkly for Christmas and spooky for Halloween. It’s not rocket science, but good hosts will know which switch to hit for every occasion.

Sync Up Your Place So That Music Happens In Every Room
Being the perfect host means creating the perfect ambience. I once went to a friend's party where the drink was flowing, the food was fantastic and the crowd was sexy. Unfortunately, the music sucked and his house emptied out just a couple of hours later. Music is key to being a great host, and that means pre-emptying the collective musical taste of those you've invited. Working out how to seamlessly blend one genre to another for as long as your event is likely to last is the easy part.

Most would-be hosts forget that events are unlikely to be contained in one room. For instance, you don't want those who trickle out to the kitchen to be excluded from the party; you may not want the same thumping bass as in the living room as they've stepped outside to talk, but they'll want background music of some description. Also, don't forget small, often-overlooked places like the hallway or bathroom. Again, unless you lock them in the main space, guests will filter off into such rooms and it's your job to ensure your place is one big party palace.

Learn 5 Different Party Tricks
We've all been there. A party where conversation has dried up faster than the washing-up. In which case it's time to vacate or, like a true host, pull out a party trick (or five). I suggest learning a trick from a couple of different categories so they can cater to different crowds and contexts.

For instance, flair mixology that involves twirling, throwing and catching bottles between cocktail-making may impress with a group of boozed-up friends you have over for drinks, but might not cut the mustard when it comes to cajoling conversation out of a stiff work event.

Party tricks aren't just useful for livening up the socially living dead, they're also good for attracting attention to yourself and getting to know someone you otherwise wouldn't know what to talk about with. The sultry stranger in the corner? He loves a spot of yodelling, too. The perfect ice-breaker, a party trick will avoid asking awkward questions about the love lives, zodiac signs, religions, political beliefs and bank balances of your party guests, and instead generate laughter and conversation through something altogether less intrusive.

Host A Dinner Party With A One-Dish Main Course
Burning the starter. Undercooking the main. Forgetting the dessert. This is a pretty accurate picture of a dinner party I hosted a few years ago where I concentrated so much on my guests that each course was the culinary equivalent of a car crash.

Cut to a year later and I whipped up a culinary masterpiece; three courses of gourmet gorgeousness. But what of my guests? Because I was locked in the kitchen for most of the evening, the five of them -- virtual strangers -- were left struggling and scrambling for awkward, uncomfortable conversation. Despite my triumph on the table, it was a dinner they couldn't wait to leave.

So learn from my mistakes and master a couple of one-dish main courses that you can cook with your eyes closed. Something like a chilli, stew or risotto works wonders. You can then experiment with adding a simple starter and dessert at a later date -- just leave out any complicated, time-consuming sides and use that time schmoozing your guests.

Host An Annual Big Braai Event
I have legendary birthday parties. Each one is always bigger and better than the last, and the theme is always outrageous. I once hosted my own funeral, as I was tired of the same old fancy-dress parties that didn't inspire attendance. Now, people ask me what I'm doing for my birthday a month or so in advance because it's become a bit of an annual event. The same is true of a yearly big Braai event. People love something that brings them together, particularly in the sunshine, so if you can successfully pull off an organized day in the sun with man food, ice-cold beer and games you'll be a hit with friends or colleagues the rest of the year.

The only skill you'll really need for this one is getting to grips with the braai grill. Other than that, it's all about logistics: what meat to cook, how much drink to ice, what accessories to bring to ensure lawn-based comfort and how long your playlist will need to last for. As with any outdoor event, it's imperative to have a back-up plain in case of rain. Preferably, somewhere that's covered. Trust me, nobody comes to a wash-out.

Organize A Group-Birthday Party That Would Require A Venue Rental
So you've been put in charge of your best friend's birthday. Only trouble is, he doesn't want it at home. And you certainly don't want it at yours. What's a guy to do? Rent a venue, that's what. But it's not as easy as it looks. It can take countless hours of research, phone calls and emails to secure a venue you (and he) are happy with -- even then, it could still be one big disappointment on the day.

Firstly, you'll need to flexible. Every venue will have a peak time, so have an alternative day in your head when speaking with them. Sure, it might not be on their actual birthday, but if it means shaving hundreds off the bill, you can bet your bottom dollar he won't mind. Secondly, be specific. Attention to detail is everything, so advise them on drinks, table set-ups, music and anything you'd like to have control over. Also, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Get quotes and information from a couple of different places, so when it comes time to make a decision you'll be able to pick the best of the bunch. A birthday may not be a wedding, but showing you can pull off a group gathering like this may lead to you becoming host of something bigger and better. Finally, use the knowledge at your fingers. Where do you know your friend already likes? If nothing springs to mind, use the countless free resources available online.

Wherever you decide to book, make sure you see it before you book. Despite what they say, the camera does lie.

Host A Murder Mystery
If you can host a murder mystery party and navigate your way through a minefield of scripts, clues, costumes and the like, you'll be able to conquer any social situation. The first time I hosted one it was a disaster because I invited the wrong crowd. You need to invite guests you know are confident, game-for-a-laugh and experimental. Inviting the right number of people is just as important. Not having the mansion to host such a gathering I had people spilling out into the hallway and missing out on important parts of the plot I had so carefully orchestrated. Key to the whole thing, though, is getting your murderous hands on a killer script. I wrote my own as I'd like to think I can string a sentence together, but you can source one online. Just make sure it's believable -- nobody likes far-fetched nonsense, on-screen or off.

Host a Fondue Party
Part of being a great host is your presence: Choose a complicated dish to cook for your guests and you'll spend more time sweating in the kitchen than cocktailing in the living room. What that in mind, it is essential to get to grips with a dish that allows you to be social as you cook. Try your hand at fondue, a nostalgic method of cooking from the ‘70s that enables you and your guests to drip bread into a melted pot of cheese using long-stemmed forks. It hails from Switzerland, but Swiss cheese can be substituted for more modern takes on the retro recipe such as chocolate and fruit or meat and hot oil.

From past experience, I've found that fondue works best for a social gathering of four -- any more and it becomes awkward and crowded. And unless you want your entire dinner to become a throwback to a time gone by, make just one course fondue. Finally, don’t use your fondue fork for eating off, it will be piping hot and you'll have no tongue left to talk to guests with.

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