Salt 101

How To: Host *Literally* Anything

Hosting an event is hard.

But those select (read: slightly masochistic) few that choose to undertake the formidable challenge do so because it’s hard in the way that makes you feel really proud to say “What, like it’s hard?” a la Elle Woods afterwards.

When done well, no one will sense the work and anxiety that went into making the event happen, and, much like a ballet*, it will seem so effortless that even when you are approached with congratulatory “thank you’s” and compliments at the end of the night, odds are that they won’t be for the things you actually spent the most time on.

A great hostess is skilled in the art of disguising the chaos of planning. No sweat dripped, no nails chipped, not a wink of sleep lost. Your internal voice may be screaming bloody murder, but on the outside, there isn't even a kink to your brow while you pull the marionette strings and direct the orchestra at the same time. Eyes and ears everywhere and a smile on your face.

How to be a good host

While there’s no ultimate right way to do it all, below are a few personal tips for how to host, co-host, or help a host of an event!

Why are we gathered here today?

The number one *most* important question to ask yourself or whomever you are hosting an event for or with is—What is the true purpose of this event?

WARNING: The correct answer to this question will probably not be the first thing that they say or be what the invitation reads. An event’s purpose is usually the “inside thought” that you don’t tell the guests flat out because it sounds too ugly, honest, or harsh.

For example—On the outside, one would probably say that they are hosting a networking event to “build community, make connections, expand guests’ professional spheres, and learn about what others are doing in the space.”

In reality, a networking event is a way to meet other people who have goals or skills that align with your goals or skills and can be leveraged in a mutually beneficial way to elevate your bottom line.

The success of this event isn’t contingent on what you say it is when you say “we want an incredible group of young creative thinkers who are ready to share and grow” those are the “pretty” “outside voice” words. The true success is contingent on having a room filled with notable professionals who are open to making connections and are curious and extroverted enough to meet, mingle, share, and brainstorm in an action-oriented manner.

Because at the end of the day, when the next Airbnb is built, you want the co-founders to say that it wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t meet at [insert your perfectly curated networking roundtable here].

So, back to the original question. Do the hosts or the brand representatives want to:

  • Expand their reach
  • Produce marketing material or content
  • Sell a product or service
  • Introduce a new launch
  • Survey group interest
  • Celebrate and have fun
  • Learn something new
  • Eat, sing, dance, etc.

A book club’s intention is usually not to discuss a book. Often the goal is to build community, make new friends, drink wine, or share a literary third space with others who feel inclined to do the same.

On the flip side, if you are hosting a cheese tasting, the primary purpose is probably to taste some cheese. Yes, some people may be looking to try something new or meet people, but odds are, if you’ve signed up to sample a camembert, that is what you want to do.

How do you do this?

The best way to be sure that you are aligned on an event’s purpose is to set up an intro call. A week or two prior to the event, ask the lead host or team coming in:

  • What is the purpose of this event?
  • What are you looking to get out of this evening?
  • What could potentially get in the way of you achieving your intended outcome?
  • What does success look like to you? And can you give me examples and specific metrics for how to best judge this?

These questions aren’t easy to answer thoughtfully on the spot, so give your clients enough time to sit with them before the event takes place.

Who have we gathered here today?

The second most important factor when it comes to planning a good event is to invite thoughtfully.

Done effectively, the answers to the questions above will both set the tone for the planning phase and the event itself and allow for you as a host or host’s helper to invite more thoughtfully.

Not everyone is the best fit for every event. Curating a well-rounded guest list is an art form. That doesn’t mean just picking the fanciest, most impressive, coolest people you can find that have the most followers on InstaTok. It means selecting a combination of guests that align with the intent of the event and each have a specific driving factor or fall into a few core boxes of driving factors that will help propel the event forward.

How do you do this?

This looks different depending on the type of event, but for an article discussion group, for example, you probably want:

  • Tenured professionals in the space
  • Young novel thinkers, up to date on the more current/cutting edge research
  • A few experimental leaders who bring more niche outlooks that make for compelling argument topics or platforms for changing one’s mind
  • Extroverts
  • Introverts
  • Leaders who will naturally guide conversation in productive directions rather than letting it get stuck in a roundabout
  • An antagonist
  • A few peacekeepers

Having too many of one type of person would create an echo chamber, but inviting people who don’t quite fit into a related box could just lead to awkwardness, confusion, or an unproductive evening.

You don’t have to invite everyone. Your job is to ensure a successful evening, so you do have to think about the types of people that would make that a reality. The above list would probably not be applicable to an alt-rock album release party…

The art of “Welcome home”

Welcome your guests warmly. The first person that your guests see should be you. Greet them gently with “soft brain” questions. (Where are you coming from this evening? Have you been here before? Something something the weather?) Especially in New York, the commute and hustle and bustle that it takes to get somewhere is exhausting and your guests are probably still in “fight or flight, speed racer mode.” It is your job to catalyze a shift towards calmness.  

How do you do this?

By being the welcoming face, your expression, tone, and even your heart rate and demeanor can be the trigger for the mental shift from hyperventilate to exhale. People mimic what they see. If you are cool, calm, collected, and happy to be there, they will match your energy.

Being this “first person” is also a great way to assert authority over the event and assign yourself as a “point person” without having to say it.

One of my personal pet peeves is when an adult tells another adult that they will be the “point person” for this evening. If you have been a person in the world for long enough, odds are that you can tell who has the authority in a given space.

Doing this elegantly and subtly gives you even more control than having to say it. You just leveled up, because like a good actor, you got someone to believe that you’re the leader and that they should follow you without having to say “Hey! Simon says, follow the leader!”

In Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, she talks about “generous authority.” It is a way of carrying oneself, making introductions, and owning a room that protects, equalizes, and connects your guests. She recommends, what she calls, “half-Egyptian and half-German authority,”which combines the right balance of warmth and order.

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Timing is everything

This may seem obvious, but it couldn’t be more true. The importance of planning out a run of show beforehand cannot be underestimated. Will anything follow that schedule? Absolutely not. These ROSs are jello, not concrete, but giving yourself an idea of what needs to happen when will at the very least make you feel better about one thing. Hosts love control, especially when they cannot have it.

Timing is in a particularly delicate balance in the moments between guests arriving and the program beginning.

When guests arrive, greet them, but then let them marinate in the space. Like with steak, you can’t rush the marinating process, but in the end, you’ll be grateful that you let it happen. This doesn’t mean that you can just sit back though. As the hostess, you are there to provide the “seasoning.” Salt each small talk conversation with a fact or introduction that adds a bit of flavor.

There’s nothing better than a host or hostess that has made every single guest feel seen, special, wanted, and heard. The kind of person who everyone feels like they’ve gotten to know—while in reality, she has probably swanned around the room adding what amounts to the most inconsequential ad lib to the conversations, but imperceptibly eases in and out of nearly all of them.

How do you do this?

Like at altitude, people need a few moments to acclimate to a space, get accustomed to their surroundings and situate themselves among their new peers. Give them this time. Just 30 minutes or so will allow for at least 5 conversations that go something like:

  • I love your shoes/jacket/nails!
  • Did I meet you at [insert conference here]?
  • Oh, I see your tote bag is from [very well known bookstore] I’ve been meaning to go!
  • I think we went to college together…
  • How ‘bout them Mets?

These conversations may seem like nonsense chitter chatter if you are there to talk about the ethics of the death penalty or the global economy, but they invite a sense of comfort and act as verbal lubricant so people are ready to actually speak later on.

WARNING: That being said, this does not mean that you can just let it be a free for all. This is where you have to—

Stage productive introductions that make connections in a natural way.

Step into conversations that seem like they’re going stale and usher people on to their next meet cute.

Sit and get to know the introverts who may not feel as at ease in these situations.


Be very “chalant” and be a “gentle parent”

Being “hands off,” “chill,” or “behind the scenes” when you are a host means being the exact opposite but being really sneaky about it. You are conducting the orchestra (front of house) and pulling the marionette strings (How’s the lighting? Is the food ready? Is the music too loud? Is there enough ice?).

Your job is to have all of these elements top of mind and a live updating mental spreadsheet that keeps them all in check while presenting like you have never had a stressful thought in your life. Never let anyone see you sweat. Stress is infectious. If you are, everyone is.

How do you do this?

Performative nonchalance will be your special superpower even when things feel like they’re crumbling.

If someone is being insufferable, whether that be too talkative, argumentative, drunk, or just really annoying, unfortunately at the end of the day, it’s not going to look like their fault, as the person putting the event on, it's going to look like yours. And even more unfortunately that’s what a lot of people will be talking about and later and remembering…

This is where “gentle parenting” comes in—anything that you suggest should seem like their idea to do or like a game that you just came up with that they can win by being just slightly less insufferable.

Don’t “housekeep” in public

Remember that you’re not in class, this is not a school, and we are all adults.

Sometimes it’s important to share that the white 2017 Chevy is in the way and that the bar closes at 11, but most of the time, none of these “housekeeping” notes—even the location of the bathroom—is relevant enough to share en masse at the beginning. Wait until people break into groups to ask about the car, and people will probably figure out the bar and bathroom by themselves.

How do you do this?

Just like grandmother’s say, “hide your unmentionables.” In this case, that’s not just your bills and bras, but also the less glamorous conversation topics and “errand” chat.

Under those unavoidable circumstances where ugly things need to be said, this is where you grab your tennis racquet and put some spin on it. There’s nothing worse than listening to someone who feels obligated to say what they are saying. Slip whatever you need to share into conversation (but not into your opening or closing remarks) in a way that feels natural without the:

“A few last housekeeping notes,” “Just to conclude,” or “I just wanted to really quickly thank XYZ.”

  1. If a guest is a guest they should not be doing the “housekeeping,” so these are just…notes
  2. Always end on a note that summarizes the event and is in line with the ethos and vibe that has been carried throughout
  3. No need to disclaim. Just express that “none of this would have been able to happen without the [unique skill based compliment that’s not [help]] of X, Y, and Z. Thank you all so much for being here.”

Two final notes

Lean into the space

The power of location is vast and it can act with you or against you. Cozy spaces are great for warmth, collaboration, idea sharing, and building community. You probably wouldn’t host a pig dissection or a court hearing where the lighting is dim, so pick events and vibes that match the space.

This is what Parker calls “The Chateau Principle”—you shouldn’t host a meeting in a chateau if you don’t want to “remind the French of their greatness.”

Say goodbye with a gift

When you are saying your farewells and thank you’s, leave your guests or the brand/expert that you have been working with with something sweet on their way out the door.

This doesn’t have to be chocolate (but that’s never a bad idea…), but it could be anything from a parting thought to mull over on their way home, a place to check for photos of the event, a card with details about an upcoming similar event that they might like if they enjoyed this one, or a way to connect with the people that they met this evening.