How To Be A Host: picking Party Themes and Making Intros

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Jenny Billard, senior director of private event sales at sbe, teaches us how to decide on a party theme and engage shy guests.

Jenny Billard, senior director of private event sales at sbe

During a virtual event hosted by PCN+ this week, events expert Jenny Billard shared her tips for hosting an unforgettable house party. 

The California native, after attending Princeton University for her bachelor’s degree in art history, got her start as a New York City gallerist by day and restaurant busser, host and waitress by night in order to make ends meet. “That’s where I fell in love with food, wine and events,” she says.

She eventually gravitated to the events space, taking a job at ACE Hotel in New York. She later moved back to California to work as the private events planner for Soho House in West Hollywood, where she produced about 60 events per month for members. 

After similar roles with the Standard Hotel Downtown LA and The Jane Club, Billard landed at sbe as the senior director of event sales, where she currently works with about 12 different properties including Doheny Room, Hyde Sunset and Nightingale. 

“Covid has posed so many challenges for the events industry as a whole,” she says. “It’s caused us to reshape our whole scope on how we produce events.” 

While much of sbe’s portfolio is still closed, Billard is optimistic about the eventual reopening of nightlife in LA. Until that happens, she gave us some of her best industry tricks to apply at home when hosting your own get-togethers.

First off, what are some obstacles hosts are facing right now?

The first thing as far as challenges would be safety and ensuring your guests feel safe and taking that extra step to make sure they are safe during these crazy weird times. That could mean spacing out seating; making sure you’re 6 feet apart. Prioritizing outdoors as opposed to indoors. For food and beverage, you don’t want anyone to touch anything, you want them to grab their own stuff. So we’ve seen so many products, especially alcohol brands, these cute little wines that are individual sized, or canned tequila sodas, which we all love. I think moving toward a way for your guests and attendees can take their things themselves and be a little more independent on what they choose for food. I think that’s the biggest obstacle, and also I’m so social, I want to invite everyone over to my house, and it’s hard not to, so limiting your guests to a reasonable number is always hard curating that guest list. 

How can you, despite all of this, create the right vibe?

What I’ve found when I have people over at my house is to have different areas for people to hang out. Don’t put them in just one room. If you have an outdoor area, set up a nice outdoor area or a couple. If you have a fire pit, set up a cute little area at the fire pit. Have an area where they can hang out in the living room. Don’t have everybody in one space; have different seating around your house. Having grab-and-go beverages and individually portioned foods is really important, but I think that’s the most you can do, and it also gets your guests moving around to different spaces and meeting new people and experiencing a new area of your house to keep it interesting. 

What are some go-to techniques for coming up with a theme for an event?

A theme just boils down to the season, the time of day when you’re having the event. Are you having it as a brunch? Are you having an afternoon rosé party? Are you having a cocktail party before you go to someone else’s house for dinner, or are you hosting a dinner? So, you need to kind of plan those things out ahead. Keeping those things in mind and adding to that. Having a cohesiveness for your drinks, for your overall aesthetic, your candles, your flowers, your food, your beverages. Everything you do should align with your theme. 

What are some tips for creating a super memorable experience for your guests?

To make it memorable I think there needs to be a reason why you’re bringing all of these people together. As a host that’s your job [to figure out] why are you inviting these people? Why are you curating this list? Why are you bringing them together? Why do you want them to be together? The most memorable ones I’ve been to I think there’s been a speech where the host says find someone to connect with in some way, or let’s all talk about an experience about love, or something else, where someone has an opportunity to speak and connect. For me production, organization and the details make it memorable. Having experiences and photo booths and some elements of entertainment or a takeaway. [Maybe] they have that photo to remember that night or it could boil down to the goody bag that they got at the end of the night. 

How do you help the person who’s a wallflower or new to a group get engaged?

I think having elements of entertainment is a plus; I think different areas for people to experience, different seating areas and different places for people to get a drink or food causes that person to have to move around. I’m old school, I think that if you’re having a house party you know exactly who you’re inviting and I think the host is responsible for making sure that person is able to speak to someone and there’s obviously a reason you invited that person. 

Most memorable event you’ve attended? 

I think most people think of memorable as like, ‘Oh, I saw this celebrity’ or ‘I threw this celebrity dinner,’ but I’ve been working with celebrities for years. That’s work for me, so for me, I’m a total nerd and love well produced events; when they have amazing rentals, amazing light, amazing activations and experiences. It could be anything from my friend’s wedding that was produced by Mindy Weiss who does all of the Kardashians’ events; it was impeccable design, I can’t even describe to you what it was like. But for me, that’s memorable. 

How can people still enjoy Halloween this year as the date is fast approaching?

Halloween is one of my favorite events. I love Halloween. I love dressing up; I will take any opportunity to dress up. So the fact that we can’t really go out and rage and dance with a lot of people is a bummer to me, but there are ways you can go around it. I know a lot of restaurants, The West Hollywood EDITION and Soho House, are still doing themed nights, so you can still dress up and you can have a curated small dinner with a group of friends. So it sounds like this year you can still dress up and you can still have fun and have a nice dinner, but the party you’ll have to take elsewhere, which is fine. I have a lot of friends who are doing block parties, so if you know your neighbors, block off your street, six houses or something.

Any other tips for hosts?

I think the best parties are when the host is at peace and having fun as well. You don’t want to be stressed out and if you’re thinking too hard on the theme, it’s not a good fit. Just do what’s good for you. You’ll be much more relaxed and your guests will be much more relaxed and have more fun. Don’t force anything; just make it easy. Be organized; if you’re going to throw a rosé party, make sure you have wine glasses, or if you’re going to have a dinner, have the proper dinnerware. Don’t stress yourself out if you don’t have the resources to throw a dinner party for 30 people. Don’t do it! Have a cocktail party. Just have fun.       

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