The people make the party.
The true key to party success isn't cool cocktails or delectable hors d'oeuvres; it's a great guest list. The right mix is simple party math: Invite mostly big talkers, funny folks, or storytellers -- you know, the types of people who are just downright interesting to talk to. Then, as best you can without being rude, trim the deadwood (boring coworkers, your neighbors who happen to be chronic wallflowers) to no more than 10 percent of your list. Try to make sure that for each guest, there are at least two or three people they don't already know. There's nothing better than people saying they met at your amazing party!
Think theme. (A little cheese is expected at parties.)
Whether it's an '80s night, a luau, or a Mexican fiesta, a theme -- even if it sounds a bit geeky at first -- helps your guests get into the spirit before the party even begins. Themes tell people what to wear, help you plan what to cook and how to decorate your space, and provide an instant ice breaker (even if it's, "Can you believe we had to dress up like flappers?!"). Remember, the more specific the theme, the better the Instagram pics!
Flying solo is for Amelia Earhart -- and look what happened to her.
A party shouldn't be a one-woman show. When guests arrive and ask how they can help, don't brush them off. Ask one friend to keep an eye on the ice bucket, another to replenish the napkins if the stack gets low. Consider asking your best friend to come 30 minutes ahead of time to entertain early arrivals while you deal with the finishing touches (or your final swipe of lipstick). The goal is to wake up the next day with good memories and plans for your next bash, not party PTSD.
Tried and true is better than brand new.
Listen up, overachievers: Now is not the time to try out that complicated new recipe you're so sure will be a hit. Serve your famous meatballs (or cream puffs or sangria). Yes, even to people who've had them 10 times already. There's a reason they're famous!
Put on your game face (the confident one, not the painted-in-team-colors one).
A host's mood has been scientifically proven to soak into a party's atmosphere and set the vibe for the entire evening. OK, there isn't any real research on this that we know of, but you know in your heart it's true. Do whatever it takes to feel relaxed and upbeat: Sneak a few store-bought cheats into your otherwise homemade menu to take some pressure off. Make those famous meatballs (see Rule 4) in advance. Throw the party in your backyard if you don't have time to clean the house. Meditate, medicate, whatever it takes!
There is a prize for participation.
It's called a successful party! Conversation and connection are what make a get-together great, and a surefire way to get partygoers to mingle is to give them something to do. If you let guests help themselves -- and each other -- at a self-serve bar (or dessert table or party-pic photo booth), they'll strike up conversations naturally. Set up, say, a baked potato station and, chances are, your friend Sarah will end up teasing your cute coworker about hogging all the bacon.
Be a player.
Ambiance is one of those snooty words you roll your eyes at, but all it really means is setting an appealing mood. Luckily, the easiest thing you can do to achieve that is choose an engaging playlist. Not a natural DJ? Take advantage of Pandora or Spotify by searching for playlists that fit your party's vibe, like "hip cocktail party" or "soulful brunch." If you've followed Rule 2, match the tunes to your theme. (See how that just made the whole music thing a lot easier? Get a theme, already!)
Move 'em or lose 'em.
The quickest way to kill a party? Sit down. Give a party that lively, swirly vive by making sure guests don't glue themselves to the couch, talking to the same folks all night long. Unless you're serving dinner (in which case everyone deserves a chair), provide one seat for every three guests who RSVP. Another crowd-dispersal device: Serve different foods in different rooms, and put the drinks in yet another.
You're a guest too.
You know how people always tell the bride to stop for a second on her wedding day to take it all in? You should do the same when you're a host. Granted, your Groundhog Day party may not be quite as big a deal as a wedding, but it's still pretty easy for the entire night to pass by in a blur. Stop refilling platters, washing glasses and picking up dirty napkins long enough to enjoy yourself and your guests.
Every party is a surprise party.
Something's going to go awry. Accept it now and you can stop antagonizing about it. Anticipate the textbook problems -- you're gonna want to have extra food, ice and red-wine stain remover on hand. But realize that there's no way to plan for dropping spinach dip on the dog, or for the fallout when your friend asks your not-pregnant sister-in-law when she's due. Remind yourself that no matter how awkwardly they feel, embarrassing events rarely derail a party so long as you don't turn them into freak-out moments. And, hey, they give guests something fun to talk about at your next party.