You’re invited! Now what? Dealing with summer soirees

Work, weddings, barbecues and other summer soirees; the invitations seem to come in fast and furious this time of year. So, do you have to attend just because you’re invited? And more than that, do you have to bring a gift or give a speech? And while we’re at it, when can you beg off?

“Summer is a time to unwind and relax unless every waking free moment is filled with an obligation!” says Matt Eventoff owner of Princeton Public Speaking. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the invitations (popularity is such a curse) Eventoff says “Everything we do sends a message. Everything.

So, the question is — what message are you sending?” It’s okay to be picky when choosing where to go or what to do, but you don’t want to be stand-offish. It’s also okay to show up for a short while before begging off. The best plan though is to have a plan and stick to it so you look thoughtful and not flaky.

Bring a gift or make a donation

The reason work events — even weddings or birthday celebrations — can feel so tricky is because you’re socializing, but as your work persona. Eventoff says “If you are personally invited and can’t attend, sending a gift certainly sends a positive message.”

You can also go the safe route and donate to a cause they believe in or have tried to raise money for in the past. “Making a donation in someone’s name is always appreciated, sends a great message, and most importantly helps a cause that helps many others (and has the side effect of making the person who donates feel great!)” said Eventoff.

But if you don’t know the person’s preferences or politics, take care when choosing a cause to donate to, you don’t want to offend the guest of honor by donating to something they despise or don’t believe in.

Just say no

If you can’t go, it’s really okay, just don’t pretend otherwise. “For anyone that has ever hosted an event, the unpredictable “surprise — I said I would be there and now I won’t be!” Can cause a lot of stress for the host,” says Eventoff. “At the same time, many people feel uncomfortable or awkward responding no, or think there is a chance they will go so they just respond “yes.” As a host, I am appreciative of a prompt “not attending” — it makes life easier as it eliminates the guessing game and the inability to prepare properly.”

Don’t go under duress

If you really don’t want to go, just stay home. Everyone knows if you’re suffering and it doesn’t endear you to your hosts or fellow guests. As Eventoff reminds us, “It is often better not to attend than to attend begrudgingly and not send the warmest signals to everyone else in attendance.

It is often apparent to tell when someone is at an event strictly out of feeling obligated to attend — it shows in nonverbal communication (as well as verbal — tone, etc.).”

Offer to co-host or help

If you really are an awful guest, consider offering to help set up or greet guests or otherwise prove yourself invaluable. And don’t worry about being perceived as pushy, unless they’re a socialite cum professional party planner on par with Pippa Middleton, chances are good they can always use an extra set of hands.

“If it’s a close colleague, team member or client, reframing the invitation as an opportunity to support the host rather than as an obligation or burden can change how to approach the situation,” says Eventoff.

Accept graciously and tell them from the onset that you’re happy to help with anything from unruly guests to making sure everyone has a drink.

Don’t reciprocate unless you can afford to or really want to

Just because your boss invited everyone to a backyard barbecue at her swanky Hampton’s cottage doesn’t mean you have to even remotely try to do the same. Even if your salary matched, you’re not trying to top anyone. Not everyone is a born host or entertainer and trying to force yourself to be the host with the most when you’re a couch potato only ensures everyone on the guest list will be miserable.

One last thing: If you’re the host, be mindful of your guest list. Monica Lewinsky was recently disinvited from an event … because Bill Clinton accepted an invitation. If you think your guests won’t play nice together, cull the list in advance so you don’t end up looking rude and clueless.