Ahead of the Curve: Be a Star at Your Next Gala

Five ways to step up your social game

BY February 27, 2015

Lights! cameras! auctions! 

Between the opulent decorations, the runway-ready dresses and the occasional bit of drama, charity events can make you feel as if you’re in the middle of a movie set. And with so much glamour at every turn, it’s easy to think you are just another extra. 

Oh, but you’d prefer to be the star? No problem.

Sure, showing up in something completely outrageous works for the likes of Lady Gaga, but for the rest of us, may we suggest something with more grace (and taste)? Follow these tips and you’ll be the belle of whatever ball you choose.


Talk Is Valuable

Soni Dimond is a part-time Naples resident and a nationally known speaker who teaches “soft skills for earning hard cash.” She says positivity is the best thing you can bring to the cocktail table. “In your hippocampus you remember the very bad and the very good. So you remember weddings but also funerals. Why not be the person who is remembered for saying something positive?” In other words, zip it about the shrimp skewers being below expectation.  

When the conversation naturally lulls—and it will—don’t panic. Instead, use the moment to be gracious. “Offer to introduce the person you’re speaking with to some of your other friends, or ask if they need a drink,” Dimond suggests.

Try this: When you meet a new person, see how long you can go before you ask them what they do for a living. This will force you to be more engaged in the conversation as you think up follow-up questions. Even better, it allows people the chance to talk about something besides the 9-to-5 grind.

Don’t do this: Talk politics, bash your ex or spread that tidbit of gossip you heard. “Keep your words sweet in case you have to eat them later,” Dimond jokes. 


Perfectly Toasted

Being asked to speak—whether to toast a person or a cause—is an honor. Treat it as such. “The suggested time for a toast is about three minutes, so try not to ramble on and on. People want to go back to their drinks and food,” says Marianne Oehser, president of the local Naples Toastmasters group. Also: Stay on topic. Sure, tell a funny anecdote, but only if it’s truly representative of the cause or person you’re toasting. “A lot of people make their toasts about themselves, when really it’s not about you,” Oehser says.

Try this: Be expressive. Use your face to convey emotion; this will help keep people engaged as they listen to your toast.

Don’t do this: Wing it. “Winging it never goes well. The person who appears to talk off the cuff perfectly has probably rehearsed at home a lot,” Oehser says. The best way to practice is to read your toast aloud several times. Also, Oehser says, there’s no shame in having your notecards with you as you take the stage.


Dance As If Everyone Is Watching

When the band cues up, there are two types of people: those who head for the dance floor and those who head for the bar. But you can’t drink yourself into having moves. To really cut a rug, you need to know some basics. The good news is that three or four steps will take you pretty far. Anastasia Kazmina, owner of the Naples Arthur Murray studio, says that if you can waltz, swing, foxtrot and rumba you’ll be able to hold your own on the dance floor. “Dances don’t really go out of style,” she says, adding that the popular songs will change from year to year, but the steps will remain mostly the same. And she says five or so lessons should be enough to get you feeling comfortable.

Try this: If you’re truly out of your element, “Smile, make a confident face, pretend that you know what you are doing. Use a box step and glide around the floor,” Kazima says. “Survive through the night and first thing in the morning, call a dance studio for an appointment.”

Don’t do this: Coach others on their dance moves. Charity events aren’t dance lessons; if a partner isn’t up to your standards, finish the dance and graciously move on to another partner.


Dress the Part

“I always tell clients that if you’re going to an evening event, dress better than you think you should. You will always feel better when you’re one of the top best-dressed people in the room,” says Michael Biondo, a Naples-based lifestyle designer and personal stylist. One way to do that is to be on-trend. This season, pick vintage-inspired gowns (particularly from the ’50s and ’60s), mesh cutouts and ostrich-feather detail work. Also, put those 14-inch heels away. “The trend is definitely going back toward lower heels,” Biondo says. Can we get a hallelujah? 

In menswear, color is in. “We’re seeing color in everything, even in men’s jackets,” says Wayne Lavoie, store manager at John Craig Clothier’s Third Street South location. Don’t be afraid to go bold: “Patterned dinner jackets and colored socks and bow ties are very much still in,”
he says.

Try this: For women who want something truly unique, Biondo suggests going for an actual vintage gown, not just one that’s vintage-inspired. For men who want to add color but aren’t sure how to do it, start with a zesty pocket square. “That’s the one accessory that you should never go out without,” Lavoie says.

Don’t do this: Leave your outfit until the last moment. “Almost everyone needs some alteration work done, and it’s crucial that you have time to pick out both your accessories and your undergarments,” Biondo says. Ideally, you should have your gown selected two weeks before your event.    


58 The number of February galas and social events listed in the Gulfshore Life Social Register



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