1. Hire early and vet your vendors.
July 1 is almost too late to start planning, especially if your event is December 31 or if it must be on a Friday or Saturday before Christmas. If you can be flexible and hold your party on a Sunday or weeknight, you’ll have more options with venues, vendors, and entertainers and you might also qualify for a discount.
If you must have the event on a Friday or Saturday, then you better book your music, venue, and catering by May 1. Why so early, you ask? The best vendors are in high demand at this time of year and many sign contracts twelve to 18 months in advance. For example, “Santa” and “Rebecca the Reindeer” pictured below are booked for NYE 24 months in advance.
Getting an early start also gives you time to do some research on your vendors. Read reviews on Yelp, Wedding Wire, The Knot, Google, Gigmasters, Facebook, and other sites. But it is always best to work by referral. Hire someone that someone you know and trust has hired, and once you are happy with them, sign the contract for next year right after the party this year. Do just a little homework and your guests will be talking about YOUR event for months.
2. Consider interactive games
If you want your guests to mingle and get to know each other, as opposed to huddling in groups with people they know, then get some advice on “mixer” games. A good MC/DJ is a great resource for this idea, but remember TIP #1: research and hire a professional.
For example, a scavenger hunt forces people to talk to each other while they try to find the answers to questions like these: find someone who is a black belt; find a naturalized citizen; find someone born and raised in NYC (San Francisco, Mexico City, Paris, Anchorage, and on and on); find someone who plays the piano (trumpet, flute, harp, and on and on) Lots of easy ideas here upon which to base fun questions. Give each guest a card with the questions, set a time limit, and then call the group to attention and reveal the correct answers. Here’s a link to “20 insanely simple party games.”
3. Seek advice
Unless you are a professional planner, you need to ask for help. And sure, you can find lots of answers on Google, but nothing beats talking to people who have done it. Many companies rotate responsibility for events throughout the staff. Find the person who did last year’s party and glean that knowledge.
You can also reach out to your local chapter of MEETING PROFESSIONALS INTERNATIONAL (MPI), the real meeting pros. And remember point #1: “vet your vendors.” If you are getting help from others about catering or entertainment or decor, you can also ask for referrals. If you have never done it before, then find out WHAT questions you should be asking.
4. Keep presentations / speeches to a minimum
If you must have a speaker or a presentation, keep it to a minimum (5-10 minutes). Remember, this is not the corporate annual meeting that requires a reading of the minutes, installation of officers, and review of financials. It is the holiday party! Sometimes bosses like to thank staff, and giving away gifts of appreciation is great, but keep speeches to a bare minimum.
If you have lots of gifts of appreciation, then split them up into three 10-minute presentations instead of one 30-minute presentation. Use this time to give your live musicians a break. Many bosses know that the party in and of itself is one of the best gifts of appreciation, so they keep a low profile at these events and do all they can do to encourage their staff and employees to have fun.
5. Include live music
There is quite simply nothing like live music to establish the atmosphere of an event. And you get to choose, like a solo pianist during cocktail hour and dinner and a dance band for after. Or a string quartet or a tribute act of some kind. For example, you could hire a Frank Sinatra or Elvis impersonator for right after dinner, followed by a dance band. And I am always baffled by the comment, “They are not a dancing crowd.” People have fun when they dance, when they just get up from their tables and shake, rattle, and roll. I’m not talking about ballroom dance, although some crowds really do want to waltz, two-step, cha-cha, and rumba. If that is YOUR crowd, then make sure the band plays music for those dance styles.
If you think your coworkers are “not a dancing crowd,” then hire a live band and a professional DJ/MC. You are looking for a DJ/MC with real experience working the crowd, encouraging them to get up on the dance floor through clever games and strategies. I once worked with a guy who got 300 of the 500 guests on the floor doing conga lines, line dancing, and tributes to all the “pretty women” in the crowd. It was a huge success. The right DJ/MC knows how to help guests shed self-consciousness and have lots of fun. Don’t overlook this issue. Don’t simply hire live musicians and expect everyone to dance unless you know your guests are a “dancing crowd.” Know your guests and create the perfect combination of DJ/MC, live band, soloists, and tribute acts to make your party unforgettable. Contact your local chapter of American Disc Jockey Association if you can’t find a referral. And use Gigmasters for live bands / tribute acts if you can’t find a band referral. No matter what—make your party memorable with live music.