With the December holidays right around the corner, it's not too late for companies to plan a holiday event. Although timing may be tight, event planners still have many options to secure a great venue, plan fun activities, and coordinate an overall memorable and affordable experience.
Secure a Venue
The most important thing for event planners is to quickly decide on a venue and secure it. With a quick turnaround during the busy holiday season, several venues may already be booked for popular days and times such as Friday and Saturday evenings. However, with some flexibility, planners can still find times that work well for a holiday event. For example, I've seen many companies host a Sunday holiday brunch or a late afternoon occasion for employees and their families.
By booking a low-demand day and time, planners can also typically secure discounted rates on the venue rental.
Involve Your Team
Once a venue is secured, I recommend that companies assemble a team in which they can delegate tasks such as manage the decorations, coordinate activities, brainstorm themes and menu ideas, secure the entertainment or playlist, and more. Not only does this help speed up the planning process, but by involving a range of employees instead of just the upper management, it allows for a lot of creativity from several different departments. This also helps companies to ensure that they are receiving feedback and opinions from the actual people who will be attending their event, helping to customize the details to the audience's preferences. I also recommend that you set firm deadlines for deliverables to help stay on track with a tight schedule.
The planning committee can also involve colleagues and peers to help to further drive interest and excitement about the event. For example, planners can request that all attendees submit photos of their favorite holiday memories for a slideshow that is shown at the party. Photos can range from families wearing matching pajamas or their expression when they opened their favorite gift. Additionally, companies can consider involving managers or supervisors to develop the event's menu by submitting their favorite holiday dish or cocktail recipe. These initiatives can also help you stay well within budget. Planners can also always ask a venue manager for fun and creative ideas, as they can be a valuable planning resource. Bring Your Team Together
Holiday events can be a great time for companies to bring their teams together and strengthen the workplace bonds. I recommend starting off with an icebreaker, especially if spouses or families are invited. An example is the "Who Am I" game in which each attendee has a name taped to their back when they arrive. The name is holiday-themed such as Rudolph or Frosty the Snowman. The attendee then talks and interacts with people in the room to get clues and ideas of the name on their back. Prizes can be given to the first few people who make the right guess.
One trend I've noticed is that more and more companies are making an effort to involve families in holiday events by offering games and crafts for children, family photo opportunities, or karaoke outings. By incorporating family-friendly elements, companies can provide not only a wonderful event for employees to show appreciation for all of their hard work over the year, but also help to create fun family holiday memories.
Additionally, as the holiday season is a time of giving, planners can also consider giving back through a service or charity project. While helping to plan events, I've seen companies create an ornament-making station in which guests can make ornaments and place them on a tree that will then be donated to an organization such as Ronald McDonald House or a local family shelter.
Holidays on a Budget
As planning a last-minute holiday event doesn't always allow for an expansive budget, planners can find many ways to spend less while still presenting a great event. Again, companies can consider hosting an occasion during an off-peak time, which can greatly reduce venue rental rates.
Companies can also get creative with the food and beverage offerings to help with budget restrictions. For example, I've seen them transition from the traditional rented or purchased table center pieces and instead use the space for dessert that can be served family-style. Another budget-friendly idea is to organize a holiday cookie exchange rather than dessert options. Organizations can even set-up a cookie decorating station on-site providing another fun and interactive activity for guests and their families. Decorating contests are also a fun way to celebrate competitive spirits and have some fun.
For entertainment, planners can consider reaching out to local universities that offer a music program. Often they have groups that will perform for free or for a nominal fee. It is a great way to support the local community while enhancing the atmosphere for your guests.
Lisa Sabin is the director of events at Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch. She has worked with Hyatt for more than 30 years and has overseen the planning and coordination of meetings and events at the company's downtown St. Louis location since 2008.