Planner's Workshop: Top 10 Tips for End-of-the-Year Event Success

Holiday parties and end-of-year events are increasingly recognized as a key tool in staff retention and an important and visceral internal communications exercise. So, from a marketing perspective it is important to decide on your objectives from the start.

Objectives can range from feel good to financial, and once they're set you'll have a better idea of what you need to plan for, and how successful the event was after it's done. Then you have some more practical considerations that need your attention:

1. Know your numbers. It seems obvious, but knowing your exact budgetary parameters from the onset will assist you in the allocation of funds and getting the biggest "bang for your buck" when it comes to your dollar spend.

If your Christmas party has been sacrificed to corporate cost-cutting, you and other staff members could contribute a small amount a week into a kitty. Or see if your department can team up with another and pool your resources.

Once you know what you have to spend, break it down into smaller budgets —for food, venue, and so on. Don't be disheartened if you come across something that you love but doesn't fit into the budget, write a wish list—you might be able to afford it with surprise savings somewhere else, or even find a cheaper alternative along the way.

2. Put yourself in their shoes. It is important to understand the psychology of an event so run through the night in your mind while you're planning and remember—one person's idea of a great night on the dance floor could be the next person's head-thumping nightmare. A good way to gauge response is to ask employees what they thought of previous years' events.

3. Select your site wisely. Consider everything from traditional function venues such as restaurants, hotels and nightclubs to historic houses, vacant mansions, warehouses, parks, new car showrooms—virtually any public or private facility.

Factors to consider should include size, logistics, capacity, and budget. Make a checklist of requirements and questions to ask including: noise restrictions, toilets, open flame policy, wet weather contingency, maximum capacity, preferred suppliers, and hidden costs like compulsory security , cleaning, and restitution.

Make sure you meet with the venue manager before the big night and do a quick run-through. A word from the wise: The most frequent and stressful oversight made is not checking what time you have to load in/bump out. If your venue is booked for functions back-to-back you may only have an hour to set up or pack down, so check before you book.

Always go for a venue larger than your predicted turn out, but be prepared with some drapes to section off areas that won't be used to avoid the "sad looking half-empty room" syndrome.

4. Book early! The best dates for the holiday calendar can book out months ahead, with the biggest and best booked up to a year in advance.

5. Get everything in writing. This is critical. Be sure to get written details from all your suppliers—so there is no confusion over what you are asking for and all your costs are documented.

6. Fun and games. This year, entertainment trends are about providing opportunities that money can't buy—if you hear it on the radio, you might just see it at your holiday party!

Theming is all in the finer details—from crystal chandeliers to silk roses, aerial performers, and flame bartenders. Or if you are on a budget, your mantra should be "a touch of" . . . some cushions, dim lighting, and veils to create a Kasbah. Or music to set the mood. Focus on immersing your guests in your chosen experience with music, clever lighting, ambient smoke machines, and costume suggestions.

7. Hire the help you need. Don't plan to do it all yourself unless you never want to do it again—because you won't want to! Professional waiters, pourers, hosts, emcees, security, and door staff are all worth their weight in gold, for much, much less than you think.

8. Tasting stations can be a cost effective, fun way of serving food and allows people to graze at their leisure. Pair food with matching wines or cocktails, and keep food simple and filling—especially when the alcohol is flowing freely. Have a few more substantial treats to back up the usual canape selections.

9. Creative invites are the first tantalizing taste of the theme, design, and event direction. An online, flash, or animated invite with a back end RSVP for a large company will save money and time spent licking envelopes and making door lists—and can still be cost effective compared to printing. A note for those who do go digital—always get a few printed invites for those who can't access e-mail.

10. Safety first. Remember the Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) and be sure to check your public liability will cover the event. An emerging trend is pre-arranged coaches for your guests to shuttle home. It can prevent drunken disasters or stranded guests wandering the streets looking for scarce and highly sought after silly-season cabs.

Janette McKee is the group event executive producer for ECI Group, a New Zealand-based firm that creates, manages, and produces events, conferences, and incentives. To contact McKee, visit

Originally published December 01, 2007

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