Last-minute party advice for your virtual/in-person Holiday Extravaganza!
For some of us, the biggest event we will plan in a given year is the company holiday party. And believe me, I know how much pressure you may personally feel for everything to go perfect! There have been many-a-sleepless nights in my event’s past, thinking and worrying about an impending event. From the decor and entertainment to the food plan and vendors, and the expectation for the utmost joy to be experienced by your colleagues all in one night.
So wherever you are at in your planning process, it is never too late to give the holiday party a certain IT factor. Whether your event is in person, virtual, or hybrid, I am going to join your dream team planning committee and help you and your team get amped up for this December’s holiday season.
Amp up the Event
As the event planner of this holiday party, you are the voice of the party experience. How do you want people to feel before, during, and after the event? You get to own that and curate the emotions and memories of your colleagues. So bring in that high-level energy and start marketing your event to your internal team in creative ways; weeks before the party is to take place. Here’s how to make that happen:
- Initial Invite: Use a platform like Paperless Post — or Canva if you want to get crafty. If there is time, send a physical invite. Make your guests feel like they are being invited to the most exclusive event of the year!
- RSVPs: It can feel daunting to keep messaging people to confirm RSVPs to the holiday event. Instead, you can drop nuggets of information about the party followed by a request to RSVP by a certain date.
- Dream Team, Unite: Whoever is helping you put on this event, work together to ensure you are all getting others excited to go. Put up signs around the office (if you are in person). Remind people through your company newsletter. Bring it up in smaller team meetings, or even just conversationally.
- Presentation: If your company hosts an all-team meeting, use the final meeting of the year (if it is before the holiday party) to do a brief presentation on the event. Share those last-minute details that will help people feel in the know (who, what, where, when, what to expect). And of course, if you want fun memes and pictures to get a few laughs, DO IT!
String a Theme Through the Event
Want your holiday party to be memorable? Have a theme. I swear by it! Almost every event that I have put together that had the best turnout and the most memorable moments, were events where there was some theme, no matter how small. If your theme is simple, all the better. Say your theme was based on the concept of, “snow.” Simple in concept but impactful in the application. Imagine all the ways you could infuse snow or winter into the decorations, the food, the drinks, and lighting.
One year we hosted this all-company holiday party of about 100 guests to the theme of T’was the Night Before Christmas. Guests wore PJs, slippers, bathrobes and we gave out velvet sachet bags filled with silk sleep masks, lavender essential oil, and sleepy time tea. We ended the night with a costume contest in which the winner was dressed as a sparkling Christmas Eve moon.
As your holiday party is less than a month away, there may or may not be time to theme every aspect as things get set in stone. So here are some categories you can brainstorm on and see if there is a way to add a theme without changing anything pertinent to your party plan:
- In-Person: Decorations and centerpieces, table displays, food, themed drinks, venues, lighting
- Virtual: Zoom backgrounds, the styling of digital event services, food and drinks (shipped ahead of time), speakers and emcees dressed in costume
- All Events: Outfits/costumes, themed invites, entertainment, content/speakers, gifts/swag, event name
Pro Tip: If you have enough time before your event to infuse a few thematic choices, get your colleagues in on the fun. Have coworkers submit a theme they would want to see, then send out a poll with your top 3–5 themes. Make a big deal about announcing said theme once the votes come in. This will surely rally everyone up as well.
Make it Uniquely Company Centric
I worked at a company where everyone was super crafty. So the day before our holiday party we had our internal holiday market where people could buy handmade goods from each other and gift them to their friends and family, thus reinforcing our support for our colleagues and their creativity. And while this didn’t happen at the event itself, it is a testament to the way we honor those we work with by understanding their interests, paying attention to company culture, and staying in the know of what is happening on other teams.
How can you go about making your event agenda uniquely specific to your company’s culture? What are ways that you can sprinkle in unique nuggets of your team’s magical essence into the environment of the party? Are there inside jokes you can pull from? Cultural norms that can lead to the entertainment and gaming options?
Another place I worked at, liked to bond over board games. So we put board games on every table at the party so that if people wanted, they could sit, relax and make new friends with guests (plus ones) they had never met. It was wholesome and a great icebreaker.
Get People Socializing
Have you ever been to an event where everyone was quiet? And the more the quiet lingered, the more you found yourself talking and talking to help bridge together the group that was there? I get nervous even thinking about it! And it is something many event planners fear.
The most common causes of quiet awkward event moments:
- Guests are early and no one is really at the event yet or the host is still in the middle of preparation.
- Guests that are there, don’t know each other well and they are still waiting for those they do know well to arrive.
- An event has a small guest count and there isn’t enough to do or enough that is happening to help ease the tension.
- There is no music or the music is too loud to communicate.
- A venue is too large for the number of people attending.
- Virtual events can be awkward when people have their camera off or aren’t even really there behind that emoji!
Here are just a few tactics to ensure there aren’t any awkward pauses:
- Host Hero: You are the host of the event, so be sure to say hi to everyone that comes on screen and if they have guests with them, be sure to address them and make them feel welcome!
- Side Chat: Put Icebreakers/trivia in the event chat. Have someone (you or a dream team member) run the company chat to keep conversations moving along. Once you start it off with prompting questions, run of event details, callouts to those you see on screen, the chat should start to pick up naturally.
- Master of Ceremony: Have a Master of Ceremony take the guests on the virtual journey. This role will give the event its structure. But the chat will remain an offshoot with multiple conversations being had in tandem.
- Welcome Screen: Play music/have a welcome screen for when people first sign onto the event. Creating this almost themed waiting room will help ease the nerves of people sitting on screen while they wait for others to join.
- Mix up stations: Create a space where people can easily move about. High-top tables mixed with sitting tables will ensure those that get tired can sit and have a snack, and tall tables clustered near each other allow for mingling.
- Create moments: Create focal points to cluster and bump into others over a shared curiosity. Where else can you create moments sprinkled throughout the event? A photo-booth? A decorated vignette, a gaming activity, a face painter, an ice-cream cart, an astrologer, a raffle table, or an indoor waterfall. You dream it, you can make it happen.
- Surprises: Where can the event have moments where people look up and they are like: what is that!? An entertainer walks through, a person in costume is serving drinks, a new room at the venue opens up that wasn’t there before thus leading people into a new space with a different vibe.
Have your Covid-19 safety plan
If you are having an event in person and the year is 2021, then you will want to have a covid safety plan and to communicate that plan before the holiday party to all of your colleagues. Having your guests know the full expectations ahead of time will deter any awkwardness that you or the guests may feel. So be sure to have the following questions addressed and answered.
- Masks required?
- Vaccinations required?
- How do we track vaccinations?
- On-site rapid tests?
- What happens if someone tests positive?
You can prevent problems by using the same employee health check software you use for in-person work.
If you and your team come up with a set of rules and for any given reason a colleague won’t be able to attend because of those rules, it will be up to you and your team about what to do next.
Crush the Follow Up
Just as the prep for the event is as important as the event itself, so is the follow-up after the event is complete. Closeout the year before people head out on holiday with some fun throwbacks from the party:
Use Slack/Google Meet/Company Newsletter and share:
- Photos: Be sure to take screenshots or photos at the event (especially if you didn’t hire a photographer). Ask others to submit photos they took as well and add them to a shared folder that everyone can access.
- Recap: Give shoutouts to those that won prizes, trivia, or anything else memorable that happened that evening.
- Share vendor love: If you had musical entertainment at your event, share the Spotify/Youtube/Website of the performer in case people want to continue supporting and listening to them.
- Videos/Recordings: If there were any company videos or recordings of the event, send those out as well.
- Happy New Year: Send any new years salutations or end-of-year remarks!
I hope your event this season is a success and that after a full year of working hard and planning an intense event that you get to relax in the ultimate joys of a job well done. Can’t wait to follow all the holiday pictures you post. I’ll be looking out for all the inventive ways you made your colleagues feel loved and appreciated. Have a happy holiday season!