This season’s forecast for galas has technology and world travel playing influential roles. Popular themes like “A Winter Wonderland” are being updated with interactive elements like living chandeliers that pour guests a glass of holiday cheer as they enter the room; rolling dessert towers decorated to match the theme; and high-energy dance performers. And let’s not forget, nothing screams “holiday” like the sounds of the season. Karaoke, anyone?
Comfort is trending when it comes to creating places for your holiday guests to relax and gather. Use what your venue has and build around it. If there’s a fireplace, reserve it for a Norman Rockwell-style space with wingback chairs and plush pillows in holiday colors.
Save room in your budget for lighting. Nothing is more magical than a room with specialty lighting. A good lighting designer or AV company can provide up lighting that adds color to the room. A few moving lights bring energy to the dance floor. Festival lights on the ceiling keep things whimsical and unexpected, so why not go even further with snow falling over the dance floor? Many AV companies now have this technology.
It’s the season for goodwill, too, so consider partnering with charities to raise awareness and give gifts. Adding a charity component with a corporate goal fosters teamwork and camaraderie and gives purpose to the event.
If you do use your holiday event to collect donations for a charity or food bank, advertise the cause throughout the pre-party process to build interest and awareness. Add an element of competition, set department goals and give awards when milestones are hit. Awards don’t need to require money or prizes. They can be an honorary title. Don’t over-complicate it.
Afterward, post-holiday letters with comments from the recipients can be sent to attendees detailing how much money was raised.
These are just a few ideas to get you going. Be inspired and free. Anything is possible. Remember, it’s the most magical time of the year.
Food and beverage
Think global cuisine when wining and dining guests. Create environments that support an “It’s a Small World” theme, for example. Take guests to the South Pacific for cocktails with a hula-attired waitstaff, then whisk them to the Mediterranean for a family-style dinner to foster warmth and cheer.
For dessert try a French patisserie with bistro tables. Replace plated dinners with tasting stations that give guests options and the freedom to socialize. Try a crostini bar with farm-fresh toppings; a pretzel bar with international mustards and sweet toppings; a cheese fondue fountain.
For libations, go old school with specialty bars offering classic whiskey cocktails with a twist — like whiskey sour slushes or maple old-fashioneds. Craft beers are another option.
No matter what your theme is, remember that the party is for the guests. It sounds basic, but, too often, planners get caught up in what they like and forget their audience. This is especially important to keep in mind if you are gluten-sensitive or a vegetarian.
Ditto with alcohol. If you love red wine, but your CEO likes bourbon, make sure you focus primarily on what the masses drink, and plan accordingly. Pay attention to how you pay for your alcohol — per hour, per person or bottle service. Knowing your group’s consumption history will steer you to the right answer.
All in the timing
Consider the day and date of the party. Check the organization’s calendar to avoid conflicts, such as conferences. Be sensitive to schedules, too. If your guests would prefer something during work hours, celebrate at the end of the day, perhaps in-house. Or, maybe, the answer is a weekend event that is family-friendly.
All too often, holiday expectations are colored by television, movies or an imagined fantasy of perfection. That places a tremendous and unnecessary burden on the planner. Keep the goal in mind: The event is about celebrating relationships, accomplishments, blessings and camaraderie. If guests leave happy and grateful, you’ve succeeded.
Donate leftovers to those in need. If your venue prohibits this, you can sometimes work around it by asking that leftovers be packaged to-go and hand them off yourself. (Clear this with your intended recipient first, however. Some groups won’t accept leftovers, no matter how safety they’re packaged.) Give flowers to a hospital, nursing home or veterans’ facility.
This gift keeps on giving. Create pre-party buzz with a holiday trivia game. Fashion questions based on holiday songs, classic movies or random trivia like how many years a fruitcake can be stored before it goes bad (answer: 25).
Social media also makes capturing and sharing moments from a memorable party easy. Use imaginative hashtags. Be clever, but make sure in advance that no one else is using them. Think along the lines of #Scrooged, #Prancer, #Mistletoe, #HoHoHo and #NaughtyorNice. Use a virtual photo album format. Not sure how to create one? No worries. There are plenty of sites that make creating your online album a snap. We often use winsite.com and cutephp.com.
When planning your event’s room layout, consider your social media strategy. Leave space for photo opportunities and create an organized flow that lets guests line up, select props, pose, post and exit without causing a bottleneck.
If you use an imaginative backdrop and provide seasonal props, your guests will want selfies they can post directly to social media. Think elf hats, reindeer antlers, Santa’s beard, ornament earrings, Rudolph’s red nose. Sites such as Life Your Way, 143 Photo Booth and Panic Printables on Etsy.com offer ideas and patterns for inexpensive props.
Think about streaming the images live on a large screen, if your budget permits. Photo booths are still popular, but think about spending your budget differently this year. Invest in an Instagram printer. It takes the tedious work out of printing Instagram photos.
Remember that sharing is a key part of the holidays. So, keep that messaging front and center. If you partner with a charitable organization, work with it to promote to both audiences. A co-branded build lets people be proud of their efforts and contributions. Create a group challenge such as “Fill Santa’s sled with unwrapped toys by Dec. 10” or “Decorate a tree with donated gift certificates” to give to families in need.
The goal is to bring attention to your organization AND to inspire others to join your efforts. If using social media can help make the holiday season brighter for others, those posts, links and tweets will truly be something to celebrate.
We’d love to hear all about your holiday celebration ideas, the good and bad. Please use the comment box below and/or send your feedback to @SMEChristy or firstname.lastname@example.org.