Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Have a Stress-Free Holiday Party - for Less!

The holidays, it seems, bring out the best and the worst in us. Holiday parties can be fun, but they can also be exhausting and expensive! In more than 25 years of doing magic at corporate, community and social events, I've seen great and not-so-great holiday parties. Here are some of the ways you can have a great party with a lot less stress and many of these tips will save you money, too!

1. Have it in January! This is the biggest secret of all!
December is full - full of family, school, community, religious and company obligations. Sometimes your party becomes just another burden on overtaxed schedules. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a company spend big bucks for 200 employees, and 40 people show up. Schedules are much more open in January and that's the time when people really need a party! By moving the party to January, when things are slow in the event business, you'll also save on nearly everything: the venue, the food, entertainment, etc.

2. Delegate. You may be only super-human, but you'll have a lot more fun if you figure out what needs to be done and find people to help you. Define the jobs clearly; explain what successful completion of their task looks like ("Our goal is to get everyone to the party without people getting lost"); give them a deadline, and then check back to make sure it gets done. Other people may not do things exactly the way you would let it go. Many times they'll do them better or they'll think of aspects you hadn't. Getting more people involved also increases the group's ownership of the event, which increases attendance. If everyone does one thing, no one has to do everything.

3. Try a buffet. Plated dinners are elegant and expensive and often s-l-o-w. You'll not only get a better value, but people will appreciate having more food choices, and you'll get people fed faster. It's a good idea to have non-dairy, vegetarian and low-sugar choices on the table, and label them as such.

4. Try Lunch. Evenings are prime times during the holidays, so why not make your staff party really for the staff? In many cases, spouses are not having fun in a room where they don't know anyone. By doing lunch, you'll save wear and tear on your guests and save money, too.

5. Pump DOWN the Volume. Sometimes, background music can become dance music long before people are ready to dance. People have to shout to be heard, and the room quickly becomes a cacophony, not a celebration. Make sure that the venue and/or the DJ understands that music during cocktails and dinner must be in the background low enough that people can converse comfortably. Get your favorite music lover to monitor this during the event to make sure as the crowd gets bigger, the music should not get much louder. The older the crowd, the softer the music - don't forget that some people have hearing problems. Also, consider live music a pianist, harpist or jazz guitar during cocktails and no music during dinner can be a welcome relief from the endless parade of golden oldies on CD.

6. Keep it simple. After a long day at work, most people are not up for cocktails PLUS dinner PLUS speeches PLUS door prizes PLUS gift exchange PLUS dancing. And folks with kids are going to be out the door by 9:00 PM, regardless. So keep it simple: some background music during cocktails, a few door prizes, maybe a 20-30 minute magic show during dessert. Keeping it focused makes it easier to stay on schedule, and your guests will thank you

7. Help them get there. It's not "The Amazing Race," so don't make finding your party a puzzle to solve! Don't just add a link to MapQuest or Google Maps - your venue may not be there, or the directions could be wrong. Find someone who is really good with directions, and ask them to write directions in plain English from all major highways, and make a simple map. Include all in your invitations, both via email and in the mail. Test your map person's cell phone to make sure it works inside the venue, and print their number with the directions in case someone gets lost. Have them get to the party early and let their only job be to give directions to people who might get lost. If you really want to be thorough, make signs with arrows to guide people in, and post them at critical turns or ahead of hidden entrances. Your local sign shop will be happy to help you with this, and it can be surprisingly affordable. Just make sure someone takes down the signs immediately after the event.

8. Combine events. If you decide to have your party in January (see Tip#1), you'll have all of your year-end information and can combine the holiday party with your spring awards event. Even if you spend more on this party, you'll have saved big bucks versus having two separate events.

Of course, the most obvious way to reduce the stress and save money on your holiday party is to start planning early and by reading this and acting on it, you're already doing it! Congratulations!

ERIC HENNING is an award-winning magician and public speaker based in the Baltimore-Washington area. For more information on how to make your events amazingly successful, call him at 800-485-0029 or email him at eric@henningmagic.com

Article copyright © 2008 by Eric B. Henning. All Rights Reserved.

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Eric Henning Magician