The 3 Biggest Things to Remember When Planning Your Company Holiday Party holiday party planning

Congratulations! You’ve volunteered (or perhaps been unceremoniously assigned) the task of planning an office holiday party for your group, department, or the entire company. It’s a big job, as you undoubtedly know. Maybe you’ve done it before, or quite possibly this is your first time doing it. Either way, I commend you: as someone who has done this myself many times, both personally and professionally as a corporate party entertainer specializing in trivia events, it’s quite a task to take on.

I’ve written about this subject of holiday party planning many, many times over the years on my blog, as well as been interviewed and quoted in a variety of media outlets. It’s something I know well, and which I genuinely enjoy. Prior to founding my own corporate team building company in Long Beach California and New York City, I was, like the vast majority of other folks out there, an employee. And during my time as an employee at a half a dozen or so companies and organizations, I always found myself hovering somewhere between unhappy, and just plain miserable. The holiday party, however, was always one beacon of light: a time when I truly enjoyed myself and being around my colleagues, and found a way to see past all of the negativity pumping through my veins and just enjoy the moment (except one time – click here to learn more about the worst company holiday party ever).

As both new and veteran planners can attest, there are myriad details to keep on top of when putting these fests together. So many things to do! If you’re a naturally organized, detail-focused person, maybe even with a bit of “Type A” personality in you, you’re probably going to do a stellar job. If you’re more like me, however – strong on creativity, but not a born organizer – it may be more of a struggle. I’ve learned through fifteen years in the events industry how to make up for my deficiencies in these areas, and both hard work and consistent experience has allowed me to become proficient in the critical planning skills which I lacked. The point I wish to make is: anybody can do this, even you!

So of all these details, all of these things to keep in mind and stay abreast of, which are the most important? I’ve thought about it, and to my mind the essential “big picture” items for your upcoming fete are as follows:

Know Your Audience

This is so important, I have to make it number one on this list. You HAVE to know who you are creating this experience for, before you worry about a single other detail. Everything hinges on this, and it will quite literally determine whether your event is ultimately a success or a failure.

Before you start calling venues and researching company party entertainment, ask yourself: who ARE the people who will be in attendance? Just like I do when customizing our trivia events, start with the big, and work your way down. First off, do they all work together? Will you be bringing in folks from different work groups, departments, divisions or offices? What is the age range, as well as the gender ratio? How about geography – are they all local, or is anybody coming in from out of town? Is there an international presence?

Next, ask yourself some psychographic questions: what “type” of people are these? What’s their industry? Are they introverts, or extroverts? How about the company culture: is it buttoned up and conservative, or loose and relaxed? Another big question to ask, and I know it’s usually a topic of hot debate among many a holiday party committee: will spouses/significant others be present? All of this – ALL of it – must be kept firmly in mind from the moment you are assigned the task of producing the party, until the last box has been checked off of your “To Do” list.

Know Your Context

When keeping the “big picture” in mind, it’s important to frame your actions within an even bigger picture – that is, what is the context in which I’m planning this event? What’s going on in the group, the company, the industry, the economy, the country, and the world at large? How have any outside forces impacted the day-to-day operations, as well as the morale of the team? As I write this, the United States has just concluded the most tumultuous election season in memory, capped with a shocking election result and volatile aftermath. In fact, 2016 as a whole has been quite a noisy and unpredictable year, filled with strange and disruptive elements. How have these – and other things specific to your company – affected the expected attendees?

Knowing this off the bat, and keeping it clearly in mind throughout your planning, will help ensure your affair is fun and memorable, but also appropriately reflective of the times and circumstances. I leave the specifics of what that means to you, but I implore to you not forget this, lest all of your hard and diligent efforts not be appreciated.

Remember Why You’re Doing This in the First Place

Why are you even having a holiday party? It’s not required, as anybody who experienced the years immediately following the global financial crisis remembers. However, as the economy has improved and budgets have loosened, fun holiday parties have steadily made their way back into the norm. I suspect this is because they have once again become an expected part of the employee experience.

Which prompts me to ask again: why? You could argue that it’s to “blow off steam” or to serve as a platform for bosses giving speeches and presenting awards. However, as a former employee and now a business owner and employer myself, I believe there is another answer. The annual party is intended as a way of saying to the staff: thank you. We appreciate you and everything you do, and value your efforts.

It’s so easy in the daily grind to lose sight of a simple fact: work is done by people. Especially as workplaces become more remote and technology takes a bigger and bigger role, we can’t lose sight of who is REALLY making those wheels turn, and allowing the place to function as a business. So more than just providing an excuse to drink and eat and have a grand old time, I would counsel you this way: through this event, let your colleagues know you truly care for and appreciate them. This can be done in countless ways, both tangible and emotional. But every thought and detail you put into this function should be viewed through the prism of, “how can we make them know they’re important to us?”

As I’ve stated, planning the event is a LOT of work – more facets than anyone who’s never done this could possibly fathom! But no matter which way you go, whatever decisions you make, keep these “big three” ideas front and center, to help guide you along the way. Doing so will help ensure you throw an event which is extremely relevant, highly enjoyable, and will make a deep and lasting impact carrying well past the holiday season and into the coming year.

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