Company Party Entertainment: Structured, or Social? party entertainment NYC

It’s the eternal question, isn’t it? Should the entertainment for a corporate party in New York City (or anywhere, really) be structured, or social? This is something I’ve observed clients and prospects wrestle with for over a decade, as well as pondered myself for the entire time I’ve been in the corporate entertainment industry – and it’s no small matter.

As the planner, it is up to you to come up with an activity for a company event, be it a holiday party, retreat/offsite, conference, convention, onboarding program, summer intern program or countless other functions. Among the many things you already have to think about – venue, food & beverage, scheduling, invites, agendas, etc. – the one that may possibly the most consequential is the type of activity your group will be engaging in. Why?

Because that’s going to define whether your event is a success or not!

I want to begin this conversation by acknowledging that like everything else with New York corporate event entertainment planning, there is no “one size fits all” solution; every event is different, every company culture is different, every group is different and every goal is different. While the goal is to make it fun (which you can read more about here), neither you nor I can issue a blanket statement about whether a highly structured or loosely informal event is superior, because it must always be taken on a case-by-case basis. Follow along with me here.

Let’s first define what is meant by “structured” and “social.” By structured, I mean something that is highly ordered and organized, both in preparation and execution. Structured corporate entertainment activities, NYC in particular, typically involve a tremendous amount of planning; many weeks or even months can go into setting up a single hour-long event. They are typically facilitated by professional entertainers, are generally more “high maintenance” in their space and tech needs, and tend to cost more. They can also be highly customized – follow this link to learn more about that.

The term “social” is my own term for what might be called the opposite of structured. It’s also a misnomer, because a structured group bonding activity isn’t by definition “not social.” I know this all too well, seeing how I specialize in company trivia parties, which are designed to be both structured AND social.

What I mean by “social” vs. “structured” is an event that is PURELY social; there is no structured element, or if so it is an extremely limited one. Think of a free-form happy hour or cocktail party, where there is really no “activity” other than to mix and mingle. Occasionally there will be stand-alone or passive entertainment, such as a photo booth – but nothing organized, nothing ordered or prearranged.

The question you, the organizer, must therefore grapple with is: which one should you use for YOUR event?

When making this decision – or any decision related to your event, really – I always recommend taking a step back, and asking yourself a few key questions. Here they are, in order of importance:

Why Are You Holding This Event?

What is the “big picture” reason this fest is happening in the first place? What are your key goals and objectives? Are you seeking to integrate news staff, boost morale, merge departments, reward clients, or motivate a sales team? The reason for the event should have a direct impact on the type of company party entertaining you are seeking. If this is an important event with an equally important guest list and several critical key messages to reinforce, you may want to opt for an organized activity which helps you to communicate those messages in an orderly, structured way. However, if this is purely an informal networking event for people to get to know one another, then maybe an extended period of free socialization is what’s called for.

Who Will Be At This Event?

Once you’ve gotten the “why” squared away, your next task is to clearly define the “who.” The people in attendance: who are they? Where are they coming from? Why are they there? What do you want them to get out of this experience, and what are THEY expecting to get out of it? Knowing your audience will help determine whether to go with a structured or social activity.

What Will the Venue Allow?

Is your chosen venue set up for structured entertainment? Is there a stage, professional light & sound, an onsite tech? Or is it basically a giant empty box? This may help you determine which direction to go as far as your entertainment. If your chosen venue really isn’t set up for a structured activity, you shouldn’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. Then again, is there a way you can modify the space so that it IS conducive to something like this? Is there a way to bring in external AV, or perhaps the space has multiple configurations to accommodate your structured activity? In many ways, the space you select is really going to guide or even determine what it is your group will be doing.

Once you have the answers to the above questions – the “why,” “who” and “where” – you can then begin to look at the “what.” What would be the most appropriate activity for this particular happening? What will help your audience of employees, clients, prospects or brand enthusiasts get the absolute most out of this function they committing to attend? How can you ensure that they will walk away thinking that your event was an extremely valuable use of their time: that they forge connections, have key messages reinforced, are educated about products/service/capabilities, or are inspired and motivated for what’s to come?

As always, put yourself in the shoes of your attendees. If this were you going to your event, what kind of experience would you want to have? Would you find a structured activity to be the most rewarding, or would you prefer to just socialize without anything organized happening? What would help you achieve your goals, or meet your expectations?

Again, every event, audience and goal is different. Before selecting entertainment for NYC company parties, ask yourself: WHY are we doing this, WHO will be in attendance, and how will WHERE it will be held impact the experience?

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