12 top tips for delivering a cracker Christmas party

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Delivering a successful corporate Christmas party goes well beyond choosing canapés, opening the bar and passing around Secret Santa presents.

Party-planning experts, Workshop Events share their top tips for hosting end-of-year parties that work both for you and your audience, whether it's for staff, clients, customers, suppliers or all of the above.

1. Why have a party?

So, why the celebration? Knowing what you're throwing the party for, and what you'll get out of it, will help clarify every step of the planning process. The reason behind the party, will drive the shape of the party.

For example, is your Christmas knees-up a chance to show appreciation to staff for the year's efforts? Is it a chance to socialize with clients? Is the scale of the party an incentive for that extra burst of performance? 

A corporate event can be a great opportunity to reiterate a company or brand's key messages, re-emphasize values and missions to staff, and communicate an organization's successes.

It's also a fantastic way to end a great year or kick off a new one, setting a tone of enthusiasm and positivity for the period to come, with some excitement and laughter - hence why the silly season is a popular time of year to throw a party.

2. The guest list

Once the aim of a party has been determined, working out who should appear on the guest list is not as daunting a task as it might first appear.

If an organization is throwing a Christmas party in honour of the great work carried out by staff, the guest list will likely include employees only.

When celebrating 12 months of profitability, it would be appropriate to invite company stakeholders, including clients, suppliers and partners, to share in the success.

In today's market of close-to-full employment, employers of choice have an edge - and a Christmas party is an excellent way to let the world know your organization is a great place to work.

It's always important to get management involved in a corporate party, starting with their approval and understanding of the desired outcomes and finishing with their attendance at the event.

3. Mix it up

Keep the tone and style of your event fresh and up-to-date. This is especially important if your organization puts on an event for the same group of people each year.

If your Christmas function has been a sit-down dinner for the past three years, why not have a cocktail party this year? If your functions are usually held at night, consider making the next one a daytime affair. Alternatively, spice things up with a different venue.

Inspiration can come from the guests themselves. Ask around and see what staff, clients and customers might like to do for their party and work from there.

4. Choosing a space
When looking for a venue, don't limit your search to the CBD. The reality is that there are plenty of interesting locations and spaces beyond the CBD. As long as you provide adequate transport, these spaces are just as attractive as those in the city, and can offer something special for your party.

For example, local sailing/surf clubs offer water views, a warehouse space in an industrial area has less noise restrictions and an old church lends itself to many themes.

When looking into a venue, always consider the fine print. Find out as much as you can about the flexibilities and restrictions a venue has to offer.

Noise restrictions may dictate the start and finish times of your party. Parking restrictions could determine whether guests can drive and park. A shortage of bathrooms may require you to arrange additional facilities.

Some venues only allow access one hour before your function, resulting in minimal dressing to a room, which will affect how you go about choosing a theme or decor.

Work within the constraints and style of the venue when deciding on a theme. This will make the most of your budget, as you won't be working against the existing look and feel of a space.

And of course, make sure the location is suitable for the number of guests you are expecting.

If you're considering an outdoor event, always have a contingency plan for bad weather.

When you're ready to book, do so as early as possible.

5. Theme
Guests will want to enjoy themselves and let their hair down at a Christmas function, so it's important to ensure the theme is fun and entertaining.

One way to achieve this is through an element of surprise. Let guests know beforehand that the budget was really tiny this year and not to expect too much. And then, if the venue allows, invite guests to an uninspiring pre-drinks area, which they will assume is the party, before revealing an elaborate, over-the-top party space.

Another idea is to announce the theme of the party is white, asking everyone to dress accordingly, and then create a multi-colour decor theme within the venue.

Most importantly, you don't have to stick with the same old party themes, like old favourites such as the Wild West, Vegas or safari. Go abstract. Think outside the square for themes, maybe starting with a colour, shape or a letter to inspire creativity.

If you're still stuck, get the professionals in. They've seen it all before, and it's their job to come up with something new, fresh and creative that will surprise guests and be unique to the organization.

6. Styling to budget

You can only go as big as your budget allows, so bear this in mind when thinking of the size and shape of your celebrations.

Be realistic about what can be achieved within your financial limitations and set the tone accordingly. You'll only make your job harder if you try to achieve a glamorous, luxury themed party with a smaller-than-ever-before budget.

That's not to say you can't put on a glamorous-looking event with a small budget, if you're creative. If the budget is tight and decor is limited, invest in two or three key decorative elements that will be noticed. For example, a feature bar or an elaborate ceiling installation will be winners on the night.

Nooks and crannies to explore are interesting and will make a large party seem so much more intimate, even when there are 500 guests on the dance floor. Think intimate lounge spaces, break away areas, outdoor bar area, etc.

7. Dress code.
Setting a dress code in advance of a party is crucial.

Consider fancy dress. It's a good way to build excitement/anticipation in the weeks leading up to an event and a great way to get buy in from guests, setting the tone in advance as they discuss what they're wearing and compete with each other for the best outfits.

Motivation in the form of a killer prize encourages the not-so-brave to give dressing up a go. A best dressed competition on the night also makes for a fun break in the evening.

Also get management on board with the concept and ensure they lead by example and participate.

Once guests arrive and the whole crowd is dressed up, the party atmosphere is greatly enhanced. Fancy dress is a great talking point at parties and a way of encouraging guests to mix with others they don't know.

The trick is deciding the dress up theme. What better way to set the tone than for everyone to come as pirates? This can be something of a culture shock at some organizations.

Be aware, there is always at least one man dressed as a woman at every party, regardless of theme!

8. Enticing invitations
The impact of invitations is often overlooked these days. In the age of the internet, many settle for an e-invitation - quick, simple and less of a challenge to collate RSVPs.

However, bear in mind that an invitation is the very first impression a guest gets of the party in question. A few words on an unformatted email doesn't really set the scene for a decadent cocktail party in a beautiful beachside setting.

As an invitation is meant to entice, ensure they are well designed and always get someone to proof read.

Follow up an invitation with teaser reminders via email in the run up to an event, to continue grabbing attention, building anticipation and hyping up the party. For a staff party, you can reinforce the message with posters or invitations displayed around the office. Stick them on the kitchen fridges, on pin-boards, etc.

Also consider issuing a truncated version of your invitation asking guests to 'hold the date', keeping the theme and venue a secret until closer to the event. The silly season is a busy time and diaries fill up fast, so it pays to get in there early.

9. Enough food
Rule number one for any party - ensure you serve enough food. Hungry people are not happy people! No matter the style of your event, serve food sooner rather than later, making sure the bulk is served at the beginning of the evening.

If the party starts at 6:00pm, don't wait until 7.30pm to serve substantial items. Aside from keeping guests fed, the more people eat early, the less likely they are to get intoxicated if alcohol is being served. You want people to remember what a great night they had!

If you're having a dinner, it's a great idea to seat guests for two courses and get them up for dessert. As well as looking spectacular, a dessert buffet with waiter service will allow people to be up and about mixing with others and enjoying themselves and will also avoid the waste sometimes associated with the seated option when half your audience are on their feet.
10. Entertainment 
When choosing entertainment, consider the demographics of guests and select options which they can relate to and enjoy.

And remember, there are so many options for fabulous entertainment out there - don't feel the need to stick with that cover band you've been booking for the last five years. Venture outside the traditional band or DJ, and consider complementing these acts with some fun and unique performers, such as jugglers, live artists and street performers.

Entertainers needn't be confined to a stage either. Roving entertainment is great for cocktail events - everyone has a chance to interact and enjoy. It also means if a guest is not too keen on a particular type of entertainment, they can move to another area of the room and let others enjoy them instead.

Vary the entertainment throughout the evening to keep the momentum of the party going.
If budget is slight, invest in one or two memorable moments rather than spreading entertainment too thinly throughout an event.

11. Photography

Remember to take photos of your event for use in future communication such as staff newsletters, press releases - if appropriate - and sharing among team members and clients who couldn't attend. 

If you want to turn photography into an event attraction, perhaps set up a mock paparazzi-style welcome wall to shoot guests as they arrive, or install a mobile photobooth within the venue.

Photography can be especially important depending on the purpose of the event - and it's an easy element of the planning process to overlook.

12. Encourage feedback
Once the party is over, gather feedback from guests to ensure you can make the following year's party even better.

Anonymity often delivers the most honest feedback, especially from staff, so adopt the suggestion box method to encourage responses and generate a balanced level of feedback.

Pair this with encouraging staff to email any detailed thoughts and suggestions through to the party organizers, to get a well-rounded set of opinions.

It's also essential to get feedback from management, not just on the running of the event, but its success in meeting the outcomes initially set for the celebrations, to measure the return on investment.

Further information
Workshop Events
Bringing together some of the most creative and experienced professionals in the industry, Workshop Events (formerly James Gordon Workshop) have been delivering fresh concepts and staging unforgettable experiences in Australia since1996. For more information, visit www.workshopevents.com.au


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