How to Wow Your Corporate Holiday Party Guests This Season

October 1, 2018

Let’s face it. We’re all busy and perhaps no more time-strapped than in December, holiday party season.

Whether planning an employee party or a client event, corporate event planners are tasked with creating holiday events that draw people in during this busy time and show the company’s appreciation.

Kristina Valente, head of events and sponsorships at BNY Mellon Wealth Management points out that not only is everyone pressed for time around the holidays, but their attention spans are getting shorter.

“Making those that attend events know that you value their time and are going to fill it with meaningful, thoughtful experiences is a key to having a memorable experience and having them attending in the future,” she said.

Creating a holiday event that makes people say “wow” comes down to three main features: experience, location and menu. Opportunities for creativity in each area are endless.

More and more organizations are opting to forgo the traditional cocktail receptions in favor of giving their guests a unique experience. Planners are booking everything from bowling to improv to ice skating parties and much more.

“Strive to give your guest a first — the first time they have been to the venue, the first time they have heard a speaker, the first time they have gotten access to a part of a venue they have been to 10 times,” Valente explained. “These firsts will have them talking about your holiday event to friends and family throughout the holiday season!”

Karen Shackman of Shackman Associates New York says the creative opportunities to create unique experiences are limitless.

“We rented a penthouse and inserted a skating rink in it to accompany the rest of the event,” she shared.

Deana Criess, director at ImprovBoston National Touring Company, says shaping experiences around the participants means companies are spending entertainment dollars on something that will be remembered.

“With improv, the material is based on your company through suggestions from your audience who can volunteer to get up and play with the pros,” she explained. “The result is a show that celebrates your company's successes in a way that is fun for your team and their families.”

Additionally, events tied to corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities are increasing in popularity.

“Try a CSR team-building project where attendees play musical instruments with local students and then donate the instruments to the schools,” Shackman said.

She added that pop-up private shopping events where a percentage of the revenue is donated to charities are good options as well.

The location can also provide a memorable backdrop for a festive event. Planners can choose a place that sets the desired “vibe”, be that playful, sophisticated or something else.

One emerging option for corporate holiday parties is museums.

“Museums make a world class venue because you are literally surrounded by the greatest art and objects humanity has ever created or discovered,” Michael Alexis, director of marketing at Museum Hack said.

Maggie Tuitele, director of event sales and marketing at the Keep Memory Alive Event Center in Las Vegas, says companies are hosting holiday parties at venues that give back or have a CSR mission.

“Employees want to see their companies make a positive effect on their community and world,” she explained. “There are many options around the country like ours that support causes.”

Finally, food always makes an impression. Planners can spice it up for the holidays by creating an unexpected menu or food experiences.

Shackman says using seasonal or local menu options add sophistication to a holiday event.

“Incorporating exclusive regional wines into holiday parties is a sophisticated idea attendees will love,” she said. “And, if planners want to get super-creative, try including ice wines.”

Hana Nobel of Avital Tours also uses the local food scene to create holiday party experiences.

“Progressive meals, where each course from appetizer to entree to dessert is served at a different restaurant are great for holiday parties,” she said. “Guests hear the stories of chefs and restaurant owners while tasting what makes the local culinary scene special.”

Wine tastings also offer fun experiences. Tiffany Bradshaw, marketing brand strategist at Bradshaw & Co Business Consulting notes several perks for planners.

“People drink less because the wine is doled out to you so your budget is smaller,” she explained. “Plus, planners can pair wine tastings with many activities, even meditation or yoga, create custom label bottles for the event and give attendees etched wine bottles as thank yous.”

Attendees can even have a hand in food preparation. Alexandra Springer, certified meeting planner at Apolline Group, suggests a Top Chef-style activity that shapes the menu.

“Attendees can divide into teams and compete to make the best food and then eat it,” she said.

For holiday events, connecting to attendee’s passions is what keeps them coming year after year.

“By understanding what your guests are passionate about or have an interest in – you are able to combine content with personal interests and enhance the experience,” Valente said. “This could be anything from food to the environment to art.”

Bringing a wow factor to holiday parties shows guests that the company appreciates them, values their time. With so many good options for tapping into guests’ passions, the hardest part of planning a holiday event might not be finding the “wow”, but choosing the best one.

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