Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Celebration Guidelines

Planning a Memorable Celebration

Some celebrations are random and spontaneous, others are more planned and well-thought-out. Creating an event that has maximum impact is the result of careful planning. Here are some things to consider:

1. Assemble a diverse and passionate team.

Staging a great event requires people who have an eye for detail and people who have a flair for the dramatic. You need creative, visionary types as well as people who bring a systematic and structured approach to the project. Choose people who understand the value of the tension created by this diversity and who can manage it successfully. While this team should be cross-functional and come from all levels, senior executives should be involved to champion the process.

Caution: Lack of diversity may create a lop-sided event – a linear, rational focus with no drama and excitement or visa versa.

2. Define purpose and outcomes.

What’s the purpose of the event? What do you want people to walk away with? What do you want them to think, feel, and say as a result of attending the event? The answers to these questions will help you create the team’s charter. Based on this charter the team can then brainstorm concepts, clarify roles, establish a timeline, and create a budget.

Caution: Many events bomb or lack the desired effect because the outcome wasn’t clear from the beginning. Or, the event lacks impact because you only have it once a year and you try to accomplish too many objectives.

3. Review previous events and identify what employees want.

The team should look at what’s been done with past events and decide what has worked and what hasn’t. It would also be a good idea to ask a representative group of employees who will attend the event what they want.

Caution: Doing something the way teams in the past have done it may be too predictable to excite your attendees. If enthusiasm for an event has dropped in the last couple of years using the same concept and format is probably going to be a recipe for failure. Doing something new just for the sake of being different without considering the past may ignore cherished traditions attendees look forward to.

4. Decide on concept and theme.

Some of the themes we’ve seen at conferences include Hawaiian luau, Grand Prix, 60’s Music, Texas Tuxedo, and Back to the Future. The theme of the event will determine most of the other decisions you will make so it’s important to define this up front. For example, your theme will determine location, dress code, room layout, music and entertainment, as well as the nature of the presentations.

Caution: Without a theme you will spend too much time marshalling the energy and resources of a team that is unfocused. Without a theme you lack a master template by which every other decision regarding the event will be evaluated.

5. Who will be invited?

The team will need to create a list of attendees. Should the spouses and/or families of employees be invited? What about vendors, suppliers, and customers? Board members? Others?

Caution: Consider the values of attendees. Serving unhealthy food to a group that’s into wellness can ruin what would otherwise be a great event? Holding a golf outing (because the CEO is an avid golfer) when 30% of your attendees don’t golf is exclusive.

6. Date and location.

Avoid especially busy or critical times of the year where employees can be distracted. Staging and event at the wrong time can have a negative impact on attendance. In terms of location – is it easy and cost-effective to get to? Are there any limitations here? Will people be shuttled to and from the airport? Is there enough parking? Will you use a valet? Will you need hotel accommodations?

Caution: As the saying goes, “Timing is everything.” Staging a celebration on the heels of a reduction in force where people had to say goodbye to valued co-workers can be a joke. Having an event during the busiest time of year when people are trying to get orders out and serve customers may not allow them to experience the full value of the celebration.

7. Invitation design and delivery.

The theme of the event will also determine the design of the invitation and how it gets delivered to potential attendees. If the team decides on a theme that is fun and light-hearted that should be reflected in the invitation. Think about creative and unconventional methods of delivery. For example, if the theme is fun, how about sending invitations as the prize in a Cracker Jack box?

Caution: Consider the list of questions you usually ask when attending an event: Dress code? Parking? Bring guests? The more you can reduce the unknowns in your invitation, the more people can anticipate the event with excitement and enthusiasm.

8. Music and entertainment.

The team will need to decide what kind of music will accompany each part of the event. For example, what music will be playing when attendees enter the event, awards are given, diner is served, and speakers are introduced? What videos will be shown throughout the event? If the team decides to use outside entertainment it will need to solicit proposals and audition tapes well in advance of the event. In there popular book Corporate Celebration Terry Deal and M.K. Key provide a list of songs most often used by meeting planners during corporate events. Some are upbeat and fast-paced designed to create energy and excitement in the room. Others are touching designed to get people to think or draw out feelings of appreciation:

  • New Attitude
  • All Fired Up
  • The Best
  • Celebration
  • I’m So Excited
  • The Power of Love
  • Ghostbusters
  • Winners
  • Victory
  • Shout
  • Man in the Mirror
  • We Are the Champions
  • Danger Zone
  • The Greatest Love of All
  • Footloose
  • One Moment in Time
  • I Heard It Through the Grapevine
  • You Got It
  • The Wind Beneath My Wings
  • 40 Hour Week
  • Don’t Worry Be Happy
  • We Are Family
  • Nine To Five
  • Flashdance…What A Feeling
  • The Way You Do Things
  • Put a Little Love in Your Heart
  • Take It to the Streets
  • Takin’ Care of Business
  • You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
  • The Heat Is On

Caution: Music is a universal language. It has the potential to tap into just about every emotion we have. Great celebrations appeal to all of the senses. Without music your celebration could be missing a very powerful tool.

9. Catering and bar.

How will the event be catered? Will cocktails be served? Will the bar be host or no host? What timeframe will the bar be open? As with entertainment the team will need to get bids and proposals from caterers as soon as possible.

Caution: Whatever you do – do it right and do it well because everything you do makes a statement. In other words, it’s probably better to nothing at all than to be cheap. Running out of food or drink before the event is over sends the message, “We value you, just not that much.”

10. Room Décor.

What kind of props and decorations will you need to create the effect you’re looking for? Will there be a stage – if so, how high will it be? How will people get on and off stage? Do you want to create an intimate setting or a more formal one? Will you need plants and flowers? How will people get in and out of the room? How will they be greeted? What kind of impression do you want to make when they first enter?

11. Seating arrangements.

Will the seating be assigned – if so how will assignments be made and designated? How many attendees to a table? How do you want tables positioned in the room?

Caution: Physically separating senior executives at a head table or one reserved especially for them communicates a class system of number ones and number twos. If the purpose of the celebration is to honor employees, don’t do something that reinforces title and position.

12. Capturing memories.

Corporate celebrations are great events to capture memories on videotape or pictures. Having a videographer or photographer at your event relieves one of the team members from having to concentrate on that job. If you go this route be sure to sit down and explain to the videographer or photographer exactly what you’re looking for. Help that person see the big picture by describing how the memories will be used and the effect you want them to have on people. This is extremely valuable information to the person responsible for capturing your memories. Another option is to give every attendee a disposable camera and ask them to deposit it in a designated location at the end of the event.

Caution: No one knows your business, your attendees, and the outcomes you are trying to achieve better than you. Communicate with outside vendors until you are convinced that they see the same picture, share the same vision, and seek the same outcome as you do. The results will be worth it!

13. Gifts and mementos.

It’s often a touch of class to leave attendees with a gift to remember the event or what the event symbolizes. Logo wear, T-shirts, Lucite engravings, duffel bags, books, and mugs are some of the popular choices we have seen. Once team members have selected items they will nee to decide what , if anything, should be printed on them. Then they will be able to locate sources and get bids. The team will also need to decide when, where and how the gifts will be given.

Caution: While expensive gifts will never take the place of a well-orchestrated, authentically-staged celebration, people tire of trinkets that have no use or little symbolic meaning. Carefully chosen gifts make a statement that people are important.

14. Speakers.

Will you use outside speakers – if so, what do want them to accomplish? How do you want them to tie into or reinforce the theme of the event? Will you use inside speakers – if so will you provide coaching and guidelines that help them tie into and reinforce the theme of the event? How will the speaker’s presentations reinforce each other?

Caution: Invest the time necessary to educate and calibrate your outside speakers. They will give you a much better program if you do. Give your inside speakers guidelines and then encourage them to work up their own material. It’s very difficult to be authentic and sincere when someone else has written your speech.

15. Executive roles.

What role do you want your executives to play at the event? Showing them how they fit in to the big picture of the event will help ensure that you get the result you’re looking for. There’s a good chance that this event is one among many your executives will attend throughout the year. Some are naturals at it and some aren’t. You actually add value to executives on the go by helping them clearly define the role you wish them to play.

Caution: When executives show up late or leave early it sends a message that they have more pressing issues to address and more important people to see. Although it may never be talked about overtly, it puts a damper on the celebration. Executives that fail to whole-heartedly participate in the FUN events are essentially saying, “that vulnerability stuff is for the little people. Help them understand that the way they spend their time at a celebration event send a very strong message.

16. Public Relations.

Is this an event for which you want press coverage? What media do you want to draw to the event? Who will invite/inform them?

Caution: Sometimes the presence of the media can put a cautionary cloud over an event because people wonder how their actions will be interpreted or portrayed. At other times it might cause executives in particular, to play more to the media than to the celebrants. In either case the result could be that people lack the freedom to be themselves.

17. Follow-up activities.

What activities will follow the event? For example, will attendees receive a “Highlights Video” of the event, a summary of executive speeches, product brochures, or a list of action items? Will highlights of the event be published (candid pictures and all) in the corporate newsletter? Will you ask for formal feedback on the event?

Caution: If the event is well-planned and worth putting on, the memories will be significant. Failing to capture these memories and subsequently document them is failing to leverage the full potential of the event. When people have memories in some tangible form the impact of the event endures much longer.