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The Three Make-or-Break Elements of the Company Holiday Party

Riddle me this:

What has the potential to be epic but can also be fraught with peril?

The Company Holiday Party, of course!

Whether you are planning your own company's party or are a professional event planner or venue helping another company plan theirs, giving these three elements top consideration will prove vital to making the event magical and make employees want to come back next year.

Element #1: The Date

Wow. This is a biggie and should be a no-brainer, but I am amazed every year when I get calls in November from panicked planners wanting me to help with their company holiday parties. Rarely am I or other resources available for any of the prime dates by then.

Many details can be put off until later, but securing the date and resources early is essential. Believe it or not, January is not too early to be planning the next holiday party.


There are only a handful of prime dates for office holiday parties. Generally, the popular dates are the three Fridays and Saturdays prior to Dec. 23. It is likely some of those dates would not work for your company because of schedule conflicts, reducing the choices even further.

In 2016, there are only SIX top tier dates: Dec. 2-3, 9-10, 16-17. (Dec. 23 is not a good date because the 24th and 25th are on a weekend so many companies will be giving employees the 23rd as a holiday).

The 2nd tier dates are Thursdays and Sundays: Dec 1, 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 22.

One idea I am seeing more often is having the holiday party in January. Chances are better of people not having conflicts, and it’s still the holiday season but not as crazy.


Once you have a date, or preferably more than one suitable date, get your resources lined up. Major resources that have limited holiday availability are:

  • The venue

  • The catering (if not supplied by the venue)

  • The entertainer(s) or speaker(s)

Element #2 – Engagement

Everyone is busy this time of year but the party can let them forget the stress for a few hours. Here's how to help make that happen:

Give people stuff

Yes, you are already giving them a party, but an extra small gift bag for everyone is a great gesture and spreads cheer. Have something nice, but not budget-breaking. Some popular ideas: Gift cards, upscale treats, and fun tech accessories like a phone charger or USB fan.

Door prizes are great for engagement, but be sure to keep the raffle moving quickly. In my next post, I will provide details of the best and most fascinating raffle game that I have seen. It multiplies the fun and engagement level.

(NOTE: Of course, if you are giving each employee something major like cash or time off, don’t use the “must be present to win” stipulation. Some people just can’t make the party and shouldn’t be penalized that severely!)

Charitable contribution – Have the party goers place votes for their favorite among a list of charities, and the charity with the most votes gets a big donation. In my Virtual Mind Reading Show, I have a segment which includes a game with a $100 bill. I give the company the option of donating this to the charity of their choice, and it makes people feel good about both their company and my show.

Before-dinner Engagement

A great way to help people get into the fun holiday spirit is to have a strolling entertainer such as a magician or mentalist who is skilled at engaging small groups, getting them talking, laughing, and enjoying a quick, unique shared “magical” experience.

Stations can be set up for people to engage in before dinner, such as the venerable photo booth or something more unusual like a “make your own gingerbread person” station. It’s not just for kids! A table set up with quick games like Jenga or Trivial Pursuit cards is eye-catching and fun.

After-dinner Festivities

Scheduled programming is ideal for after the meal. People can remain seated (and digest!) while still taking in and/or participating in the festivities.

Some considerations:

Funny Awards – Don’t make this your annual awards ceremony, but have a few fun or funny awards to give out to folks who had interesting events or accomplishments happen during the year. (See Issue #3 below for a couple of ideas)

Be careful not to embarrass the recipients. Also, don’t make it drag on with long speeches or giving away TOO many awards.

Captivating Entertainment

While music (band / DJ) is great for atmosphere and dancing, think about other options for a more captivating experience. Who can WOW the crowd?

Comedian – People LOVE to laugh because it feels great and they will remember how the party made them feel. Just be sure the comedian’s material is a) clean, and b) inoffensive. If even one person is offended by an off-color remark, you could be in trouble.

Humorist as motivational speaker – They don’t tell jokes like a comedian, but tell stories in a humorous and entertaining way, providing motivation and inspiration.

Mentalist – The best option! (Ok, maybe I’m biased just a little) A good mentalist can get the entire audience involved and is likely something they have never seen before. They will be amazed and talking about it long after the party. Check out my site for more information on my corporate mentalism shows.

Variety artist – Some of the best parties I have witnessed happened as a result of hiring a great ventriloquist, juggler, magician, dance troupe, or other variety act. Watch “America’s Got Talent” for ideas.

You may also find it beneficial to hire an MC or host to keep things running smoothly.

Element #3 – Attendance

The smart employees will attend the holiday party if at all possible. They realize it reflects well on them and they that their absence may be noted unless a good excuse is provided.

However, not everyone is enamored with the idea of going to the company holiday party and try to avoid it. Some of the factors that can keep attendance down:

Ghosts of holiday parties past – was last year’s party underwhelming or worse, a disaster?

Bad date – if a prime date wasn’t available for the venue, choosing a 2nd or 3rd tier date may keep attendance low

Inconvenient venue – again, maybe because of late planning all the ideal venues were already booked and you had to settle on a venue that’s a long drive for most of your employees.

Here are some ways to encourage attendance:

  • Gifts or door prizes (see issue #2 for more on this)

  • A one-time can’t-miss happening! For example, our beloved CEO will be singing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer!”

  • Awards – who will win the award for “Biggest Brain”, or the “Funniest lunch companion” or “Most fascinating hobby”?

NOTE: DO have the party off-site during non-work hours, but DO NOT make the party mandatory or you will have to pay the employees for their time and cause resentment.

REMEMBER - Handle the three elements of scarcity, attendance and engagement, and chances are your employees will be impressed, appreciated, and want to come back next year. Party on!


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