Last-Minute Chestnut Roasting

By Lain Ehmann

You know that bumper sticker: If you can read this, you’re too close? Well, if you’re reading this story about how to plan a company holiday party, you’re probably too late for a full-scale gala. But never fear, even if you’re down to the eleventh hour you can still pull off a polished event before the groundhog sees his shadow next February. Here’s how.

Ring in the New Year. Having a New Year’s party won’t just buy you an extra week or two to plan, it’ll also help you sidestep potentially sensitive cultural and religious ground. Move the party into January and forget about the traditional holiday season. You’ll have an easier time booking a venue and you’ll win the love of your team members who already are swamped with Hanukkah celebrations, Christmas caroling and Kwanzaa festivities.

Set your goals. Just as with any meeting or event, a holiday or year-end party should have a theme and a goal. Are you celebrating the end of a great year? Getting geared up for the changes in 2006? Welcoming a large number of new employees? Answers to these questions should figure into how your event is designed and executed.

Scale down. Even if you’ve invited everyone from the janitorial staff to the company president in the past, close ranks a bit this year. If your intent is to give the sales staff a chance to reconnect, they can do that more successfully in a small group gathering than in a huge blowout affair. Maybe you can leave spouses or the executive team off the list this year.

Think outside the box. Big holiday parties traditionally are held on a weekend night in an elegant spot with plenty of champagne and fancy hors d’oeuvres. Maybe this is the year to try something different. A night at a local billiards establishment or a box at a sporting event can be a welcome break from the same old eggnog. If spouses aren’t included, lunches can be a great way to keep costs down and are easier to book on short notice.

The reason for the season. Instead of celebrating with a huge wingding, think about giving back by having a lower-key event and donating the difference to a local charity, or by asking attendees to bring canned food or an unwrapped toy. Gentle reminders like these let everyone know there’s a lot for which to be thankful.