Comfort and meaning: Holiday trends for 2015


This season’s forecast for galas has technology and world travel playing influential roles. Popular themes like “A Winter Wonderland” are being updated with interactive elements like living chandeliers that pour guests a glass of holiday cheer as they enter the room; rolling dessert towers decorated to match the theme; and high-energy dance performers. And let’s not forget, nothing screams holiday like the sounds of the season. Karaoke, anyone?

Comfort is trending when it comes to creating places for your holiday guests to relax and gather. Use what your venue has and build around it. If there’s a fireplace, reserve it for a Norman Rockwell-style space with wingback chairs and plush pillows in holiday colors.

Save room in your budget for lighting. Nothing is more magical than a room with specialty lighting. A good lighting designer or AV company can provide up lighting that adds color to the room. A few moving lights bring energy to the dance floor. Festival lights on the ceiling keep things whimsical and unexpected, so why not go even further with snow falling over the dance floor? Many AV companies now have this technology.

It’s the season for goodwill, too, so consider partnering with charities to raise awareness and give gifts. Adding a charity component with a corporate goal fosters teamwork and camaraderie, and gives purpose to the event.

If you do use your holiday event to collect donations for a charity or food bank, advertise the cause throughout the pre-party process to build interest and awareness. Add an element of competition, set department goals and give awards when milestones are hit. Awards don’t need to require money or prizes, they can be an honorary title. Don’t overcomplicate it.

Afterward, post-holiday letters with comments from the recipients can be sent to attendees detailing how much money was raised.

These are just a few ideas to get you going. Be inspired and free. Anything is possible. Remember, it’s the most magical time of the year.

Food and beverage

Think global cuisine when wining and dining guests. Create environments that support an “It’s a Small World” theme, for example. Take guests to the South Pacific for cocktails with a hula-attired waitstaff, then whisk them to the Mediterranean for a family-style dinner to foster warmth and cheer.

holiday-2For dessert try a French boulangerie patisserie with bistro tables. Replace plated dinners with tasting stations that give guests options and the freedom to socialize. Try a crostini bar with farm-fresh toppings; a pretzel bar with international mustards and sweet toppings; a cheese fondue fountain.

For libations, go old school with specialty bars offering classic whiskey cocktails with a twist — like whiskey sour slushes or maple old- fashioneds. Craft beers are another option.

No matter what your theme is, remember that the party is for the guests. It sounds basic, but too often planners get caught up in what they like and forget their audience. This is especially important to keep in mind if you are gluten sensitive or a vegetarian.

Ditto with alcohol. If you love red wine, but your CEO likes bourbon, make sure you focus primarily on what the masses drink and plan accordingly. Pay careful attention to how you pay for your alcohol — per hour, per person or bottle service. Knowing your group’s consumption history will steer you to the right answer.

All in the timing

holiday-calPay attention to the day and date of the party. Check the organization’s calendar to avoid conflicts like conferences. Be sensitive to schedules, too. If your guests would prefer something during work hours, celebrate at the end of the day, perhaps in-house. Or maybe the answer is a weekend event that is family-friendly.

All too often, holiday expectations are colored by television, movies or an imagined fantasy of perfection. That places a tremendous and unnecessary burden on the planner. Keep the goal in mind: The event is about celebrating relationships, accomplishments, blessings and camaraderie. If guests leave happy and grateful, you’ve achieved succeeded.

Donate leftovers to those in need. If your venue prohibits this, you can sometimes work around it by asking that leftovers be packaged to-go and do the handoff yourself. Give flowers to a hospital, nursing home or veterans facility.

Social media

This gift that keeps on giving. Create pre-party buzz with a holiday trivia game. Fashion questions based on holiday songs, classic movies or random trivia like how many years a fruitcake can be stored before it goes bad (answer: 25).

Social media also makes capturing and sharing moments from a memorable party easy. Use imaginative hashtags. Be clever but make sure in advance that no one else is using them. Think along the lines of #Scrooged, #Prancer, #Mistletoe, #HoHoHo and #NaughtyorNice. Use a virtual photo album format. Not sure how to create one? No worries. There are plenty of sites that make creating your online album a snap. We often use and

holiday-social-mediaWhen planning your event’s room layout consider your social media strategy. Leave space for photo opportunities and create an organized flow that lets guests line up, select props, pose, post and exit without causing a bottleneck.

If you use an imaginative backdrop and provide seasonal props, your guests will want selfies they can post directly to social media. Think elf hats, reindeer antlers, Santa’s beard, ornament ear rings, Rudolph’s red nose. Sites such as Life Your Way, 143 Photo Booth and Panic Printables on offer ideas and patterns for inexpensive props.

Think about streaming the images live on a large scree, if your budget permits. Photo booths are still popular but think about spending your budget differently this year and invest in an Instagram printer. It takes the tedious work out of printing Instagram photos.

Remember that sharing is a key part of the holidays, so keep that messaging front and center. If you partner with a charitable organization, work with them to promote to both audiences. A co- branded build lets people be proud of their efforts and contributions. Create a group challenge such as “Fill Santa’s sled with unwrapped toys by a particular target date” or “Decorate a tree with donated gift certificates” to give to families in need.

The goal is to bring attention to your organization AND to inspire others to join your efforts. If using social media can help make the holiday season brighter for others, those posts, links and tweets will truly be something to celebrate.


We’d love to hear all about your holiday celebration ideas, the good and bad. Please use the comment box below and/or send your feedback to @SMEChristy or stnev1444410898e.cig1444410898etart1444410898s@ang1444410898amal.1444410898ytsir1444410898hc1444410898.

All aboard for inspiration: Travel your way to creativity

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People often ask from where I pull my creativity. My answer is simple: life and the world around me. And, as luck may have it, the world gets smaller every day due to new technologies and the melting pot of cultures.

Whether you’re traveling in the States or abroad, use your powers of observation and file everything you see into your memory bank.

Travel 1Most of us have predictable daily routines, which can make our lives stagnant. Traveling refreshes the mind, recharges the soul and opens up our creative energies.

Inspiration truly is everywhere. Look for it in architecture new and old. Pay attention to how people express themselves in the clothes they wear, or how fashion trends are influenced by colors and patterns. Draw inspiration from trying new foods and spices and noticing food presentations. Harness the power of big cities. Get in tune with remote villages. Nature and all its wonders are the best inspiration of all. As you travel from place to place, study cloud formations, how the sky changes and shifts before and after a storm, watch the glory of a sunrise or sunset, and the beauty of the flora and fauna. Breathe and soak it all in.

I try to use my mind much like a photographer uses a camera trying to take the perfect photo. I force myself to look at what’s in front of me and capture it from many angles, finding the perfect lighting or playing with perspective. Once you begin looking at life using this technique, your perspective on daily life will change. The influences of every new journey are a catalyst for creativity.

Getting in touch with the world around you through exploration and examination will help you hone in on your creative process and make the world, or at least your part of it, a more beautiful place.

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One of my favorite parts of traveling is being exposed to new foods, clothes, customs, even words. I love the feeling of exploration and the delight that comes with a discovery. I don’t have James’ talent for design, but I do take what I see, taste and experience and bring it home with me.

Travel 2Sometimes that means buying a piece of jewelry that has a unique style. It adds an interesting piece to my accessorizing and prompts conversation when people ask where the piece came from.

Other times, I get a haircut in a foreign country. That’s an adventure! I’ve had my locks coiffed in London, France and Italy. Each time I walked out with a style I’d never before considered and that I wore as a reminder to try new things.

I pick up spices from local markets and infuse my cooking with flavors from abroad. Or I’ll pick up a cooking gadget that is supremely clever but somehow missing from U.S. shelves.

I have clothing I’ve purchased that shouts, “I’m from overseas” that I wear with delight as people comment on the interesting styles, inspiring them to find their own creativity when putting an outfit together.

So if you’re like me and lack James’ talent for design, don’t despair. You can still learn, observe and grow your creativity while traveling.


Share your favorite travel-inspired inspiration with us (photos welcome) in the comment box below and/or email James and Christy at *protected email*.

Room advances: Look out for whats left behind


Brain Logo small Room advances are common among planners who want to ensure that VIP rooms are in perfect condition. What’s less common is a post-checkout sweep, to make sure nothing is left behind. We often find random things someone forgot to take home. Here are some of our most memorable.

ipad-2iPads. I can’t imagine someone leaving their iPad behind, but it happens more than you may think. We find them in the top drawer of a desk or under a bed. (We always return them.)

Peeking under a bed often reveals stray socks, a single shoe and the occasional M&M. The single shoe thing always makes me wonder.

AtlanticWe always check magazine stacks because occasionally someone leaves a favorite publication behind. Sometimes it’s a cooking magazine. Other times the “flavor” is much spicier! We’re especially thankful we find these before an executive arrives with his or her family.

In bathrooms we find personal hair dryers or cosmetics tucked into vanity drawers. I still lament leaving behind my own favorite lipstick while packing up too quickly.

I often think about the wisdom of a post-event room check to make sure guests don’t leave anything behind, but it can be a privacy issue. I’ve always elected to resist the urge and cross my fingers that the person doing the next room advance  doesn’t find anything worth writing about!


Beauty logo smallHotel-MinibarMany hotels have opted out of mini-bars in rooms, but for some guests, this refrigerated unit becomes a place to store personal items. We all enjoy a cold beverage or snack. We pick them up locally to help with our T&E and stash them in the mini-bar for safekeeping. With early arrivals or a rush check-in for a VIP, attendants don’t have time to check or refresh the mini-bar. Even if refrigerated, someone else’s left overs are unwelcome.

Check the safe. Small items are often left behind because they’ve been pushed to the back of this dark compartment or fallen under the lip of the door. I’ve seen my share of “valuables” left behind, and I use that term loosely.

Finally, check the desk area. Power cords and chargers plugged into the wall are easy to forget because they look like wiring provided by the hotel. Arm yourself with a comprehensive room advance checklist, you can canvas a room in no time. Besides, who knows what cool stuff you’ll find along the way!


The Do’s And Dont’s Of Corporate Gift Giving

From the:

Beauty logo small The etiquette for corporate gift-giving is very different from personal gift-giving. You must remember what’s appropriate in the business world —and that may not include funny gifts or items of a personal nature. A simple rule of thumb: Use common sense. Your business reputation is at stake. Send only the very best you can afford within those guidelines. Using your best judgment can make your gift memorable and build a better relationship. Ask yourself what your first impression would be if you received that gift. Never send a holiday gift with your logo on it. That can seem insincere, and save items with logos for marketing purposes. If gourmet food is your gift of choice, do your research. Be mindful of people’s food allergies and intolerances. Learn how the item is packed for freshness and make sure it will tolerate the climate to which it’s being shipped. Keep in mind that your gift may arrive while the recipient is taking time off and away from home. Handmade truffles may sound wonderful, but if they’re not shipped in dry ice and are headed to Florida, you may want to reconsider.

From the:

Brain Logo small Gift-giving may conjure thoughts of joy, the excitement of finding the perfect present and the satisfaction of knowing your thoughtfulness will make someone happy. Nowhere in that process are you apt to think about the IRS, employee handbooks or ethics. If you’re giving gifts to people in your professional circle, you must focus on the cold, hard facts. Know the IRS guidelines and follow them. Business gifts are tax deductible up to $25 per person for the tax year. Packaging, shipping and delivery are not part of this total. This is not a one-size-fits-all guideline. IRS publication 463 can offer more specifics. Not all organizations let employees accept gifts. In that case, you may want to make a charitable donation in the person’s name to a nonprofit or charity they (not you) support. Be sensitive to cultural differences. Hanukkah is often overlooked amid the Christmas frenzy. Pay attention to images on holiday cards and wrapping, and word your cards to reflect the joy of the season, not of Christmas. If you have a multicultural list of people to buy for, do a simple search to learn about gift-giving etiquette in other cultures. Plan ahead. I order my customized holiday cards in August, and then have plenty of time to sign, stamp, address and, most importantly, send before the holiday rush. Starting early means you’re more likely to find what you want in stock, and you avoid rush charges. Yours may be one of the first cards or gifts received, which is a nice touch. Finally, make a list of who received your gifts and what you gave. Note if it was sent or hand-delivered. And what it cost, for future reference and that pesky IRS.

With Preparation You Can Put Out Almost Any Fire

From the:

Beauty logo smallAnalyzing and assessing risks allows us to understand them so we can make educated decisions on how best to manage them.

Risk consists of two components: acknowledging something can go wrong and the destructive consequences that will happen if it does.

The first step is to identify risks. They can result from human error, financial changes and market fluctuations, technology breakdowns, and/or disease, weather and natural disasters. With all we have on our plates as meeting professionals, it can be easy to overlook these risks.

The process of analyzing risk can be very involved. You need to get detailed information on the risks from all areas relevant to your project. A good first step is to discuss the program with your insurance carrier.

When it comes to guests’ safety and fire, one of the best things you can do is get certified in crowd control. You’ll learn how to move guests to safety in a quick and orderly fashion avoiding panic, which could result in tragedy. You can become certified online HERE.

It doesn’t take much time to get your certification, and the time is a small investment in yourself and your business. In this case as in many others, knowledge is a beautiful thing!

From the:

Brain Logo smallAlthough risk is present in every component of our days, we leave home each morning
and lead productive lives. We can’t change the presence of risk, but we can mitigate its potential damage by being prepared.

We each react to extreme stress differently. Regardless of the situation or your mindset in a moment of crisis, without a plan or the proper tools in place, your ability to manage it can be severely hampered.

My barbecue caught fire during the summer. Not a simple, “the burgers were flaming” fire, a full-on inferno at the gas line. The propane tank was full so the fire had hours of fuel. I wasn’t sure what the physics behind propane tanks exploding was, but I knew I had to get the fire out quickly and that water wouldn’t work. Thankfully I had two fire extinguishers nearby. My preparedness compensated for my lack of knowledge on the subject of propane gas explosions and a crisis was averted, save for my destroyed grill.

My point: Identifying risks requires a two-pronged attack: forethought into what can go wrong and preparing for it with both knowledge and physical resources.

On-site at events, that means knowing where defibrillators and fire extinguishers are and when they were last serviced, meeting with the security team, understanding evacuation procedures, having a planner staying at every hotel guests are at, making sure that person has a list of all guests staying there and contact information for all key players. Knowing where the closest hospital or walk-in clinic is, and directions to it, are also essential.

Bringing a well-stocked gang box means you can handle office emergencies, but for true emergencies, make sure you have flashlights and first aid kits complete with warming blankets, CPR mouthguards, rubber gloves and ice packs.

With all we’re responsible for during a program, averting or minimizing a disaster is paramount. Remember: Well-prepared is beautiful!