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 stnev1444405191e.cig1444405191etart1444405191s@ang1444405191amal.1444405191ytsir1444405191hc1444405191.

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*.

Short on décor money? Let there be light!

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One of the most transformative décor items in a strategic planners’ arsenal is lighting. Well-designed lighting can accomplish almost any décor goal. With a little creativity and a knowledgeable lighting designer from your production team, you’re on your way to understanding the power of lighting and how to use it. Some tips:

  • Make a room look larger: Put uplights in the corners. You can also throw lights on the ceiling to brighten it. Both give the illusion of space.
  • Add texture to a “flat” room: Scatter-pattern gobos are fantastic. Gobos (template slotted inside or placed in front of a lighting source) come in endless designs and can be customized, so you are limited only by your imagination. Gobos are inexpensive, reusable and great attention-getters.
  • Make a sterile or blank room feel warmer: Use a warm color gel over uplights. Amber is a great starting point. It’s rich and warm without being too dark.
  • Personalize a room to your theme or brand: Using LEDs or gels to match the colors of your theme or logo add instant pizazz with very little effort.
  • Highlight centerpieces, auction items or other significant objects: Use pin spots. These tiny lights are focused on a single object. Their precise beam brings attention to the item without makng the entire area itself overly bright.
    Lighting an unusual or out-of-the way spot: Use wireless LEDs. They are portable and can be programmed to change color throughout the night.

Want more ideas or talk more about these?Use the comment section below or email *protected email*.

From the

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“… and on the third day there was light” … and it has changed the course of life ever since.

Lighting is instrumental in bringing any space to life. The jewelry industry, in fact, wouldn’t be where it is today if it didn’t use overhead lighting to make products pop, sparkle and look expensive.

As an event designer, there’s no other tool in my toolbox that offers me the ability to transform a room more. Dollar for dollar this is money well spent. Lighting isn’t an inexpensive, but it can make a huge difference in the look and feel of an event. Make sure that you set aside at least 25 percent of your décor budget for lighting.

Here’s how lighting can transform a room. Color evokes emotions and changes our moods. Red, orange and yellow are warm colors. They can make attendees feel warm and comfortable or angry and hostile. It’s all in how they’re used. Did you know that blue, purple and greens often are used as a backdrop gel color for summits, sales meetings and high-profile events because they have a calming, spiritual, mysterious effect? These “cool” hues are most associated with trust and tradition. Be careful, though. Some variations also prompt feelings of sadness or indifference.

I learned from working with Elizabeth Taylor, yes, the Elizabeth Taylor. Whenever she was being lit, it was mandatory to use “Bastard Amber Gels” on the lighting fixture so that her skin would look its most radiant. Try it, it works.

Remember there is beauty in knowledge!


Let’s talk! What has worked for you (or not) when using lighting? Any ideas to share? Please use the comment section below.

Make sense(s): The Power Of Soundscaping

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The most successful events are seamless, transporting you to the theme’s destination and beyond. We create an experience and bring a theme to life when we engage all our senses. The American Heritage Dictionary says “soundscaping” (noun) is “an acoustic environment, a virtual/emotional environment created using sound.” A soundscape composition is defined as “an electro-acoustic musical composition creating a sound portrait of a sound environment.”

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We can tend to overlook the finer nuances of sound when planning events, yet hearing unique sounds inspires our minds to conjure images of faraway places or specific things in a few, short seconds. Mere moments into Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” the wild violins (or piano cords) have us swatting at imaginary insects.

Sound can also inspire us to recall happy times or motivate us to create a future. This is why a smart planner uses some form of soundscaping in every event.

One of our corporate clients wanted guests to be transported to a luxurious, elegant garden for a product-themed dinner. A hotel ballroom became a European-style garden with elaborate backdrops, trees, shrubs, flowers, water features and all the sounds that go with them.

Guests entered a land that modern time had forgotten. Sounds of nature helped immerse guests in the secret garden. I can’t tell you how many people came up to me afterward and told me they had forgotten they were in a ballroom. Through visuals, lighting and sound, we fooled their brains into forgetting where they were. That was exactly the goal.

Soundscaping doesn’t have to be an elaborate combination of natural and artificial acoustics to capture attendees’ imaginations. It can be as simple as a music selection. A 1950s’ diner-themed celebration would not be complete without classic rock-and-roll. No matter how much attention you pay to the visual details, the trip back in time would burst like a bubble if the music was heavy metal or alternative rock.

To me, seeing the visuals is like seeing a black-and-white movie. Once you add soundscaping, your vision is in Technicolor. So the next time you plan the perfect setting for an event, think beyond what guests will see, think also about what they’ll hear.

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Soundscaping also sets the tone for general sessions, awards events and content-heavy gatherings. I consider the meeting’s purpose and tailor my walk-in and walk-out music to the situation. I choose music that reflects the speakers’ personalities and the meeting’s tone.

Awards events require that a “bed” of music be played while photos are taken to keep energy up in the room without distracting from the photography. For meetings with a theme I often create a playlist with the key words in the lyrics. That music can be played at off-site events, on group transfers, burned onto a CD that is sent pre- or post-show, or given as a room gift.

Sound is a powerful, imagination tool. Craft a well-thought-out soundscape and each time a particular song is played, the memory of the meeting will live on.

Holiday Planning Is Cool When The Weathers Hot


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Savvy planners know it’s best to strike when the weather is hot. Most people are probably focused on the business at hand, but a seasoned planner knows that this is when to get your date locked into the holiday calendar, so so you can snare the most coveted venues, entertainment and vendors before the post-Labor Day rush.

Keep in mind that a holiday party is not unlike any other large event you must organize. The only major difference is that once the season hits, competition and demand are at their peak, and you’ll have little, if any, bargaining power.

Those living in Florida, Arizona, Southern California, Hawaii, etc., should also keep this in mind: The winter months are prime time in your region and rates go up between October through April. Plan early and take advantage of booking rate deals now.

The Fourth of July holiday may just be past us, but now is the best time to book your fa-la-la festivities. Check the calendar, pick a date, and start calling the vendors who’ll create an event of which you’ll be proud.

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For a strategist, it’s all about the plan. I not only book my holiday party well in advance, I get all my holiday planning done each summer. That means writing copy for holiday cards, updating mailing lists, purchasing gifts and creating a timeline to have everything proofed, approved and sent out.

I tackle the gift project all year long. I have a file folder that I put magazine clippings in as well as an online file folder where I paste links of things I’ve seen that I want to research further. Food baskets with clever contents, technology gadgets and great travel accessories go into the file. I check online reviews, compare pricing, get info on personalizing, and order samples of items that make the cut. The team weighs in on the samples and the order is placed. This system lets us take a new direction if someone has a late-breaking brainstorm. It avoids rush shipping and almost guarantees that items are in stock. Most of all, it keeps the process enjoyable since we’re not up against a deadline.

I write the copy for our holiday cards and choose a custom design, both of which take some attention. Often, I walk away from the project and come back to it, so starting early lets me do that without feeling pressure or having to rush. As an extra bonus, I can take advantage of summer promotions and sales.

September arrives, and everything I need has arrived. I set aside two Fridays for the team to sign cards, assemble the gifts and get the packages ready to ship or hand deliver. By the time we’re done the air is crisp, the stores are starting to show signs of the holidays, and we’re able to enjoy the season. Bottom line: Planning for the holidays when it’s hot is the cool thing to do!


Keep watching for B&B’s list of the best gifts to give this holiday season. Have an idea you’d like to recommend or a corporate gift you consider an all-time great? Email me at: *protected email*