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As a mother of 3 Teenagers, volunteering for their high school events is very familiar to me!
Honestly, I don’t know of anyone who jumps up at the parent meeting and says, “ME! PICK ME! I’ll chair the event, manage the volunteers, raise all the money and make sure that everyone has a great time!!!”
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you were either guilted into accepting the position (“if you don’t do it, no one will… and think of your kids!”), or you were out getting a drink of water when they voted, and you were nominated. Or maybe, just maybe, you like doing stuff like this, and you volunteered (and you have a few kids ahead, so you’re staying on board until the last one graduates…).
But, however you got here, let’s face it. Planning all night parties for high school students is a challenge. Will they come? Will they be bored? Will they behave? Will we have enough money? Will we have enough volunteers?
I have been working with high schools on their Post-Prom and Post-Grad parties for over 20 years (long before I had teens of my own), and I’ve learned some things along the way which will help you plan your event. Whether this is your first Senior Party or After Prom, or even if this is your 10th, I am going to share 5 helpful hints to assist you in your decision making.
5 TIPS to ensure your Senior-Lock-In is a SUCCESS!
- START EARLY (Okay… if you’re reading this and it’s too late to start early, just skip to the next one.)
a. Book your vendors early: There is “early” and “super early”. Most of our repeat school clients contact us for their next After-Grad party in June and their next After-Prom party in April, to lock down next year’s date. That’s “super early”. Most schools who are shopping for the first time reach out to us in October and November. Why reach out that early for an event which is over 6 months away? Because the best and most affordable entertainment always gets booked first. You can liken it to purchasing an airline ticket. The sooner you book, the better deal you will get (and the more choices you will have).
b. Promote your party early: start your ticket sales even as early as back to school night! Give parents incentives for buying their tickets now. The longer people are buzzing about the event, the more success you’ll have in your overall attendance. Some schools wait until all of their money has been raised and then do their shopping, but by then, it’s slim pickins. Starting early also includes fundraising. Make sure you leave “seed money” for next year’s parent committee.
- LOOK AT YOUR EVENT FROM A FRESH PERSPECTIVE.
It’s a good idea not to “reinvent the wheel”, but sometimes repeating the past, simply because it’s “what we’ve always done” means that you may be missing out. Just because it’s tradition doesn’t mean it’s ever been good. As you plan this year’s party, see if anyone left notes from last year, not just on what they did, but on how it went. And if there aren’t any notes in the “notebook”, call last year’s chair and ask quick questions, before last year’s all night party is just a faint memory. When it comes to entertainment vendors, here are the questions to ask from last year: 1. Were the artists/entertainers early or late? 2. How long were the lines? or How many of our students were reached? (Which lets you know if you need to increase coverage) 3. What kind of responses were heard from the students and the parent volunteers? 4. What kind of support did you get from the company providing the entertainment? 5. Did anything go wrong? And if so, how was it handled? If you can’t get the information from past committee members, reach out to the vendor. (We keep notes on all of our events, so that we can make recommendations for next year. We know that parent committees turn over, but we are the constant and can provide valuable insights from people who were there that night.) Once you have looked at the past and asked the right questions, you can make effective decisions.
- SPEND THE MONEY WISELY
Okay, that probably sounds like a no-brainer, but let me explain. Each year we work with parent volunteers who are working like the dickens to buy food, decorations, entertainment and prizes for the party. It adds up, and in a shaky economy, everyone feels the purse strings getting tighter. So, what’s “wise”? Many all-night-party-planners believe that you have to “bribe” the kids to get them to come, by providing the biggest, bestest prizes. It is true that prizes will initially catch their attention, but what we’ve seen over and over again is that during and after the party, the teens aren’t buzzing about the gift cards and the latest electronics. Social media is filled with the memories made at your party, memories which last a lifetime, long after the gift cards are spent. They tweet & snapchat & instagram messages of themselves getting henna, having their caricature drawn and being funny in the hypnosis show! In fact, we suggest that you look at social media postings from last year’s senior class about their party to see what they thought was worthy of posting. If you need to save money, it is better to trim from your decorations, prizes and your food, than it is to underhire entertainment or even worse, hire sub-standard vendors, leaving your students saying “this is lame” (and spreading that word around just as quickly as “this is cool”). Here is a great idea I received from a Senior Party planner a couple of years ago. Each year, they provide all 200 of their graduates generous gift cards. When money was tight, they shaved $10 off of each gift card, giving the committee $2,000 more to spend, and the students didn’t notice. Remember that this year’s party is your best advertisement for next year’s party! And, of all the things you’ll spend money on that night, your entertainment will be the single-most-talked-about-activity at your event.
- MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER
In an effort to provide the best party ever, many parent volunteers try to pack all of their great ideas into a single party, without enough attention to “coverage”. It is better to have enough of a few things than not enough of too many things. Having 1 Henna Artist, 1 Fortune Teller, 1 Caricature artist, 1 Balloon Artist and 1 Airbrush artist might feel good… “Look at all the cool stuff we have at our party!” However, can you imagine how long the lines will be at your party when hundreds of your attendees want to participate in ALL of the activities? It is true that not everyone will want to do everything, but do decide in advance how many students you want to reach, which will inform you how many hours of artistry you’ll need. Three Henna artists for 3 hours (9 hours) reaching 135+ graduates (who didn’t have to wait in line for more than 10 minutes) makes a far better impression than a single Henna artist for 5 hours, where the teens waited more than an hour, and then 20 more were turned away at the end, because the Hypnosis show was starting.
- ASK QUESTIONS OF ANY VENDOR YOU’RE CONSIDERING
I know that entertainment vendors often look and sound alike. After all, we’re providing the same stuff, right? Well, almost. Yes, we’re providing Airbrush tattoos, and Strolling Magic and Hypnosis and Fortune Telling and Caricatures and Henna, etc. but those artists and entertainers are as varied as cars on a dealer’s lot, with promises and prices all over the map. The only way to screen your entertainment companies is to ask questions so you can distinguish between the apples and oranges. Find out their credentials, their training and their products. Ask about background checks and insurance. Anyone can post nice pictures on a website, but you have the right to “try before you buy”. Ask for samples from the actual artists who are available for your event, and make sure those samples are from an event like yours. Ask about their satisfaction guarantee. Ask for references. When you notice a disparity in prices, instead of saying “Why is company X so expensive?” ask “Why is company Y so cheap?”
I hope this information has been helpful, and gives you confidence that you can plan the best party for your teenagers! If you’d like to chat with me about taking your party to the next level (while staying within your budget), and creating a worry-free experience, let me know!