It is that time of year again, when employees are forced to attend a "morale-building event" that is typically designed in such a way that it does nothing of the sort. Rather, it is "the event that must be attended" that no one wants to attend.

But if you consider the five elements outlined below, a holiday party actually can be a fabulous bonding opportunity and an event to look forward to. It offers a great way to develop personal connections that lower stress and boost happiness. And who wouldn't look forward to that?

A well-designed event is a way to nurture relationships and build a higher level of trust. It allows guests to build lasting relationships that translate into the business environment.

If you are in charge of spearheading this event, you may be wondering, Where do I begin? What are the most important elements to consider in planning a holiday party?

Remember that the party doesn't have to be the same old thing as last year, nor should it. It shouldn't be considered an afterthought forced on an overworked administrative assistant or HR or communications department.

Sometimes, outsourcing the event is a great option, allowing all of the attendees the opportunity to enjoy it rather than one person or department being forced to work the event. The right event planner asks you the questions needed to create an event that accomplishes your company's goals—not just a generic "pretty" holiday party.

So let's look at five elements that have an enormous impact on the outcome of your event.

1. Vision

Your business is investing in this event: Like every other budgeted item, the goal is positive ROI, in whatever form your company needs that to take. You should consider these questions: What is your goal for this event? This question requires a deeper answer than "there is no goal, a holiday party is expected."

If the goal is to thank employees, an event should be designed that actually shows appreciation to employees, with more than just a CEO prattling on stage about what a great year it was.

Who is your audience? What is the mix of demographics and psychographics of attendees? Will spouses be included? If this is an annual occasion, what did you do last year—what worked and what didn't?

2. Food Presentation and Selections

No one wants to be stuck at a table all night with eight people they may or may not like. Consider alternate options, such as food stations, which allow guests to mingle and move around freely.

Finding ways that guests can interact with the food makes any party a hit, for example making your own taco, rolling your own spring roll, providing guests various toppings for mac and cheese. Cultural and ethnic flavors are increasingly popular with guests, as they can experience new and unique tastes, making for a great conversation starter, too. Seasonal ingredients are always expected, and sustainably sourced food is appreciated by guests.

The key takeaway of all of these ideas: increasing networking and boosting the overall energy for the event.

3. Interactive Activities

Any entertaining should focus on the event attendee's enjoyment. There are many ways to increase participants' enjoyment level without additional costs.

The activities you and your planner choose should reflect your company culture. Have lots of athletes on staff? Keep them active by building bikes for disadvantaged kids. Employees with military ties, whether themselves or family? Give them the opportunity to prepare thoughtful care packages for our military overseas.

Activities allow guests to interact with those they normally would not interact with.

Activities should also be quick, with an end goal in sight, and they should offer the satisfaction of accomplishment.

4. Timing

Consider moving your holiday party to January—traditionally a more relaxed time for employees. That is an especially valuable consideration if you're using this event as a team builder: Your employees are likely to be less distracted, and more able to focus on one another and the company. It's also a cost-cutting move, as many venues have more flexible pricing in January.

Another option: lunch and weekday parties, instead of weekends or evenings, can cut less into your employees' family/personal life—and a higher percentage may be able to attend.

5. Location

Have you traditionally rented an outside venue for your company's holiday party? Consider holding the event at the CEO's home. A home can provide a very intimate and welcoming setting, and can demonstrate team commitment from the CEO. Logistics, such as the bar, food placement, and parking can be tricky, so make sure you or your planner visit more than once to review the space.

* * *

Be clear on your objectives if you are working with an event planner; collaborate on your vision for the event and rely on their expertise to inform you of what's possible (of course, you should ask whether they've done an in-office or in-home event previously).

By considering the elements above, you can really make the holiday party something that people are sad to miss.

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Top 5 Holiday Party Planning Tips

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image of Cassie Brown

Cassie Brown is the chief experience officer at TCG Events, an award-winning full-service event-planning company.

LinkedIn: Cassie Brown, CSEP