party ideas by a pro logo

Birthday Party Planning

By an Award-Winning Professional Party Planner


How to plan a unique, fun, and unforgettable birthday party

About This Site

Watch video or read summary below
Matt James video title

  • Hi, I'm Matt James, a professional event planner with 25 years experience
  • I've produced events for A-list celebrities, including:

    Elton John,
    Sarah Jessica Parker,
    Stella McCartney,
    Kevin Spacey...and more!
  • I've won 30 industry awards for my events
  • And I'm the author of Become an Event Planner: Secrets for Getting Hired by Employers, Recruiters, and Event Professionals

    On this site, I'll share...

+ Read More

Make it Personal

Matt's Tip Watch video or read summary below
Matt James video title

Why You Need to Make an Effort

Birthdays are a special occasion—so you need to make an effort.

This doesn’t mean it has to be a flashy, expensive, over-the-top affair that would make an Elton John bash look restrained; an intimate dinner with a group of close friends is just as valid as a swinging house party.

But, regardless of size or format, it’s the creative twists, clever details, personal touches, and memorable moments you add that will make it feel special and elevate it above that of a regular get-together.

Remember that phrase, ‘it’s the thought that counts’?

Avoid the Obvious

It’s a special occasion, so it needs to feel special.

If you’re throwing the party for someone else, you’ll want them to feel you’ve made an effort. That you didn’t just run down to Party City the day before and sweep up a bunch of generic birthday party supplies from aisle three that in no way reflect their personality, style, or taste.

Nowadays, there are so many customizable options available online that resorting to ‘off the shelf’ party supplies just comes across as lazy and unimaginative. And let’s be honest, those type of decorations always look a bit cheap and tacky don’t they? Shiny, thin, and mass-produced in China doesn’t exactly say ‘special’ does it?

Instead, opt for party supplies that can be customized.

This will demonstrate that you took the time to create something unique, just for them; that a bit of thought, love, and care went into it—which will make them feel loved and appreciated on a day they might be feeling a little sensitive about getting older.

How to approach it like a pro

Printing someone’s name onto party supplies—maybe even adding their photo—is definitely one way to make decorations more personal; but it’s also fairly entry-level stuff. People have seen that before, it’s not that original.

If you want to be clever, make it memorable, and bring a smile to guest’s faces you need to take it to the next level.

  • Use old photos

I recommend using decorations that allow you to celebrate the birthday boy/girl’s life ‘Through the Years’ by including cute, funny, and embarrassing old photos of them at different stages of their life.

Tap images to enlarge
Tap image and select 'JUMP TO' to see that idea

Whether on dessert table backdrops, banners, signage, or guest books, it’s an easy way to make decorations more interesting for guests—while making the birthday boy/girl squirm!

Tap images to enlarge
Tap image and select 'JUMP TO' to see that idea

  • Use their likeness

The birthday boy/girl can’t be everyone at once…or can they? What better way to make sure the party is all about them, than by applying their face to everything!

Tap images to enlarge
Tap image and select 'JUMP TO' to see that idea

Whether it’s a lawn signs, cups, coasters, hats, balloons, cupcake toppers, fan faces, or a life-size talking cut-out to welcome guests as they arrive, it's a great way to add a personal touch.

Tap images to enlarge
Tap image and select 'JUMP TO' to see that idea

  • Customize party supplies

  • Add some surprises for guests to discover as the party unfolds by customizing everyday party supplies that they wouldn’t necessary expect.

    Tap images to enlarge
Tap image and select 'JUMP TO' to see that idea

Whether it's personalized M&Ms, custom pinatas, bottle labels, drinks stirrers, candy bar wrappers, temporary tattoo favors, caricature cookies of the birthday boy/girl, or a custom 3D figurine cake topper/centerpiece, these clever little touches create talking points, photo ops, and memorable moments for your guests.

Tap images to enlarge
Tap image and select 'JUMP TO' to see that idea

Why this works

Not only are these charming ways to celebrate the birthday boy/girl and make everything more person, but it’s entertaining for guests too.

Remember, many guests might only know them from one stage of their life—so seeing them as a cheeky kid or a bohemian college student will be amusing.

People love to discover new things about someone they know, especially when it allows them to see a side of them they haven’t seen before. Using photos from different life stages is a lovely way to communicate what a rich life they’ve led; which feels particularly fitting when reflecting on reaching another milestone.

Planning Your Own Party?

If you’re planning your own birthday bash, you can still do a lot of these ideas yourself.

Make everything as personal as possible so that the event is a reflection of you; your tastes, your interests, and your sense of humor—with plenty of embarrassing old photos, amusing anecdotes, and fun facts guests might not know.

People often feel self-conscious celebrating themselves or worry that it might come accross as egotistical. But if you use plenty of cute, funny, and embarrassing old photos, it actually has the opposite effect. It communicates self-deprecation, honesty, and a sense of openness; that you don’t take yourself too seriously and you can laugh at all your bad old haircuts and crimes of fashion!

Guests will love it too; many of whom might never have seen you as a cute baby, cheeky little kid, or scruffy college student. So, not only will they find this entertaining, but revealing yourself in a ‘warts and all’ kind of way lets people in, makes you relatable, and fosters a connection.


In an upcoming section, Show Some Love, I’ll look at more substantive ways to make a birthday party more personal by:

  • sharing favorite memories,
  • amusing anecdotes,
  • fun facts you may not know,
  • reasons we love you,
  • funny stories of how you met,
  • and highlighting admirable qualities, characteristics everyone loves, and even their weird habits and obsessions that drive people crazy!
40 Messages from 40 Friends postcards
Framed 50 reasons we love you poster
60 years of memories photo book
70 years of memories letters
reasons we love you photo book
framed 30 Reasons We Love You poster with photo

Tap images to enlarge

If you came here from milestone birthday page:

Close and continue on original page 

If you came here from the home page: