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Plan a Successful Party

By an Award-Winning Professional Party Planner

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Maximize budget, create atmosphere, and make your party memorable

About This Site

Welcome!
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  • 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...

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Plan it like a pro

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How to Create the Right Atmosphere

Professional event planners often plot out the arc of a party, from start to finish, in order to create a series of ‘beats’ or moments that run throughout the event.

This is to ensure that guests continue discover new things—surprises, talking points, activities, or entertainment—and remain stimulated as the party unfolds.

We’ve all been to parties where there’s been no structure, direction, or things to do.

So, after grabbing a drink or a bite to eat and drifting around making small talk, there’s little else to do and we find ourselves wondering how early we can get away with leaving.

You don’t want your party to be one of those!


Make it Memorable....For the Right Reasons!

The two key ingredients to most successful parties are atmosphere and attention to detail; the little things that make guests smile.

Atmosphere can be generated by plotting the layout and arc of the party so there are plenty of things to engage guests; activities and experiences that encourage them to circulate, connect, discover, contribute, or be entertained.

Attention to detail is all about the clever, thoughtful, and personal touches you add that bring a smile to their face; those are the things people photograph, share, discuss, and ultimately remember.

So, think of the guest’s journey in terms of different ‘touch points’ throughout the event; such as:


  • the arrivals area,
  • the bar,
  • room decorations,
  • food stations, buffet, and/or dessert tables,
  • tables (if it’s a seated dinner),
  • entertainment / activities

  • Then, try to add a creative twist, clever detail, personal touch, or talking point to each. Preferably this would be:


  • something visual; involving decorations or styling
  • and also

  • something interactive; for them to engage with

This will keep the energy up—which in turn creates a great atmosphere, guarantee guests are never bored, and that they’ll leave discussing their favorite memorable moments.



How to Maximize Your Budget

With the above in mind, I would recommend you focus your attention and budget on these key areas.

Below are some examples of how I would approach these areas if I were planning a 40th birthday for a client.

Obviously, you wouldn’t necessarily do all of these–depending on your budget–but it will give you an idea of what you could apply where, so that there is something noteworthy at each stage of the event.



  • Arrivals

The first few minutes set the tone and reassure your guests it’s going to be fun event, so I always think it’s important to have some decorations at the entrance—both inside and out.

So you might line the route with ‘Through the Years’ style lawn signs using different photos of the birthday boy/girl, or half-body cut outs of them, to bring a smile to their face from the offset. Or if you’ve invited guests who’ve not been to the venue/house before, these ‘Through the Years’ vertical banners are a handy way to clearly identify the entrance in an eye-catching way.

On the day, you’ll be busy running around, so you won’t always be able to greet every guest as they arrive. So, for something really unexpected, let the birthday boy/girl do it for you by positioning a life-size talking standee at the entrance.


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Inside, you can kick off the interactive elements by having guests take a Polaroid photo and leaving a message in a guest book—which will make a lovely keepsake gift for the birthday boy/girl to look back on.

Next, as an ice breaker get everyone to fill out a ‘Hello My Name Is…’ sticker that invites them to name their ‘special talent’ (a fun conversation-starter when guests might not know each other), and grab a party hat featuring old photos of the birthday boy or girl.

If it’s a surprise party, you could also hand out these fan faces for everyone to hold up as the guest of honor arrives—or just use them for photo ops.


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  • Bar

The next ‘touch point’ for guests is often the bar area where they grab their first drink.

An easy way to add a personal touch to this is to use custom wine, beer, and spirit bottle labels with photos of the birthday boy/girl ‘Through the Years’. Alternatively, add these ‘This Kid is Turning 40’ stickers to party cups and glasses.

To ensure the bar stands out in the room, use these helium-filled letter balloons as a backdrop and add a half-body standee of the birthday boy/girl as a centerpiece.


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When the party is in full swing or guests all start arriving at the same time, you won’t be able to personally offer every guest a drink to welcome them, so set up and interactive ‘make your own’ cocktail bar with different recipe cards and instructions.

You can also have guests create their own drinks stirrers—which will also help them keep track of their glass—by using alphabet cookie cutters to punch out their name in fruit.

To create a talking point, use these custom cocktail napkins printed with ‘Fun Facts You May Not Know About….’ the birthday boy or girl.

To give guests the opportunity to contribute, set up a ‘Memory Lane’ sign near the bar with instructions for guests to fill out a ‘Memories of [their name]’ card with a touching or amusing anecdote.


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  • Dessert Table/Food Station

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  • Room Decorations

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  • Entertainment & Activities

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