It’s the holiday season, which means there are tons of office parties going on right now. Though they’re called “parties,” employees often dread these events and only go because they feel obligated. Sure, the free booze and pizza is nice, but they’d rather be at home watching Netflix than spending more time with the boss during after-work hours.

However, if parties do turn out to be awesome, and employees enjoy them, they can increase worker satisfaction and morale, strengthen relationships between colleagues, and instill a sense of employee pride in your company.

If you want to ensure that your upcoming workplace gathering is going to be amazing, take note of the following tips from these expert party planners.

Keep timing in mind

According to Los Angeles-based event planner Marley Majcher, better known as The Party Goddess, the timing of your party is crucial. For example, why does it have to take place right when people are rushing to get their projects wrapped up before the end of the calendar year?

“If December is your busiest time of year,” she says, “maybe do something the first week of January, so it’s truly a celebration and everyone can let their hair down.”

The day of the week is also important to consider. If you hold your gathering on a Thursday night, Majcher says that everyone will be burned out the following day.

“Make sure to plan the party when the ‘reduced brain capacity’ of the staff won’t make as much of an impact,” she says.

5 Tips for Throwing an Awesome Office Party

Figure out a theme

Simply announcing that your office is throwing a party isn’t going to cut it. Instead, take your workplace values and culture and use them to assign a fun theme to your party.

“Themes work well when there is an optional dress code attached,” says Ivy K. Pendleton, creative director of CBD Meetings and Events in Washington, D.C. “We use large props, signage, a lot of color, and exaggerate the details.”

Tabitha Roberts, owner of Roberts & Co. Events in Virginia, says that the food you provide should also serve your theme.

“Keeping in line with the theme or overall idea, create a menu that embodies the idea,” she says. “For example, an ‘Oktoberfest Party’ should have a great pretzel station with specialty dips.”

Follow the trends

Nothing’s going to make you look more out-of-touch than bingo, karaoke, and a boring buffet. Instead, you need to follow the trends in parties occurring right now.

Majcher says that food trucks, puppy therapy, and raffles and giveaways are what’s big right now. Want to make your staff extremely happy? Include some in-office spa treatments.

Liron David, founder and senior event producer of Eventique in New York City, says that, “interactive food stations with creative cocktails and alchemists at the bar” are all the rage.

According to Roberts, a bahn mi sandwich vendor who can come in and make authentic and customized food for your employees is “a trendy alternative to cold cut platters.”

5 Tips for Throwing an Awesome Office Party

Encourage socializing

If hiring entertainers that will perform on a stage, your employees will probably watch the show rather than interact with one another. Instead, try to create an atmosphere that lets people ease into conversations.

Rachel Wong, who works at WeWork SoHo-based CaterCow, says that conversations can be encouraged at the food table.

“I love the idea of a build your own mini cake station or a waffle fry bar,” she says. “They are something to get people up and mingling and give them something to talk about. It’s especially useful when you have a room full of people who may not know each other too well just yet.”

Adding alcohol to a party can welcome more socializing and loosen up interactions among employees, but it’s important to maintain a harassment-free environment. The National Federation of Independent Business suggests reminding people that they should stick to your company’s code of conduct in all your messages leading up to the party. Also, skip the mistletoe decoration.

Make it fun

David suggests hiring performers that mingle among the crowd rather than perform in one place. As for games that might be fun to play, Pendleton recommends human chess, Simon Says, and Family Feud.

At one corporate mingle that Roberts produced, she and her team brought in a large screen and projected 1980s video games on it for guests to play. This clever idea fostered a bond between a boss and his worker.

“By the end of the night, the CEO and owner of this Fortune 200 company were dominating in a Pac Man battle with a staffer that he had never met before who was new to the company,” Roberts says. “They really connected, and the staffer ended up emailing us after the event was over and thanking us for such a great evening. He had an opportunity to network in a way that would not have been possible without such a unique experience.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

“Ten years ago most people here did not know what this brown paste was,” says Anthony Brahimsha of the chickpea dip that is now nearly ubiquitous on menus in the U.S..

Born to Syrian parents, Brahimsha knew that hummus in the Middle East is much better than that found in American grocery stores. With the help of Mike McCloskey, owner of Select Milk Producers, the sixth largest dairy cooperative in the country, he developed a hummus called Prommus that is higher in protein –– three times that of other dips. It preserves the traditional flavor by using cold pressure, rather than heat, in the kitchen.

“What Halo Top is to ice cream and Chobani is to yogurt, we are to hummus,” Brahimsha says, by way of explaining that Prommus is also changing the industry.

The company name is a combination of the words “protein” and “hummus,” but is also a play on the word “promise.” With 1 percent of sales benefitting the World Food Program to fight global hunger, Brahimsha hopes that the product can have a significant effect on ending hunger and making nutritious foods available wherever they are needed.

Prommus cofounder Anthony Brahimsha, who has spent a lot of time on humanitarian missions, believes his hummus could help feed the world.

While the initial idea was born out of his humanitarian work in refugee camps along the Turkish/Syrian border, Brahimsha has even bigger dreams. The world needs to find more ways to make nutritious foods for people who are going hungry, and he thinks Prommus and its innovative production process are part of the solution. Two patents are currently pending.

The company’s four varieties (original, red pepper, olive, and avocado) are sold in the Midwest, primarily in Illinois and Michigan. These flavors were taste-tested by Brahimsha’s fellow members at Chicago’s WeWork River North, a community that he says has been invaluable to the startup.

“There are a lot of co-working spaces, but not everywhere is a community of social entrepreneurs who are rooting for their peers,” he says.

A winner in the business venture category at the Nashville Creator Awards, he says he’ll be able to start the next stage of expansion for his company, primarily by adding staff.

“As soon as you win this award, all the blood sweat and tears that you put into the company comes together,” he says. “Everything that you have been doing, the people that were with you along the way, finally, it feels like an affirmation that you were doing the right thing.”

 

Melanie Faye grew up in Nashville, but she doesn’t credit Music City with her success. She credits Guitar Hero. Yes, that Guitar Hero, the video game that allows players to mimic the sounds and moves of their favorite stars. For Faye, it was Michael Jackson.

“I don’t think growing up in Nashville introduced me to guitar players,” Faye says. “My parents were chemists. I was not able to go to bars and see local shows. Guitar Hero introduced me to all this music I was not exposed to. Guitar Hero looked really cool. It made me feel empowered.”

So, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Faye, now 20, has found fame via YouTube. After dropping out of college three semesters in to pursue her music career, Faye posted videos of herself sitting in her bedroom and playing covers of John Mayer and Mariah Carey.

“Guitar Hero introduced me to all this music I was not exposed to,” says Melanie Faye. “Guitar Hero looked really cool. It made me feel empowered.”

She also used the platform to debut some of her original work, which she describes as a mixture of R&B, hip hop, and pop. Her voice, serious guitar-playing chops, and friendly demeanor propelled those videos to more than 10 million views. She was so popular that the guitar company Fender tapped her to demo a new line of the instrument.

“I thought, ‘This is it! I’m viral. I made it!’ But it does not work that way,” she says. Faye makes ends meet by working at a local doughnut shop and teaches guitar. She also keeps working on her music the old-fashioned way, having been tapped to be the opening act for musicians like Noname and Mac Demarco. Her most recent gig was at the Nashville Creator Awards.

She is working on her first album, which she hopes will be out by the year’s end. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Faye has been working on Homophone for years.

“If I had known it was going to take this long,” she says, “I wouldn’t have told people it was going to be out soon.”

Faye is also working to relieve the jitters that come with performing live, rather than in front of a camera. A recent show at the Hollywood Palladium was a game changer.

“I typically am really shy and inhibited on stage. But I felt so much support and positive energy, I just let loose,” she remembers. “I think to an extent you just have to have fake confidence at first. I walked up and had a confident demeanor and once I heard crowd cheering, then I was confident.”

“It happens overnight,” Maria Vertkin says. “An immigrant moves to the U.S. and goes from being a surgeon to washing toilets.”

College degrees and professional experience from their home country don’t always mean as much as they should when an immigrant starts a new life abroad, says Vertkin. She knows from experience: She spent her childhood in Russia and Israel before immigrating to the United States. But she realized that they have one thing that will always be of use to them: their language skills.

“It doesn’t make sense if you have something as valuable as a second language to not use it,” says Vertkin, who speaks English, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Vertkin, a Boston-based social worker, wanted to help train women to use their multilingual skills to their advantage. She saw a need that they could fill in the medical field. Hospitals in Massachusetts struggled to find interpreters for their patients who aren’t native English speakers. Without interpreters, expensive and even potentially fatal medical errors are possible.

A Found in Translation graduate shows off her diploma.

“The jobs are plentiful and the demographics are shifting,” says Vertkin. “Not only do they serve the local population, but medical tourists come from other countries and they need interpreters.”

The idea was a hit with the judges of WeWork’s Nashville Creator Awards. Found in Translation took home a $72,000 prize in the nonprofit category.

In 2011, Vertkin started Found in Translation to help homeless and low-income women achieve economic security by making their language skills an asset, rather than a liability. Within a few weeks of announcing the first class, she had 200 applications.

The nonprofit offers medical interpreter certificate training as well as other interpreter programs. And the training includes more than the core curriculum — childcare, transportation, job placement, and access to mentors for professional development are also part of the program.

The 186 graduates of Found in Translation classes between 2012 and 2017 earned approximately $1.86 million cumulatively more per year than they did before enrollment. That’s about $10,000 more per person annually. She says that if she wins in the nonprofit category at the Nashville Creator Awards, she can expand the program.

Classes currently take place in Boston, where Vertkin estimates they could easily double in size with the right funding. Every city in the U.S., she says, has the potential for success with Found in Translation.

“There is opportunity and need and we are connecting them,” Vertkin says. “The biggest risk is for employers not hiring multilingual employees.”

If Janett Liriano has her way, you won’t be using your FitBit much longer.

Liriano is CEO of Loomia, a New York-based firm at the intersection of tech and fashion. The company creates “intelligent drapeable circuits” that are soft enough to be embedded into textiles and can be safely washed and dried. Instead of wearing a step tracker on your wrist, it could be embedded into your running shoes.

That’s just the beginning of what these circuits can do. Those shoes might not just track your steps, but can also measure the pressure on your feet, giving you information on how you should adjust your gait. They might heat up and keep your feet warm in winter. And a light might keep you safer on a nighttime jog.

Loomia’s CEO Janett Liriano and founder Maddy Maxey

Liriano has two patents for her product and others in the pipeline for the smart fabric-enabling circuits. Her team is working with more than 80 brands on how they can integrate the smart technology into their designs. The current emphasis is on clothing, but the flexibility of the circuit opens the door to other products in the future.

“We are category agnostic,” Liriano says. “If you can make a washable circuit, you can put it on the floor. You can put it in wallpaper.”

Liriano, who took home third place in the business ventures category at the Nashville Creator Awards, sees potential in fields ranging from medicine to transportation.

Not only can Loomia transform the ways smart devices are used, it can also change what happens to all that data once it is collected. The company is looking at ways that consumers can sell their data to interested parties — or choose not to share it.

Liriano, a “born-and-bred New Yorker,” thinks the city is the right place for the firm. It’s one of the country’s great fashion hubs, but it also has a strong startup scene.

New Yorkers are inherently scrappy and resourceful,” she says. “For a business that is not super capitalized, that’s a good network. We are hard-core hustlers.”