There may be no grander day in your career than the day you get to leave it all behind. Employees work their entire careers—literally—to get to this day. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays all come along, well, like clockwork. Retirement only happens once, or at least we hope it does. Make sure you celebrate right!
Planning a retirement party is a big responsibility, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Creating manageable steps to bring together the right people, in the right space, with the right ambiance is a special skill that can be mastered.
You’re celebrating someone who has worked very hard to get to this point in their life. The effort you put forward should be befitting of their special accomplishment.
Know Thy Retiree
The first and most critical part of planning the perfect retirement party is knowing who you’re planning it for. Someone who hates a crowd may not want hundreds of family and friends surprising them with showers of confetti and champagne.
There is no typical retiree. Some have worked for decades looking forward to this moment, but some may find this transition bittersweet.
Retirement is in many ways a final frontier. We go through various stages in life and retirement is one of the last major events of our lives. This notion can leave people feeling many emotions. Some may find themselves in a honeymoon phase or reorientation process. There are a few crucial steps to take before you start picking out the flavor of the cake.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions
Though you may feel the urge to surprise your guest of honor, it may make more sense to squander the surprise and simply ask what the retiree wants. If they’re open to a big party, you can still pull the wool over their eyes and surprise them in other ways. But, by asking, you forego the possible disaster of surprising a parent or loved one with a very uncomfortable gathering.
Roll Out The Rolodex
Yes, Rolodexes may be ancient, but so may your guest of honor. The key to finding out expectations is by going to the source. If that doesn’t work, go to the next best thing. Reach out to friends, family, and most importantly, coworkers.
Often retirement parties leave out this key demographic. The retiree has likely spent more time at work with their colleagues than they have with several of their friends or family. They’ve accomplished a lot in their career. Talk to the people who have seen it firsthand and get a glimpse into the unique insight they may be able to provide to your burgeoning party plans.
Use Third-Party Resources
Party planning is a professional career that many excel in. If your pocketbook is tight, don’t be afraid to use free resources. There are fantastic videos and blogs available to help if you find yourself stuck at any part of the process.
Hopefully, this article serves as a useful resource, but it is one of many. SocialTables.com has a wonderful list of their six favorite event planning blogs that can inspire even the most hopeless party planner.
Now that you have an idea of what your guest may like, we need to develop that idea into a reality.
Focus On A Theme
Retirement is a big deal. Though the average retirement age can vary by state, according to the Center for Retirement Research and the U.S. Census, the average age of retirement hasn’t changed much over the last forty years. With men retiring at an average age of 65, and women at age 63, the majority of retirees work more than thirty years before calling it quits.
Why does this matter?
A retirement party’s theme should not be solely about retirement. People will know that they’re retired. We don’t have to shout it from the rooftops to make it true. Instead, focus on something different but equally as positive. Focus on three A’s:
Focus on Accomplishments
Finishing your career ultimately means that you’ve saved up enough to stop working. As engaging and exciting as it is to celebrate someone’s 401(k), it’s a lot more fun to celebrate their accomplishments. Do a deep-dive into their employment history. Focus on awards they’ve won, degrees they’ve attained, or challenges they’ve conquered.
Focus on Achievements
Though it may sound a lot like accomplishments, it’s different. If your guest of honor started at the bottom and worked their way to the top, make sure you acknowledge their growth. If they stayed in the same job for thirty years, celebrate their commitment.
If they’ve gotten to retirement without accomplishing or achieving anything, you’re not working hard enough to plan a meaningful party. Put in some research and think about work more broadly than you have before. This is a career, and no two are exactly alike. Highlight their journey by focusing on the positives.
Focus on Anecdotes
Three decades’ worth of work rarely concludes without a handful of exceptional stories. These anecdotes can be focused on accolades, but delving into the stories of your guests can create a theme truly unique to the partygoers.
If there is a crazy story to be shared about Hawaiin-shirt Fridays, maybe a luau-themed retirement party takes on a whole new meaning for the guest of honor. Take time to ask about these memorable moments and put your creativity to use.
Themes make for great foundations. If your party has a great theme, it becomes much easier to build a party around this focal point.
Luau-themed retirement parties can still highlight the amazing accomplishments and achievements of their guests, but if you’re only focusing on accolades and not the great stories that defined their career, you’re missing an opportunity to give your party a fun angle far from the retirement-party norm.
Book The Right Space
Great, so you know who you’re throwing the party for, you know what they want, and you know what their career and retirement represent. Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks. You can be a party-planning guru, but if your canvas is marred, you’re not likely to paint a very beautiful picture. In this case, your canvas is your space.
Booking the right event space takes time and patience. Event spaces are used for numerous events, some of which are in very high demand. Event spaces can also be expensive. Finding the right space depends on several factors:
How big does your space need to be in order to fit everyone comfortably? No one likes to do the funky chicken if they’re squished into the corner! Make sure you know your RSVPs and you book your space accordingly. There are several fantastic online invitation sites that can help you plan ahead. Once you have your final number, don’t skimp on space.
Trust in your numbers! Taking 80% of your RSVPs is an outdated technique that can lead to chaos. Pick an invite or Evite solution and trust when people say they’re coming! Everyone loves attending a great retirement party!
What’s it Cost?
Event space does not come cheap. Venues can vary in price from free—yes, free!—to thousands of dollars. When you consider your budget, make sure you consider your own options first. Do you have a large enough house to host the party yourself? If so, you can save a lot of dough for other fun party favors (more to come on those) without wasting big chunks of your budget on rental space.
If you don’t have space you can use, whether that be a barn, garage, farm, etc., websites like Eventective are great resources to help you search and compare spaces in your area. Location is as important as the space itself, so make sure to consider where your guest list is hailing from.
If you’re the creative type, this is where you can flourish! Retirees with thick skin may be able to put up with some light blackmail photos. For the more reserved, retirement banners and thoughtful pictures work as well! Even if their cubicle was sparse, don’t leave your party space without some fun, funny, or thoughtful decorations.
Location, Location, Location
The physical location may be the most important factor in booking the right space. Throwing a party on the rooftop of the Empire State Building leaves a lasting impression! If you can WOW with your location, you may be able to make the location a part of your theme. Luaus are great! Luaus in Hawaii are even better.
Make sure to collect additional specs from your guests when getting their RSVP status. If you have folks coming from out of town, or if your retiree lives in a rural area, do some research on what location is most convenient for the majority of partygoers. Also, make sure you take into consideration the most vital attendees first. No guest of honor wants his or her spouse left out of the celebration, unless otherwise noted!
Don’t forget about getting people to the event. If you’re going to be bold and host a party on the lip of a volcano in Maui, you better do some helicopter research. Make sure your location is as accessible as possible. Many guests may be older, so ADA accessible guidelines should be followed.
Make sure you’re asking about transportation when you talk to your venue contact. If they’re of no use, it’s likely a sign that the venue is not up to the standard you’ll want for your event.
Entertain The Entire Room
No party is complete without great entertainment. Often the first impression of a party is the entertainment. You arrive at a great location, a gift in hand, and immediately you scan the room for who you know.
Entertainment allows for easy socialization. Often guests remember three key moments when attending a gathering. The first and last five minutes of the party and any major climactic moments throughout the evening. Entertainment can make a great or terrible first impression depending on your strategy.
The easiest way to get people moving is good music. What is good music? It depends on the room. Remember to ask your invitees for a favorite song, or better yet, ask your guest of honor what they like. Nothing feels more ominous than walking into a party and hearing nothing but your breathing as people stand around, silently picking at their beverage label. Get people moving. The best way to accomplish this is good music. Make sure you put an emphasis on creating a playlist that will entertain, and if you have a dancing crowd, make sure some of those tunes up the heart rate a bit!
Not all retirement parties are equivalent to college keggers, though I’ve seen a few that measure up! If you don’t have a raucous crowd, you can still entertain. Pre-set retirement games can be a great way to engage people right away and get them to socialize. There are a plethora of retirement-themed games out there.
Put a fun spin on bingo or charades, or come up with other unique ideas. There are plenty of options out there should your crowd be a bit on the tamer side.
Bring in the Professionals
If creating a playlist is not your thing, or the thought of charades makes you shutter, there are professionals out there that can help on the entertainment front. Coverbands of your retiree’s favorite band, comedians, acapella groups, or even professional dancers can create a unique and memorable addition to your big day. Remember, some of your guests, and maybe your most important guest, may not want to be the center of attention. Creating a useful and entertaining distraction may just save your party! Just don’t forget to keep the right amount of attention on the retiree.
We Are What You Choose For Us To Eat
Food is one of the most searched and active items on websites like Pinterest for a reason. People love good food! No matter the size or energy level of your party, people will come expecting to get food. Don’t let them down with a store-bought cheese platter. Use the opportunity to highlight your retiree’s first trip after retirement.
If they’re jettisoning to Tokyo, how about a sushi platter? Budapest? Go wild with some goulash. Focus on a theme or make sure the food is so tasty that it gets people talking. Nothing assists in parties fizzling out faster than hungry guests scurrying away to the nearest fast-food joint.
Cater or Cook
Since food is all but a must, the first question to answer—honestly—is do you want to cook yourself or hire a caterer. Depending on the size of the party and your own culinary skills, you should likely have a gut reaction.
Caterers don’t only offer great food, but they also can create a unique menu for you. If it’s a small gathering, your chef skills may be up to the task, but if not, check out some local caterers to ensure your guests love the food!
A Bevy of Beverages
We all know that a great meal is not complete without the perfect beverage. Having multiple drink options is key to ensuring your party is inclusive to alcohol and non-alcohol drinkers alike. Don’t forget water! If your party goes well and dancing and games go late into the night, hydrating may be the magic elixir to keep the fun going!
Make A Memorable Speech
Fear of public speaking rivals all other phobias and anxiety. It’s hard to give a great speech, and though there is no magic formula, there are helpful hints to make sure you get it right.
Often speeches that fail are ones that try and replicate other speeches. If someone is funny, they’re likely to give a laugh-inducing speech. If one is sentimental, they may trigger tears in the audience. Neither one or the other is best.
But, if you try to do one or the other, and naturally it doesn’t fit your own way of speaking, you risk coming across as awkward and insincere. A trick to help you find your voice is to write the speech as a confidential letter to the recipient. Once written, make sure to read it aloud to ensure it sounds right!
Keep the Focus Clear
Off-the-rail speeches make for cringe-worthy moments, both for you and your audience. Though we want to know about your relationship with the guest of honor, we don’t need to hear about your home life or meandering story that has nothing to do with the moment.
This is a retirement party for someone special. Focus on that person and your connection with them. Most important, focus on their relationship with you! What they mean to you, why you’re there, and why they matter. It can be uncomfortable to have someone read off a list of your credentials as an entire room of people stare you down. People want a glimpse into your life. Great speeches focus on relationships and the reverberations of that relationship. Don’t focus on you or them solely, but focus on the two of you and the relationship you share.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you have time to prepare, practice your speech as often as possible. Groups like ToastMasters make for a supportive community to help your public speaking flourish. They offer various resources and have chapters around the world.
If you don’t have the time to prepare with a professional group, seek out your own support system. Family, friends, and colleagues are more than happy to help you get ready. First, try your speech in front of a mirror. Then, in front of a close friend or family member. Next, in front of a stranger. By the time the big day comes, you’ll feel more confident and prepared.
Give The Perfect Gift
Your party may be remembered for years to come, but once the last guest saunters off, the actual event is over. This could be the moment your retired guest of honor truly realizes that they have no more work ahead of them. Often the end of a good party leaves the attendees and celebrated feeling a bit down. Some have deemed this a post-party depression, and there are many reasons for it.
For retirees, this important change in their lives means their options are now endless. Travel? Hobbies? Family time? They now have a generous amount of time to spend exploring their options.
But just because the party is over doesn’t mean the fun has to end when the lights go out. A great gift can spark the next chapter in their life. Gifts can be nostalgic, inspiring, exciting—all the feelings that your retired loved one is probably feeling.
Make it Personal
Gifts that are personal to you and the recipient are always meaningful. Personalized gifts leave a lasting impression that often goes well beyond material goods. If your gift can evoke true emotion, you know you’ve done well.
In order to succeed with a personalized gift, you have to make sure you go beyond the obvious. Think about all your time together, your inside jokes, and your combined failings. All can be turned into some form of memorabilia that can be both sentimental and humorous. This is a celebration of an entire career, trying to sum it up in one gift is difficult. If you’re genuine and think hard, you can come up with something truly unique.
Often we work hard to give gifts that represent the recipient’s interests and hobbies. Though thoughtful, some of the best gifts push the giftee to explore new, unknown interests. Retirement is a great way to spend more time with loved ones.
If they’re not one for cooking, take them to a cooking class! If they’re not the quintessential golf-retiree, buy them some clubs and promise to teach them.
Retirement represents unlimited possibilities. Focusing only on past interests can underwhelm. If you know they like books, they likely have plenty of great books on their bedside table. Think about what you like and what they may like to do with you. After all, the biggest gift of retirement is time. A gift of your own time is always warmly welcomed.
Parties are supposed to represent the culmination of hard work and celebratory moments. Often people spend so much time planning the perfect party, they forget the secret sauce. Have fun!
No party has ever been lauded without fun being the central focus of the planner. If you’re not enjoying your time, likely no one else will be. It takes an incredibly thoughtful and outgoing person to plan a retirement party and hopefully you won’t have to do it alone. But, should the burden fall on you, focus on fun first and the rest will follow.
Set the Tone
People tend to align with the group. Conforming happens in all settings, including parties. If people see others having fun, they are more likely to engage. Don’t trust others to set the tone.
If you plan accordingly and use this guide, when the party arrives, you can enjoy the party just as another guest would. Interact with the theme, the guests, and the entertainment. Enjoy the food! Have a few drinks! If you can’t enjoy the party, your guests and guest of honor will likely struggle to do so as well.
Prepare for Obstacles
You’ve done your due diligence and you’re enjoying a great party! Don’t forget that obstacles will come up. Keep a level head. The problem will get solved. Make sure to delegate tasks to your fellow planners and guests.
You can’t do it all yourself, and you deserve to enjoy the party as well. If you can direct others to take on these obstacles, your focus will not shift from setting the tone and keeping the majority of guests happy. After all, your job is to create happiness and a focus on the retiree. Others can help get more ice or pick up grandma from the airport.
Have a Singular Focus
Planning the perfect party requires a lot of time and preparation. As you go through these details and utilize these resources, always keep in mind that this party is for someone else. The biggest pitfall of any party planner is to try and please everyone.
If you can make sure your guest of honor is happy, you’re more than likely to create a memorable and meaningful experience for the people that matter the most.
Knowing the celebrated individual’s likes, dislikes, and history will allow you to tailor this party to their specifications. They’ve worked incredibly hard to get to this point. More than likely, they’ve already thought about this moment hundreds of times.
There is no way you can produce exactly what they’ve dreamed of, but by focusing on them, and by engaging with them during the planning, you’re far more likely to hit the mark.
Have fun planning and celebrating!