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How to Plan the Perfect Surprise Party . . . and Pull It Off!

Mar 21, 2013 01:59AM ● By Erin Frisch


Surprise parties are one of the great joys of life. While they aren’t the easiest kind of party to pull off, they offer some of the best fun. And they don’t have to be limited to birthdays either! Try planning one for an engagement, anniversary, or a baby shower. Seeing the look on the guest of honor’s face when he or she sees family and friends all gathered to celebrate is absolutely priceless, so be sure your camera is ready! Check out these tips to help your surprise party go off without a hitch.

First, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. Is the person you are planning to surprise going to appreciate it? Some people don’t like surprises. They prefer to know all the details about an event before they agree to attend. And for folks who get really excited about important milestones like birthdays and anniversaries, trying to plan a surprise for them may make them feel like you’ve actually forgotten about the occasion. Next, ask yourself if you have enough time to plan the event. Ideally, for a party with 25 guests or more, 6 weeks is the minimum amount of time you’ll need for planning a successful event. Smaller parties will take a little less planning time. If you are reserving a gathering space, however, consider setting that up about one month before the party.

Now for the preparations. Who to invite? Family, friends, significant others, co-workers, teammates—you’ll want to consider your list carefully. Pare down the invitation list based on who you feel the guest of honor enjoys spending time with most and would want to share the occasion with. Tracking down the contact information for all guests may take some time, so it is important to start this process as early as possible. Next, recruit a co-conspirator for your stealthy operations. A trusted friend that you have in common with the guest of honor can be a huge help. This person can help make plans to keep the honoree occupied on the day of the party, while being sure to get him or her to the party at the correct time.

Decide on a location based on either the party’s theme, the size of the guest list, or your convenience as chief party planner and executor. Your house, if you don’t mind hosting, is the easiest choice. The guest of honor’s house is a tricky choice but can make for an even better surprise. If you are renting a space in a restaurant or other venue, be sure to lure the “surprisee” there under the guise of lunch or dinner reservations with your co-conspirator. Then set the date for the party. A truly great surprise party takes place in the weeks or days before the actual event, especially if it’s a birthday or anniversary, since the surprisee will likely be expecting an event on the actual date of the occasion. If you wait until after, you run the risk of having your honoree feel like you forgot about the big day.

Next, get the word out about the party. Facebook allows you to create private, locked-down events with very specific guest lists. Evite lets you create an invitation list and get the word out via e-mail. Make sure the header of the event clearly says that it is a surprise. Keep the initial invitation short and sweet, with just the date/time and location. Once people RSVP that they will be joining in the fun, provide additional details only to them. This will keep the number of people chatting about the details to a minimum. It’s also important to let people close to the guest of honor know about the party, particularly family members. If they try to make plans with the honoree on the day of the surprise party, the honoree may decline your co-conspirator’s invitation. Make sure that the family is in the know to prevent this situation.

Finally, settle on a plan for the day of the party. You and your partner in crime will be dividing the duties; while you man the event location, he or she escorts the guest of honor. If the party is at a private home, make sure everyone knows not to park in the driveway or on the block. Figure out a way for your partner to let you know when they are 10 minutes away and when they’ve arrived. A quick text message can work, or the escort can call your cell and let it ring a designated number of times. Ensure that all of the party guests are on the same page about when to yell “Surprise!” or whatever phrase you choose. And always have a backup plan. If the guest of honor is onto you and demands to know what’s going on, admit to a surprise being planned . . . just not “the” surprise. Have a couple of guests set up at an alternate location to stage a smaller surprise, then have them all head to the actual surprise. Sit back and enjoy the look on the guest of honor’s face when he or she realizes what’s really going on!

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