birthday party
Photo by Kiwi Morado

Put your feet up for a moment and engage in some nostalgia. What’s the most vivid birthday party memory you have from childhood? What snapshots are ingrained in your mind? Perhaps the moment the piñata batter got too close to the onlookers, or the time your 4th grade crush showed up with a gift in tow, or that day your parents surprised you with the fire engine-red bicycle you’d been wishing for.

Now, switch gears. What’s the most memorable meeting you’ve attended? That one’s trickier, isn’t it? Corporate events can easily fall into one of two categories: obligatory meetings or memorable parties. So what’s the key to throwing an event that guests will be talking about with reverence for years to come? There are many, but we’ve narrowed it down to just six.

1. Be Thoughtful

Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did. They’ll remember how you made them feel.” So much about an event can be quickly forgotten, but there’s one thing that can’t: thoughtfulness.

As you plan the various aspects of your event, consider how you could make each one more relevant to your people, brand, and vision. Tie your menu theme to a significant moment in the last year, plan activities that tap into the hobbies of individuals on your team, or play music with relevant lyrics. If people leave your party saying, “That was so thoughtfully done,” you’ll have made an impact that could last for years to come.

2. Embrace Imperfection

If you’ve planned for your event well, unexpected snafus will hopefully be few and far between. But occasionally, something is bound to go wrong. Perhaps a swarm of bees will engulf the punch bowl, or an uninvited guest will make a boisterous interruption. When the unexpected happens, you have two options: cower with embarrassment, or roll with the punches. The longest-lasting memories often come from the things we can’t plan for.

Consider for a moment how many cherished memories you have of perfectly executed events. One? None? Now think of the number of times you’ve laughed over dinner about the family reunion where Aunt Pat spilled the family secrets after having a bit too much to drink, or your boss’s embarrassing spill during the company dance competition.

Imperfection can be gold for the quick-thinking. When the lights went out at Super Bowl XLVII, most waited impatiently. Oreo, meanwhile, found a way to tie the unexpected event to their brand, sending out this tweet that immediately went viral and earned the brand millions of dollars in free advertising:

In the off-chance that something doesn’t fit your plan for the perfect event day, try this: ask yourself how you can harness the mistake to further your team’s cohesion and ingrain your company’s vision. It just may be the happy accident you didn’t know you needed.

3. Take Photos

Canon recently launched an ad campaign titled, “The Image Generation.” Their statement of millennials’ priorities may be cringe-worthy, but it’s also true. Our society is documenting its every move at a record pace, taking billions of pictures a day to share on social media (and print the occasional snapshot for Grandma).

Event photography can be achieved in a variety of ways, ranging from guest selfies to professional photographers:

Create a Hashtag

Decide on an official hashtag for your event for use on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Have the hashtag printed on table tent cards or displayed on monitors. After the event, you’ll have immediate access to guests’ photos to display in the office break room, in a company-wide album, or in printed souvenir albums.

Have a Photo Station

Want to give your guests an excuse to pictures? Provide some props! Set up a backdrop with wigs, hats, costumes, and signs. Then sit back and watch the Image Generation go to work.

Rent a Photo Booth

If your crowd isn’t the selfie type, consider renting a photo booth. These come in many forms, ranging from traditional photostrips to an all-digital version.

Hire a Professional

Finally, for more formal or professional events, consider hiring a professional photographer. This is the best way to make a record your night of festivities and organic guest interaction that will ensure beautiful, high-quality images.

4. Facilitate Relational Depth

The best kind of souvenir is one that lasts. What better souvenir than a new or stronger bond with a colleague? “Guests may not remember the menu, the décor, the event location or times, the week after the event,” explains Event Manager Eddy Willingham. “But an event that breaks down political walls and allows guests to develop relationships will be one that people talk about for years.” Invite the right people, then make space for teams to interact without regard to department or seniority. The bonds that result can be incredibly valuable.

5. Leave Them with a Gift

A gift bag communicates two things: “we thought of you” and “you’re worth it.” It also provides a physical reminder of the event for as long as the gift stays around. Give something meaningful, useful, or both. A gift that is neither practical nor especially thoughtful is a waste of money (and more common than you would imagine). For some innovative swag bag ideas, see our list of 14 High-Impact Event Trends for 2016.

And those leftovers? Provide boxes for guests to take them home. No food will go to waste, it’ll give you one less thing to handle during teardown, and your employees will think of you with warm and fuzzy feelings as they eat their leftover tiny quiches. It’s a win-win-win.

6. End While You’re Up

This may sound simple, but one of the best ways to keep people talking about your event is to end it while it’s still producing fun. “Never make the event too long. You would rather have your guests leave early and wanting more than leave expecting more,” says Event Manager Elle Harala.

So there you have it. Be thoughtful, embrace the imperfections, take some good pictures, get people talking, send them home with a keepsake, and wrap the event while people are having a good time. With those six tips in mind, your event may just join that red bicycle in Happy Memoryville.