My lovely friend Leigh Kramer is guest-posting today, which delights me to no end, both because I love her and because her topic is fabulous - how to throw a killer surprise party. I will now join you at her feet, as she teaches us what - and what not - to consider before yelling "Surprise!"
I like to think of my surprise party planning skills as one of my love languages. Over the years, I've amassed quite a few tips and tricks. I'll go head to head with anyone else who claims to have brag-worthy surprise party planning skills.
Back in 2005, my two roommates and I were only a few months into apartment living. Our 3 bedroom loft apartment was the perfect setting for any gathering. Jen and Donna happened to have birthdays were within a week of each other.
I decided a double surprise was in order. Jen's boyfriend (now husband) was out of town on business that week and everyone knew he wouldn't be factored into any festivities. I asked him to email Donna and me, which led Donna to believe that Jason was going to surprise Jen by coming home early from his trip. One of us would need to keep Jen occupied and the other would let Jason into our apartment. My work schedule "conveniently" meant I couldn't keep Jen occupied. Donna agreed to get Jen out of the house, while I would stay behind, ostensibly to let Jason in and help him set things up. Donna was super excited about surprising Jen.
In the meantime, I sent out an Evite for the surprise party the week before Birthday Week, as well as a fake party which would "occur" during Birthday Week. In the invitation for the surprise party, I laid out the plan, told guests to arrive during a certain window of time, and asked them to also RSVP to the fake party so that Jen and Donna would have no idea what was coming.
That day everything worked out beautifully. When Donna and Jen got back to our place, there was a roomful of people ready to celebrate their birthdays and they were both in utter shock. One of my favorite surprises to date.
A brief word before I share my know-how. I've been on the receiving end of a couple of surprise parties and it makes me feel very loved. However, not everyone feels that way. A few friends have said the mere idea of a surprise party gives them a panic attack. All this to say, make sure you are relatively sure your guest of honor will enjoy being surprised.
Here's how to plan a good surprise party:
1. Find a good co-conspirator
This may well be the linchpin of the whole plan. You need someone who can keep a secret, clearly. But you also need someone who your "target" will trust and want to spend time with, as the co-conspirator will be in charge of keeping the target occupied until it's time for the party, as well as delivering them to the party location.
2. Set the date.
Best not to do it on the actual birthday. A week or even a month before or after is ideal because it's less likely to be on their radar. This may necessitate "planning" a fake party to keep the target further out of the loop. (If it's after their birthday, you'll need to celebrate the day in some way, unless you want them to have a 16 Candles moment.) Run the date past any person likely to know the target's availability- significant other, family, parents, roommate, best friend. And then secure the guest of honor's availability via your co-conspirator. Once those plans are made, you're ready to send out the invitation. But first...
3. Consider your plan from every angle.
And I do mean every angle. What will your target and co-conspirator be doing while the guests arrive? Come up with a plan B for them, especially if it's an outdoor activity and it happens to rain that day. Accordingly, if you're planning on hosting outside, best figure out a back up in case of inclement weather. Figure out where guests can park and what time you want them to arrive. Figure out how everyone can keep this a secret and how long they'll be able to do so- that will help you figure out how soon to send out the invitation. Consider how you can save the surprise element if someone leaks the secret. (It can be done.) Basically, you want to put your Devious Hat on. It's all for a good cause.
4. Send out the invitation
First, make sure the target is NOT sent an invitation. Easier to control if mailing invitations, easier to forget if inviting by email or Evite. Second, you'll want to include all pertinent information, including what the guest of honor thinks is happening, what time people should arrive (at least a 30 minute window before the guest of honor's arrival), and where they should park. Reiterate that it must be kept a secret or you'll send the Hounds of Hades after them. It's crucial that people stay far away if they're running late and it will interfere with the target's arrival.
5. Tell the guests where to park
Ideally, this information is dispersed in the invitation but you'll want to double-check as people arrive. The sight of a familiar car will mean the jig is up. Have people park at least a block or two away, if possible. (Certainly, if anyone has a disability, they can be dropped off at your house and someone else can park the car.)
6. Wait for the signal
Your co-conspirator should give you a heads up when they're on their way. This is so much easier to do now in the age of texting. Keep an eye out for their arrival and have your guests ready to hide around a corner, if needed.
7. Yell "Surprise!"
Enjoy the look of shock on their face and bask in your accomplishment. Party on!
Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at A Deeper Family. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.