Growing up, I’d never had a lot of friends come to my birthday party because I was a summer baby. When you’re in school, it’s hard to celebrate a July birthday because everyone’s always scattered on summer vacation. (I’ve previously posted about spending my 18th birthday working and playing pick up basketball with strangers.) As an adult, one of the things I wanted to do to make up for all those missed opportunities was to throw a Really Big Birthday Party with lots of guests.
Right before I turned 26, I sensed an opportunity to knock the Really Big Birthday Party off my bucket list. Although I was a law student living in Chicago at the time, I would be spending the summer living in NYC–my hometown. I saw it as the perfect opportunity.
When most people decide to throw a birthday party, they go about it in a relatively haphazard way. They tell a few friends and e-mails are circulated a week or so beforehand. For most birthday celebrations this is fine–in fact this is how I’ve organized my birthday parties in recent years. But that summer I really, really wanted to throw a Really Big Birthday Party, and was prepared to do whatever it took to get people to come.
I was lucky to be somewhat experienced in this area. A big part of my college experience was organizing and throwing parties. Instead of studying, I spent those four years studying promotions, hype-building, and producing big guest turnouts. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when it came to my own birthday party, I had some experience under my belt–which I used to convince over 100 people to show up to my birthday party.
This is how I pulled it off.
How do you get people to come to your party?
- Assemble your core group of loyal friends and connectors.
- Pay attention to the gender balance of attendees.
- Set the date and use psychology to your advantage.
- Select a convenient venue.
- Create an event page on Facebook with a catchy name.
- Begin Facebook inviting your closest connections to the event.
- Once you build a solid attendee list, start inviting acquaintances.
- Send out mass invitations.
- Be prepared for surprise guests and strangers.
- Enjoy your huge turnout.
1. Assemble Your Core Group of
Loyal Friends and Connectors
Timing: At Least Four Weeks Before Event Date
The first and most important step I took was to make sure my closest and most loyal friends would be there. Before you even set the date or location for your party, contact your Core Group and make sure everyone (or as many of them as possible) can make it. If you have to throw your birthday party after your actual birthday, so be it. This step is super important (you’ll see why later on) so make sure you don’t skip it!
You should also reach out and include some of your Connector friends in your initial Core Group. What do I mean by Connectors? In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell calls them the “people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.” Make sure to include at least one or two Connectors in your initial Core Group.
2. Pay Attention to Gender Balance
When considering the composition of my Core Group, I made sure that there was a good balance of guys and girls. You don’t have to have an even split. But it’s important to make sure you’ve got at least two or three girls because all-male Core Groups tend to not do so well in generating widespread interest in your event. Gender balance will matter more later on when you start inviting your other friends, but at this stage just make sure you include a couple of girls.
3. Set the Date and Use Psychology to Your Advantage
Timing: Four Weeks Before
Once I assembled the Core Group and figured out scheduling conflicts, I immediately set a date for the event. You should set your date as soon as possible, because you want to make sure your Core Group members don’t end up making plans that create scheduling conflicts. Set the date and let them know ASAP.
Setting a date early on is important because you want people to know about the party in the back of their mind. This is a psychological trick similar to Anchoring (the “human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered when making decisions”). Even if people haven’t committed to any plans, they are now aware that Lexaholik is having a party on April 2nd. When that weekend rolls around, Lexaholik’s Birthday Party will be front and center in their mind. If people only heard about the party at the last minute, they’re more likely to decline. I’m not exactly sure why this happens–but I’ve seen it again and again.
4. Choose a Convenient Venue
Timing: Three to Four Weeks Before
When deciding where to host my party, I chose the Ginger Man, an easily accessible and centrally located bar in Manhattan. (It’s right between Penn Station and Grand Central Station.) For NYC, it’s always better to choose a Manhattan location that’s near an easy-to-reach station than, say, a remote and inaccessible Queens location. In the SF Bay Area, it’s probably better to choose a SF location near a major BART station (although that may depend on whether your friends mostly live in East Bay, Peninsula, or South Bay) as opposed to say, Hayward. And don’t choose your location based on where the Core Group lives–choose it based on where most your prospective attendees live.
5. Create a Public Facebook Event with a Catchy Name
Timing: Three to Four Weeks Before
Once I set my party date and booked my venue, I had to create some buzz for my birthday party. You should create a Facebook Event and set the privacy setting to public. Think of a catchy name or title for your party. Include some funny pictures or amusing comments on the event page. At this stage you should ONLY invite your Core Group of loyal friends and Connectors. Because you already got them to commit earlier, your attendance rate for the Core Group should be close to 100%. At this point, your Birthday Party should look relatively small to the public–something like 7-10 attendees.
6. Begin Inviting Friends to the Facebook Event
Timing: Three Weeks Before
Once the 7 or so members of my Core Group responded to my Facebook Event invite as Attending, I started sending out invitations to my other friends in waves. The method I found most effective was to start inviting groups of friends who are close to individual members of my Core Group. Don’t just Facebook blast invite everyone. (That comes later.) For example, I had a college friend in my Core Group. Instead of inviting everyone I knew from CMU, I specifically chose people who that particular friend was close to. That created a sense of familiarity for the invitee, which made them more likely to attend.
At this stage, achieving gender balance is crucial. For reasons I’m sure we can all imagine, female attendees generate more interest for your event than male attendees. That doesn’t mean you should only invite girls. But you do have to pay attention to the gender mix and make sure your event isn’t dominated by guys. There’s a reason why there’s such a thing as Ladies Night. In college, we used to sell presale party entrance tickets to girls at a steep discount, because we knew they were good at getting guys to come to our party. We made up for our financial losses by overcharging guys at the door.
7. Once You Build a Solid Attendee List,
Start Inviting Acquaintances
Timing: One to Two Weeks Before
Pretty soon your list will start growing fairly quickly. Keep sending out invites in waves, based on who has already indicated that they will attend. Think of potential attendees in terms of social groups and mentally group friends and cliques together. You want to prevent any worries they might have that they won’t know anyone at your party. As your list of attendees starts to grow, their friends will start seeing your Facebook Event rise on their news feed.
After sending out invitations in waves for a week or two, you should have a pretty solid list of at least 30+ attendees. Now’s the time to start inviting acquaintances and friends who you’re less close to. You should begin doing this step after you’re done building your list of attendees, but one or two weeks before the day of the party. Recall above where I explained the psychological value of people to knowing about your birthday party in advance. One or two weeks should be early enough because people rarely make weekend evening social plans earlier than that.
It’s important to get started on planning early on–you need a lot of lead time for this entire process.
8. Send Out Mass Invites Last and
Watch Your Attendee List Explode
Timing: One Week Before
My early list of 30+ attendees was a huge asset. Acquaintances weren’t all that interested in my birthday. Had I invited them before I built up my social proof through my 30+ attendees, they probably would have declined to come. But acquaintances are interested in going to an event that’s got some social buzz. I mean, if you saw that 30 people in your social network are going to the birthday party of one of your acquaintances, you’d probably consider going too right?
Now’s the time to blast out a mass invite. If you did everything correctly, your attendee list will explode. Once you send out the mass invite, you’ll see a lot of positive responses than you’d expect. When I did this for my party, my attendee list nearly tripled, going from 30 to 85 within a week.
9. Be Prepared for Surprise Guests and Strangers
Timing: Several Hours Before
Beyond your Core Group, friends, and acquaintances, there are lots of people out there who you’re not really connected to who want to come to your party. This came to me as a surprise, but it made sense after I thought about it. Other than your closest friends, people aren’t really interested in coming to your birthday party to see you specifically. They don’t care about you. They only want to see their own friends and have a good time.
That means that even though I had 85 attendees for my Facebook event, more than 85 people ended up showing up. On the day of my party, at least 10 strangers–all of whom I’d never met–showed up. They didn’t say on Facebook that they would be attending my party because they were never invited in the first place. In addition to these strangers, there were also 10-20 acquaintances who never responded to my Facebook invite, but who decided to come to my party just earlier that day. Make sure that your venue can provide for extra people because if you do this process correctly, you will end up with more people than you expect.
10. Enjoy Your Big Turnout
In the end, well over 100 people ended up showing up to my 26th Birthday party. I would have been happy with 30 people–to me that’s a big birthday party. That over 100 people showed up taught me an important lesson about event planning.
Does That Mean I’m Popular?
Most people assume that if 100 people show up to your party, that means you’re popular.
With the exception of your Core Group and close friends, most people will go to your birthday party because they want to hang out with their own friends. They’re not coming because they care about your birthday.
I’ve shared that insight with some of my friends, and they often ask me if that makes me sad.
Not at all, I say.
I get it–people are human. I’ve been guilty of going to birthday parties where I cared more about which of my friends were going than I did about the host’s actual birthday. I’m pretty sure you’re the same way. I understand and accept that this is how people are.
Here’s How I See It:
When I throw a big party where a lot of people show up, I’m bringing happiness and joy to strangers and acquaintances. It doesn’t matter that they came for self-interested reasons. They got to hang out with their friends, and I got to hang out with my friends. That makes me really happy. And after the party is over, I may have turned some of these strangers into my own friends.
These party planning principles are important no matter what event you’re trying to plan. It could be a birthday party, but it could also be a happy hour event, a bachelor party, or even a wedding. I’ve seen people successfully apply these concepts to more serious events like church events and business seminars.
If you take the time to plan and focus on making as many people as possible have a good time, you will always get a big turnout.
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