Birthday Parties: It’s your thang

It’s almost June, which is my favorite time of year because… it’s my birthday. 😀 Since my motto is “Life is meant to be celebrated”, you’d better believe I apply that to birthdays!

So how does an event planner go about planning her own birthday party? Here’s what I do:

Think about what’s important to you – This year, my goals are two-fold: I want to have a super fun pampering time with my ladies and I also want to gather the people who have been supporting me and adding to my life. So there’s a particular theme (this year it’s “princess”) as well as particular people that I’m going to focus my planning around.

Visualize the party – If this sounds repetitive, then good! As I mentioned before, I do this for every event I plan. Even my own. If you come up empty in this department, you may just need some inspiration. Do a search online for the theme or key elements that you’ve decided to focus on. Sites like Pinterest or Google Images are great places to start. (Here’s a link to one of my inspiration boards).

Don’t limit yourself – Let yourself be free to explore “crazy” or “unusual” options. The whole point of a celebration is to create an extraordinary moment, so why base your planning on a standard party template? It just so happens that it would be really challenging to make my two goals work together (i.e. all the people I want to surround myself with don’t necessarily want to come to a princess party). So instead of compromising or trying to make them work in the same space, I’m simply throwing two separate parties. *Boom!* Even more celebration! (One year I had so many different desires that I threw 8 parties!)

The bottom line is, your birthday party should be a representation of who you are and what you’re all about. Start with you and plan outward and you’ll have an awesome event that people enjoy and remember.


What Do You See?

Ever wonder how you can possibly know all the details to consider and remember when putting together an event? Let me give you a really simple way to think about it. I do this consistently with every event I work on. We’ll call it “What do you see?”.

This exercise is great for getting the creative juices flowing as well as for guiding your planning steps. And it’s even better with 2 or 3 people who are contributing to the planning of the event. Now pay close attention..

  1. Grab something for taking notes – you will have lots of notes
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Now mentally walk through every step of your event, writing down what you see
  4. That’s it.

Start from where guests enter your event experience – whether that’s the front door or the parking lot – and visualize the entire thing until the moment they leave. Think about how the 5 senses come into play. What will guests see? hear? smell? touch? taste? And most of all, how will they feel each stop along the way?

If done right, this process should take a little bit of time. That because you will always visualize aspects of the event that haven’t made their way into your plan. By seeing the details and writing them down you can ask important follow up questions, aleviate any potential issues and enact the steps to see those details actually come to life.

Do this at least once and early in the planning process and you’ll be the master of the details!

3 Keys to Planning a Team Building Event

Have you noticed a decline in engagement and productivity in your staff? Are co-worker relationships strained or nonexistent? Perhaps you’re thinking of fixing this by planning a team-building event. Before you begin, here are 3 keys to getting the desired results from your team building event.


1. Understand what you want to accomplish.

All events are not made equal, so before you decide that a wilderness retreat is exactly what your team needs, make sure you have a clear idea of what it is you’re looking to accomplish. Are you trying to improve communication or instill company values? Is the goal to encourage relationships and team mentality or motivate your staff for better performance. Your event will look a lot different depending on the end goal.


2. Understand your team culture.

Even if your employees aren’t functioning as a team, there’s definitely a unique team dynamic in effect. Take the time to assess what that is and how it relates to where you want it to be. Be sure, also, to acknowledge the characteristics that make up your team. What is the age range, physical capabilities, or are there language differences? Is the group highly competitive or are they mainly introverts? Going one step further, how well do the members currently know each other and do they get along? Perhaps the first step in reaching your goal may be as simple as setting aside time for co-workers to learn each other’s names and spend a few minutes not working together. On the other hand, if your team has been together for a while, a refreshing or immersive experience might very well be called for.


3. Ask if an event is what is needed right now.

Some people (points to self) love the idea of an event, regardless of the situation. But there are times when team building objectives are best  met in other ways. For instance, if the management in an organization only communicates with employees in directives, scheduling a full-day ropes course training will not improve company morale. So take an honest look and make the necessary adjustments before plunging into the event planning process.


In the end, companies can’t look at team building events like an ER, ignoring good health practices from day to day and then running in when things take a turn for the worst. Think of them like your yearly checkup. Team building events are most effective when you have a healthy team!

Bring positive change to your team (Interview)



As a manager of a team of employees, how do you address widespread issues of low morale, sub-par productivity or simply lack of communication? These symptoms are often the trigger for strategic conversations that result in the announcing of a Company Team-Building Event. However, many times these events only provide a temporary distraction and then the same symptoms return.


Instead of emphasising an event, why not focus on a strategy that directly addresses the core issues? This month I spoke with Patricia Eslava Vessey, PCC, CHT, ICF credentialed Life & Executive Coach, Clinical Hypnotherapist, NLP Master Practitioner, Trainer, Speaker, Author & Fitness Trainer from Integrity Coaching & Training Systems. Patricia’s proven work demonstrates that personal and team development stems from gaining different perspectives and developing self-management skills.


Renatta Emerson: Tell us what you do at Integrity Coaching & Training Systems does?


Patricia Eslava Vessey:I help individuals and groups achieve their goals, whatever they may be.  Integrity Coaching and Training Systems is a personal development company dedicated to empowering people to succeed in their personal and professional lives.


With expertise in coaching, hypnosis, NLP, personal development, group facilitation and wellness, I specialize in designing and delivering powerful and effective learning opportunities for groups and individuals. This allows them to transform limiting, negative and destructive beliefs and behaviors into the energized, empowered and successful lives they desire.


RE: Tell me a little bit about why a corporate group would want to participate in a group session with you. (Or perhaps the question is: why should they?)


PEV: Teams enjoy working with me because I have been educating, inspiring and motivating people to achieve their goals for over 33 years. I use a variety of powerful and effective transformational tools and techniques from coaching, hypnosis, NLP, energy psychology and others in the many trainings I offer. Whether teaching a fitness class of 15 or a  seminar of 100 people, participants leave feeling “empowered, confident, excited, motivated, refreshed, energized and full of hope” about their future.  The passion, enthusiasm, creativity and commitment I bring to my work as well as a lifetime of expertise in helping people make meaningful life changes enables participants to easily, effortlessly and enjoyably transform their lives.


As a former social worker and manager for over 30 years I bring a wealth of experience, insight and expertise to my work with businesses/corporate groups.  As a leader who created high functioning, cohesive and award-winning teams, I work collaboratively with groups to design an experience that exceeds their expectations.


RE: I imaginethat many people hold on to misconceptions or concerns related to hypnosis. How do you address that with groups?


PEV: Unfortunately over the years the media has popularized several negative myths about hypnosis.  Sometimes people express concern about being made to do things against their will or they fear being out of control during hypnosis. It’s important to me that people feel comfortable with the techniques I use.  To that end I explain how hypnosis works, dispel all myths and answer questions as well as give a brief demonstration so people feel comfortable and know what to expect.


RE: Speaking of what to expect, what can groups expect in a session with Integrity Coaching?


PEV: Unless the group is attending one of my current workshops, which are typically several hours in length, I work with the group prior to the session to establish goals and outcomes including timeframe for the activity.  Depending on the purpose of the session, participants can expect to become enlightened, energized and empowered to make meaningful personal and professional changes and achieve their goals while learning new skills, increasing confidence and having fun. Group sessions are typically experiential and may include individual, small group and large group activities such as team building, skill building training in communication, stress management, strategic planning, goal setting, customer service, time management, leadership skills, wellness/fitness, etc.


RE: So then, after a session with you, what should a team expect? What will they gain?


PEV: I am known for designing effective, engaging and fun group training sessions.  Previous groups who have benefited from my workshops include group sessions on confidence, goal setting, performance, public speaking, stress management, communication skills, team building, weight loss, smoking cessation, time management, fitness/wellness and more. My techniques and experience allow me to customize powerful and effective workshops for any group.


RE: Who would you say are the best types of groups to  benefit from Integrity Coaching & Training Systems?


PEV: Groups whose goal is improved performance and relationships will learn to become more self aware, and how their behavior affects the group.  Those wanting to improve their relationships into cohesive, high performing teams will learn new tools and ways to interact.


RE: Wow. Many thanks to you Patricia for explaining how you help groups reach their goals.


For more information and consultation, please contact Patricia Eslava Vessey by phone or email at or (206) 459-2898


Putting the “build” in Team-building (Interview)

Many companies like the idea of hosting a team building retreat or event for their staff, but often struggle to determine what that event should entail. How do you find something that is creative but not awkward, effective but not cliche, and at the same time will appropriately represent the company’s culture and values?

Enter Team Habitat.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting Tracey Sorenson, Development Manager for the Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity. They offer a unique and powerful team building opportunity that, quite frankly, not enough businesses know about. Here is our conversation:

Renatta Emerson: Can you briefly explain what Team Habitat is?

Tracey Sorenson: Team Habitat is a program for groups who would like to come out for a day of building together on a Habitat for Humanity house.

RE: Why would a group want to participate in Team Habitat?

TS: According to Fresh Tracks, a UK-based people development company, getting people away from their typical environment and together in new, fun, or unusual settings can have immensely powerful consequences. Colleagues who work together in an unfamiliar environment develop a unique bond of shared experience and trust that carries over to the workplace. Team Habitat has the additional benefit of providing not only this, but also the good feeling that comes from helping others.

RE: That all sounds nice, but when I think of building a house it just seems like a lot of work. Is it actually fun?!

TS: I like to tell people that no one has ever NOT had fun coming out to build with Habitat. I think it’s because house building is such a foreign experience to most people, they think it’s something they can’t do. So when they see all they’ve accomplished after a day of building, it’s tremendously gratifying.

RE: What can groups expect in a day with the Team Habitat experience?

TS: We ask groups to arrive at 8:45 am for a safety briefing and assignment of the day’s tasks, then they work until 3:00 or 3:30 pm. With Team Habitat, a host is on site to take pictures, answer questions, and feed them snacks and lunch – so they get a more personalized experience than our individual volunteers.

RE: Is there any kind of prior experience or training needed?

TS: No experience at all is required! Less than 5% of the people who come out to volunteer with us have any prior construction experience. Our construction managers are used to working with brand-new volunteers and are very patient in teaching them everything they need to know.

RE: What kind of groups would you say is the Team Habitat experience for?

TS: Team Habitat is great for any group who is looking to connect with one another in a fun way while giving back to the community.

RE: That sounds like just about anyone then. 

I’m sure people are curious what kind of effect their efforts create. What would you say is the impact that volunteer groups have on Habitat for Humanity’s projects?

TS: Team Habitat is quantifiable in the sense that groups are donating both their time and making a tax-deductible financial contribution. In Tacoma, the cost to build a Habitat home (not including site development and infrastructure costs) is over $70,000. When a Team Habitat group participates, they are doubling the impact they make by not only volunteering their time, but by helping cover the construction costs on the house on which they work.

RE: So, double the impact, team bonding, plus the feel-goods? That’s pretty hard to beat! How can groups get more information and who should they contact?

TS: More information about Team Habitat and testimonials from past participants can be found on our local Team Habitat website. They can also call our office at 253-627-5626 and ask to speak to someone about our Team Habitat program. (It will probably be me!)

RE: That’s fantastic, is there anything you would like to add?

TS: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about Team Habitat, Renatta. Having been on site with more than a dozen groups, I can say without a doubt that they find this to be a worthwhile team-building opportunity. With corporate social responsibility becoming an industry standard, we are increasingly approached by groups looking to make a difference in their community. However, a lot of people still don’t know about this. We appreciate forward-thinking businesses like yours who are helping us get the word out.

RE: Thank you, Tracey for taking the time to share about Team Habitat!

Contact the Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity and find out how your company can participate in Team Habitat. Tell them Renatta Emerson Events sent you!

Team Habitat Website 
Facebook Page
Phone: 253.627.5626

X Marks the Spot: Event Marketing

Every company has a goal or mission to accomplish, whether it’s an immediate need, short-term goal or long-term vision. A well-organized event can be the missing link in your marking plan for reaching those goals. Here’s why:

4 Reasons to utilize Event Marketing

EventMarketingTipsIntersection: Events create the only opportunity for potential customers to directly interact with your company. What’s more, outside of events your current customers can only encounter your company through your customer service department… and that usually happens under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Events allow you to create those opportunities for customers to connect with your company (not just the product or service). Plus, you are able to craft that experience to be positive, fun, and alive with the message of how you want your company to be perceived.
Just as intersections involve two paths, an effective event will engage attendees in two-way communication. It will encourage participation and feedback with which your company can better meet the needs of your customers – or better yet, start meeting the needs of potential customers.


xFactorEventMarketingX Factor: An X factor (no, not the television show) is defined as a hard-to-describe influence or quality, or an important element. Events provide that X-Factor in your business marketing plan. They give your company a personality as far as customers are concerned and enable you to create exciting WOW moments that leave lasting impressions.

Many companies have a mission statement or motto that includes something along the lines of “delighting the customer”. But how often have you actually been delighted by a product or service? And what hope is there for a manufacturer of – let’s say – dish soap, to inspire delight with their product? The odds are slim to none. Yet it’s very easy, when done properly, to delight a crowd of people through an event. Events bring the allure that every business strives for.


MultiplicationEventPlanningTipsMultiplication: In a study by Jack Morton Worldwide* 80% of the consumers surveyed said they are more likely to purchase after attending a company’s live event. That could mean immediate profit return from your event marketing.
The same study reveals that 85% of participants of an event would tell others about the experience. This is huge since word-of-mouth is one of the most creditable forms of advertising you can get. So now you’ve enabled your message to spread further and with greater impact by making use of event marketing.


LoveEventMarketingTipsLove: The last reason to incorporate events  into your marketing plan is… love. A well-designed event engages all of the senses and creates a memorable experience for the attendees. Through those sensory-laden moments you’ve formed an emotional connection between the customer and your company, and emotion is an undeniably powerful motivator.

It’s this emotional connection that will change your brand-buyer relationship to a deeper relationship – which you can now nurture through frequent communication, excellent customer service, etc. It’s that love that will keep those customers coming back to you, referring your brand and singing your praises. To find out how your business can make use of event marketing, email me at

Photo sources: Getty Images.

What to celebrate in March

It’s almost March and I bet you’ll be surprised how many celebrations this month holds (even if some of them are state specific). Behold!

Friday Mar 1 Read Across America Day Observance
Friday Mar 1 St. David’s Day Observance
Saturday Mar 2 Texas Independence Day State holiday
Monday Mar 4 Casimir Pulaski Day State holiday
Tuesday Mar 5 Town Meeting Day Vermont State holiday
Sunday Mar 10 Daylight Saving Time starts Daylight Saving Time
Sunday Mar 17 St. Patrick’s Day Observance
Sunday Mar 17 Evacuation Day State holiday
Monday Mar 18 Evacuation Day observed State holiday
Wednesday Mar 20 March equinox Season
Sunday Mar 24 Palm Sunday Christian
Monday Mar 25 Maryland Day State holiday
Monday Mar 25 Seward’s Day State holiday
Tuesday Mar 26 First day of Passover Jewish holiday
Tuesday Mar 26 Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day State holiday
Thursday Mar 28 Maundy Thursday Christian
Friday Mar 29 Good Friday State holiday
Saturday Mar 30 Holy Saturday Christian
Sunday Mar 31 César Chávez Day State holiday
Sunday Mar 31 Easter Sunday Observance, Christian


And now you know!
Once you’ve decided your party theme, let me work out the planning details.

Party on!

Creating the Right Atmosphere


Photo credit: GBK

Whether your event is a company party for a staff of 12 or a formal appreciation dinner for hundreds, creating the right atmosphere at your event is key.

What Is Atmosphere?

Atmosphere literally refers to the air in any particular place. That means it exists everywhere, whether you think about it or not. The same is true with events and gatherings. Atmosphere will be there, but you want to have a say in what it feels like and how it contributes to the goals of your event. Characteristics which can be perceived by the senses are what make up the atmosphere at a gathering. However, aside from sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures, things like emotions and attitudes can also be sensed and therefore also contribute to the “air” of your event.

Why Is it important?

Have you ever walked into a meeting or a room and immediately felt like you needed to leave that room? The atmosphere in that place directly affected your desire to be there. It might have felt tense or too crowded or too dark, or worse yet perhaps the feel was simply inappropriate for the type of event that was going on. Now imagine staying in that environment for a duration of time. Even if good food and entertainment are provided, you might struggle to have a good time or you may be distracted from the message because the atmosphere is wrong. And just think: if you feel that way, how many others do as well?
If you’re putting on a meeting or event, you want your guests to feel like they want to be there and that it’s easy for them to focus and enjoy themselves.

How do you create the right atmosphere?

I mentioned earlier that atmosphere takes its queue from what the senses perceive, so you want your event space to engage the senses. First and foremost, understand the purpose and goal for the event and find what enhances those things. If you’re working on a meeting that takes place over many hours, choose colors and textures that promote both comfort and alertness. For a decadent evening affair, use lighting and fabrics that invoke the feeling of luxury.
Here are some areas to keep in mind when crafting the right atmosphere for your event:

  • decor
  • music
  • lighting
  • smell (via food, plants or candles)
  • texture/fabric

A final factor…

The last key factor that contributes to atmosphere is people. And while – in certain circumstances – you might be able to control the guest list, in many cases you cannot control individual attitudes. What you can do is identify key people and make them part of your plan. Find the folks who will naturally lead the crowd. Get them on board with the type of atmosphere you are trying to create. Then let them do their thing.

What are some instances of a bad atmosphere that you’ve encountered? How did it affect your experience at that event?

Bigger budgets aren’t always the answer

This story on the radio this morning totally caught my attention:

GSA Chief Resigns Over Extravagant Spending


And while I was listening to the brief segment, and again when reading this news article, I was dumbfounded by what seemed to be an utter lack of common sense on the part of the convention organizers. Why in the world would an agency make $50 per plate breakfasts and a clown entertainer a part of the convention.

But then a thought occurred to me. How many event planners (or event just casual party throwers) look at a budget in front of them and imagine “Oh, what I would do with an unlimited budget”? Generally speaking, we often have grander ideas than our pocketbooks can carry and wish that we could to more… bigger… better. If only that pesky budget wasn’t holding us back.

Big time event planners and event planning agencies wouldn’t event bat an eyelash at the $820K that this former GSA (General Services Administration) Chief helped spend. But to that planning team I can imagine that $75,000/day budget was a dream come true. It was enough to put a sparkle in their eyes and let their imaginations run wild, a chance to go all out and provide something “over-the-top” – an opportunity which any planner would love to have.

So, while I’m not downplaying the blatant poor judgement that was used on this 2010 event, I do wonder how easily I – for instance – could lose my head if faced with abundant resources. How far would I go if the Big Bad Budget was not around…?

3 Tips for planning theme parties


Theme parties can be a blast to plan or attend. But simply slapping a theme on your party doesn’t guarantee its success. I’ve been to some terrific theme events as well as some that left much to be desired.

Last weekend I attended a theme birthday party done right. Despite my absolute unfamiliarity with the theme on top of the mandatory costume requirement, I had a great time (along with everyone else there, as far as I could tell).

So how do you plan a great theme party? Here are a few tips I came away with:

#1 – Do it big

The theme of the event needs to be obvious from the first moment your guests encounter it. That means the invitation. Express your theme either in words or through the look and feel of your invitation (or both). If you want guests to wear costumes, say so.

This leads to the moments guests step into the event. Make your event’s theme evident through your decor. Decorate walls and furniture (fabrics are a great way to do this) and use props if you can. The goal is to transform your venue into the setting where your theme takes place – be it real, fictional or historical.

#2 – Remember the details

Now that you’ve transported your guests to your desired location, the way to keep them there is through the details. What kind of food makes sense to serve? What about music that ties in? Maybe you have standard party activities, but give them names that go along with the theme. Once you introduce them as such your guests will follow suit.

#3 – Take it easy

Here’s where the balance comes in. Have fun and let your guests have fun. Don’t get uptight if a guest shows up out of costume or if theme lingo isn’t catching on quite like you’d hoped. You can’t force it down their throats. Even if you could, you’d no longer be having fun (which means your guests probably aren’t either).

If you’ve given an appropriate amount of attention to creating the big picture of your theme and adding some creative details it should be easy for your guests to get into the spirit and have a good time.

Here are some pics from a Tiki themed beach party I threw a few years ago.

tiki_theme_EventCouple TikiTheme_EventCouple TikiThemeParty-Limbo TikiThemePartyFun

I’d love to see pictures from a theme party you’ve hosted or attended.