Maximize Meetings with Technology

Susan Abrams

Advice from Susan Warren Abrams
Director of Business Development, East
                                Iml, Global Meeting and Event Solutions Company

We’ve all left large (100+ people) meetings scratching our heads, wondering what was accomplished.  A “Dilbertesque” waste of resources does little to boost morale.  The cost of people, production, and perhaps travel adds up.  Attendees have work “to do” lists, sacrifice family time, and “just want a little respect.”  People expect and deserve positive meeting experiences.

Successful meetings require a focus on the basics.  Then, after core components of the meeting are established, consider improving audience participation and retention by matching meeting goals with technical support.

Meeting Plan Basics:

  1. Determine the meeting purpose with clear attainable goals.
  2. Set a concise agenda.  Send the agenda to participants with backup material at least one week prior to the meeting.
  3. Know what attendees need to learn and what needs to be learned from attendees.  Plan how that will be accomplished.
  4. Involve participants in the process.
  5. Mix it up.  Schedule time for structured conversation and unstructured activities.
  6. Stay on track of time.
  7. Get feedback.
  8. Follow through on meeting action steps.

Technical support might further accomplish meeting goals.  Today there are a variety of hand held devices and APPs for meetings that enable participants to text answers, questions, and new ideas.  Texts can be shared, either confidentially or with the writer’s name included.  For participants who have innovative ideas and prefer not to speak in a microphone, texting captures their thoughts – a valuable advantage.

For those who are comfortable using microphones, some devices have built-in microphones that enable people to talk to the group without waiting for or walking to the nearest microphone.  Some devices have a timer so participants get equal talking time.  Unusually outspoken attendees are prevented from monopolizing the conversation.

Susan Warren Abrams, Director of Business Development, East, at iml, knows firsthand how a hand held device or APP can significantly improve audience retention and participation.  Susan’s company, iml, provides a variety of hand held devices and APPS that enable meeting planners to find the best device or APP fit for particular meeting goals.

Susan knows that if attendees are participating, they are more likely to pay attention.  If for example a speaker asks questions to audience members, and audience members can immediately respond with hand held devices, the audience is likely to remain alert.  And, if audience members are handed a device to use at the meeting, they are likely to use it (as opposed to asking participants to use their smart phones).  Rather than getting talked at, attendees are part of the conversation.  They’re engaged and leave remembering what they’ve heard.  They feel a sense of accomplishment.

Incorporating the best fit technology, Susan emphasizes, requires asking, “What is your measure of meeting success?”  Establishing the meeting goal is critical – as well as staying within budget and attendance.  For example, do you want to hear others’ opinions about a project?  Are you interested in gathering information about attendees’ greatest challenges?  Can you improve communication by asking for feedback?  Are you managing a focus group and want open-ended or structured responses?  In short, what information do you want to gain, and what is the most efficient way to get it?

When deciding on the best device or APP, Susan cautions that it’s important to know if the meeting venue is set up for “simultaneous use,” for all attendees to be on Wi-Fi at the same time.  Ask the venue for the brand name of their Wi-Fi and the model number for the routers.  Test on site.  Not all venues are equipped for all devices.  Some devices and APPs do not require a lot of Wi-Fi; some do.  Additional Wi-Fi might be needed.  Wi-Fi capacity affects the kind of device or APP choice, as well as budget considerations.

Susan also recommends finding out if the meeting attendees are comfortable using technology.  Will the participants appreciate the benefits or feel frustrated by unfamiliar demands?  The need for efficiency and inclusion needs to be weighed with audience acceptance.

Meetings, like all events, present opportunities.  Opportunities are maximized with optimal planning and technology.  When technology complements how communication is shared, the organization and attendees benefit. “Dilberts” disappear.  Attendees feel validated.  Management conveys important information and gets valuable feedback.

Susan says, The next time you attend a meeting, ask yourself:

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you accomplish?
  • What did you do?
  • If attendee participation was not aided by hand held devices or Apps, would that technology have improved the experience?

Consider technical possibilities.  Thank you, Susan Warren Abrams!

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Technology Improves Events

Cecil Dorman, VP Business Development, AVFX, Inc.

Cecil Dorman
VP Business Development
AVFX, Inc.

There’s never been a better time to plan an event – thanks in part to technology!  Strategically incorporated technology improves events.  Applying the best “tools” improves marketing, enhances day of event communication needs, and simplifies follow-up.  For example, a conference or fundraiser website may feature event details and allow easy communication, including registration.  A wedding website raises the excitement level and provides useful details.  Promotion can be enhanced by creative use of social media.  An app that includes event handouts keeps attendees organized.  At the end of a conference, a survey can be sent to attendees to assess success.  A nonprofit may choose to hire a service that provides online and at event support for auctions, such as Bidding for Good.

To stay ahead of the curve on day-of-event technology, I sat down and talked with Cecil Dorman, VP of Business Development for AVFX, Inc, an AV staging firm offering reliable audio, video, and lighting services.

Debbie Good Miller, Good Celebrations, LLC:  When I was a Development Director for a nonprofit organization, we hired AVFX to provide the sound system and visual effects for a Gala Celebration.  AVFX service was outstanding.  The audience enjoyed a flawless flow of on-schedule information.  While brief speeches were interspersed with video clips and music, I was grateful that we had access to current technology and competent professionals who knew how to seamlessly use it.

Cecil, In this age of TEDX Talks, Flash Mobs, and virtual meetings, the event experience has changed dramatically.  Many event planners rely on technical service providers.  Getting the message out at an event is critical, and AVFX is a key player in the industry.  What are a few of the “meat and potatoes” kinds of technology that work as a cornerstone to an event?  What new services are now available in the marketplace?

Cecil Dorman: This may sound strange, but wireless technology. Wireless is surely “meat and potatoes,” but you still see a lot of cables on stage. Lighting is always key to events; there are great effects with robotics and LED technology. Sound is critical, and there are great improvements in smaller and higher quality systems. Video projection used as a lighting effect is another interesting way to enhance audience experience.

A new approach to look for is projection mapping. This technique uses one projector to take multiple inputs and project the images onto an irregular surface. Imagine three videos playing on three sides of a cube. With software in the projector and on your computer you can crop your imagery to project on an interesting shape.

At the end of the day, a well-rehearsed event can deliver a lot of value without a lot of “bells & whistles.”

Debbie Good Miller:  That’s a good point.  There’s no substitute for rehearsals.  Events benefit, too, from technology improvements, cutting edge technology, and how best to apply each.

The design and goal of the event should drive the technology.  Oftentimes event planners have definite ideas for how to convey branding throughout the event.  Can you think of a time when a technical expert listened to an event planner’s vision, suggested technology that was not originally included in the request for services, and by incorporating the technical expert’s ideas, the event was greatly enhanced?

Cecil Dorman: Great events result from great collaboration, and planners should include their vendors as early as possible. A/V is often thought of last after the décor and food. I think many planners base their A/V decisions on price without engaging the vendor and asking for input. We have a suggestion we champion called Partner/Vendor Approach. We encourage our clients to select the best partners and tell them to work together, develop great plans, and don’t mark up each other’s services.

Debbie Good Miller:  If someone is planning an event and reaching out to you for the first time, what questions should they be asking a technology service provider?  How can they be reassured that the technicians care about presentation detail, quality, and high level of collaboration?

Cecil Dorman:  I think planners can tell when someone is sincere. Probably the main question to ask yourself is, “Will they value your business?” Asking for references is great, but ask those references how it was to work with them. Listen for real issues and creative solutions.

Debbie Good Miller: Great advice.  That level of questioning can be applied to all vendors.  Thank you, Cecil for your valuable insight and helpful recommendations.  Your guidance enables all to ask the best questions and attain the most effective technology.  Technology plays a key role in day-of-event production.  Technology improves events.

Improve your next event with Cecil’s suggestions.

Good Celebrations, LLC

Life is short.  Celebrate!

What is the #1 Ingredient of a GREAT Party?

Turn an event into a CELEBRATION!  Kupah James and Emily Lalone share their expertise.

kupah james 6 21 13Kupah James, KLASS Universal Entertainment

Emily Lalone 1

Emily Lalone, Lalone Marketing

All party elements are critical, however music sets the tone.  An inspiring DJ or bandleader brings guests from whatever they’re focused on at the time to a party state of mind.  The #1 party ingredient: hands down – music.

Are you wondering how to find the right music for your next event?  I sat down with Kupah James of KLASS Universal Entertainment and Emily Lalone, Principal of Lalone Marketing, to find out.  Kupah James has performed for Paul Pierce, Bob Kraft, and Donald Trump, as well as being a regular host at Boston’s Taj Hotel, the Revere Hotel, and the Langham Hotel.  Prior to launching Lalone Marketing, Emily Lalone handled public relations and marketing for Bryan Rafanelli.

Debbie Good Miller, Good Celebrations, LLC: Kupah and Emily, in your respective careers you both have experience taking some of Boston’s best parties to the next level.  Kupah, you’ve earned a reputation for connecting with the room and rocking it.  How do you deliver better than expected results each time?

Kupah James, KLASS Universal Entertainment: KLASS Universal Entertainment provides the best in-room experience for guests because we treat every event like an audition. Each event presents an opportunity for my team to demonstrate our unparalleled level of fun and interactivity.  Also, I am a firm believer in over-delivering…

Debbie Good Miller: Kupah, customers and guests must appreciate your team’s demonstration of an “unparalleled level of fun and interactivity”!

Emily, you’ve worked with top talent and a discerning customer base.  What is the best way for people to begin looking for an entertainment company that ascribes to Kupah’s philosophy?  How does one attain the best music for a corporate event, nonprofit fundraiser, wedding, mitzvah, or milestone celebration?

Emily Lalone, Lalone Marketing: Music and lighting are the two make-it-or-break-it elements to set the right mood at an event. Never underestimate the power of the right music. Word-of-mouth and the Internet are your two best friends when starting your search. Talk with your friends/peers, get their recommendations, and then scour websites. 90% of the time—as with KLASS Universal Entertainment’s website—you can watch live video of the DJ/band in action. Also, choose an entertainment partner who is multi-faceted. Someone who can perfectly execute a mitzvah, a wedding, a corporate event… you name it. It will make your job that much easier next time when you only have to make one call to book talent you know and trust.

Debbie Good Miller: Good idea – knowing reliably good talent for any event.  When searching, however, how do you discover if an entertainment specialist is not a good match for your event?

Kupah James: Each member of KLASS Universal Entrainment is professionally trained and personally gifted. I know each and every member of my team has the ability to accommodate any audience. It’s something I’m quite proud of.  From mitzvahs to proms to cultural weddings to corporate celebrations, my DJs use their musicality to create an ultimate party experience, every time.

Emily Lalone: I always want to meet with a vendor before the event. I want to shake their hand and hear their voice. In the meeting, I want someone who presents professionally and who answers my questions well. (*I always ask a lot of questions!) Don’t be afraid to set up an in-person meeting with an entertainer, especially if you’ve never met them before. Chemistry—especially an entertainer—is key. You want to surround yourself with a family of vendors who make you feel comfortable and confidant. Long story short, I recommended getting to ‘know’ your entertainer and then trusting your gut.

Debbie Good Miller: I agree; it’s critical to meet vendors in person.  Even if I recommend a vendor, it’s important that the client and vendor meet to establish if it’s a good match.  One question to ask during that meeting is, “How does party timing influence your decisions throughout the party?”  How would you answer that question?

Kupah James: KLASS Universal Entertainment uses the provided Event Timeline as a loose guideline. Meaning, we know there are always changes once an event gets underway. That’s why we roll with the punches and work with the planner, the caterer, the venue personnel—so we achieve the perfect party every time.

Emily Lalone: I come from the “planner” side of things and know every successful event comes with an Event Timeline. That being said, certain things cannot be controlled—a Best Man speech can go too long, rain can force an event to start later than expected, the host can decide to extend the party until midnight. Events are ever-changing entities. That’s why it is very important to choose vendors who perform well under pressure. You want an entertainer who, onsite, is three-steps ahead of the party, sensing the crowd, and making adjustments in-the-moment so the “timing” of the event goes unnoticed by guests.

Debbie Good Miller: So true.  It’s essential to have a plan, and plans shift.  If the entertainment specialist can’t read the cues or address unexpected circumstances, the event may be less than spectacular.  To avoid other pitfalls, what are the 3 most important questions a consumer should ask an entertainment specialist?

Kupah James: I recommend consumers think in terms of the past, the present, and the future. The three most important questions I think should be asked of a DJ are:

1. How did they start DJing?

2. Why do they still DJ (ie: What motivates them)? 

3. What are their goals as a DJ?  

…And I’d even add a fourth question: What do they use for equipment. (All kidding aside, the equipment a DJ uses actually says a lot about them.)

Emily Lalone: In keeping with Kupah’s “past, present, future” theme… I recommend consumers ask:

1. Can I speak with three past (*but recent) clients?

2. What are you loving right now that is “new” in the industry?

3. Is there an event you’re DJing soon so I can stop by to see you in action?

Debbie Good Miller: All good ideas!  What are the most common mistakes that consumers make?

Kupah James: There are definitely a few common mistakes:

First is booking the DJ last—the DJ should be one of the first vendors you book because our calendars book many months in advance.

Second is requesting a sample of music—check out a website first for video clips and playlists.

Third is not getting referrals—I always want a new customer to talk with my existing clients, who are my biggest cheerleaders.

Last is that many DJs are not public speakers—remember that some events do require both a DJ and a designated Emcee.

Emily Lalone: Many consumers don’t ask enough questions up front. On the first phone call or at the first in-person meeting, ask all the questions you know you’ll end up asking later on:

Ask for their full range of services—you might be pleasantly surprised that a DJ offers more diverse services (rentals, videography, etc.).  

Ask for pricing—it’s always best to iron this out in the beginning if the budget won’t support the cost of the DJ.

And, of course, always ask for referrals—word-of-mouth is essential.

Debbie Good Miller: Thank you – important considerations.  When you’ve done the due diligence, hired an entertainment specialist, and the event is in progress, how do you know when you’ve succeeded in creating the ultimate party mood?

Kupah James: I know a party is in full-swing when the initially “shy” guests are up and dancing, children and adults are sharing the same dance floor, the lights are bright, people forget what’s going on outside of those four walls… that’s when I know the party—and the music—are perfect.

Emily Lalone: I have to echo Kupah here. It truly is a magical feeling as a planner to stand back—with almost a birds-eye view of the event—and see chairs strewn about with no one in them, a packed dance floor, the clients with huge smiles on their faces… It’s this feeling of celebration, of happiness, that rolls off the guests. And if you’ve got the right DJ—like Kupah—who thrives at creating that kind of atmosphere, you’ve got yourself one heck of a successful party.

Debbie Good Miller: There’s nothing as exhilarating as seeing empty chairs and a crowded dance floor!  A party is a CELEBRATION when the entertainment drives the atmosphere to unexpected heights.  Music is the #1 party ingredient.  Thanks to Kupah and Emily’s input, finding a great entertainment fit for your next event just got easier.  Follow Kupah and Emily’s expert advice—lead the way to celebration success.

Life is short.  Celebrate!

3 Best Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day

father's day hearts

1. Honor – Honor your dad.

If you have a dad, arrange a time to get together.  If you can’t be together on Father’s Day, create your Father’s Day.  If neither is possible, find a way to honor your dad: call; send a card, gift, or contribution in his name.

2. Support – If you don’t have a dad, reach out to a child who doesn’t have a dad.

If you don’t have a dad, locate an organization where your skills can be matched with a child’s needs.  Perhaps you might enjoy tutoring, reading, throwing a ball, or playing board games.  Donate to an organization that benefits children.

3. Succeed – If you’re a dad or granddad, be the best you can be.

If you’re a dad or granddad, you know the challenges and rewards.  Like any endeavor, guidance helps.  What parenting did you get that you want to emulate or tweak?

Bruce Feiler, New York Times columnist about family life and author of 6 consecutive New York Times best sellers, has written a book, “The Secrets of Happy Families,” that explores ways to attain sought after family goals.

John D. Spooner, accomplished investment advisor and writer, wrote, “No One Ever Told Us That” for his grandchildren and yours.  If your kids are high school graduate age or older, they’ll benefit from Spooner’s valuable life lessons.

Dave Barry, noted humorist and New York Times best-selling author, wrote “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months with Tools You Probably Have Around the Home.”  Dads and Granddads know you can’t be in the business of parenting without a sense of humor.

Discover advice that resonates for you.  It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel.

My dad liked:

“If” – Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Happy Father’s Day!

Life is short.  Celebrate!


Piece of Cake Planning for Children’s Birthday Parties

Cake by Party FavorsCake by Party Favors

Kiss costly party rental rooms good-bye.  “Just say no” to the bounce house.  Bring birthday parties back home.  Children’s birthday parties don’t have to be elaborate, expensive, or the neighborhood party du jour.  Kids just want to have fun.

Out-of-house party expenses can be transferred into the college fund.  And, home party planning strengthens parent and child relationships.  Parents teach how to brainstorm, listen, respect limits, gain flexibility, and maintain a sense of humor.  Party planning is a “scrimmage” for future joint decision making.  When parents and children find a comfortable way to negotiate birthday party options, they’re better prepared to discuss more challenging issues in-between birthdays.

Together decisions can be reached regarding the theme, food/cake, games, and favors.  Parents and children can discuss the sequence of events, expectations (i.e. saying thank you for each gift), and (if at least elementary school age) the guest list.

A good practice for preschoolers is to invite the number of children equal to the age of the birthday child plus one.  This eliminates potential chaotic “mosh pit” possibilities.

Invitations can be sent electronically or by snail mail to guests (or c/o parents of guests).  To avoid hurt feelings, do not deliver invitations at school in front of other children.  For an inclusive celebration ask the school if it’s ok to arrange to bring a snack for the class in honor of the birthday child.

Numerous thoughtful ideas for birthday party themes, games, food options, favors, and decorations are included in two books, “The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book,” by Meredith Brokaw (Tom Brokaw’s wife) and Annie Gilbar, and “The Penny Whistle Party Planner,” by Meredith Brokaw and Annie Gilbar.  The Penny Whistle party books feature easy “business plans” for successful children’s birthday parties.

Simple party tips learned from “The Penny Whistle Party Planner and first-hand experience:

1. Enlist helpers – friends, family, or other parents.  Tell them how they can help.  For example, “Please collect coats and hang them in the closet,” or “Please help with the basketball throw by catching the ball after a child takes a shot, and throwing it back to the next player.”

2. Include siblings.  Let them invite a friend.  If they’re old enough they can help.

3. Keep the party short and tight.  One and a half to two hours is plenty.  Inform parents of the pick-up time.  Have more games planned than you need.  Create contingency plans.  If a game isn’t getting “lift off,” and kids are less than enthusiastic, go to the next idea.  If it’s apparent that kids need a little free time without structure, follow their lead.

4. Keep activities age appropriate, and begin the party with low-key plans (including something for guests to do as they arrive).  Build to more energetic games in the middle of the party, and have a cool down phase at the end (perhaps serving food/cake).

5. Carry a whistle for possible difficulty getting guests’ attention.  (I’ve used it once.)  Kids stop talking and listen.

6. Don’t let a friend or relative dress in a three layer costume with a paper mache head (such as a Transformer outfit) in 90 degree weather.

7. Do not host two birthday parties in one day – especially if one is an afternoon backyard Pirate Party for 5 year-olds, followed that evening by a Murder Mystery Surprise Party for adults.

8. When hosting a Breakfast Bowl Soccer Birthday Party at 8:00 am serve breakfast and coffee to the parents.

9. If your child chooses to show SNL highlights at the party, preview it first.

10. Take photographs – lots!

Birthday parties are like athletic events.  Planning is necessary, and games are unpredictable.  Keep your eye on the ball.  The goal is celebrating a child’s birthday.  Stay open to improvisational moments.  Often it’s the unexpected situations that make a party memorable.

Let the good times roll!  Bounce back to an old fashioned birthday party.  Leap forward with fun.  Happy Birthday!

Life is short.  Celebrate!

10 Best and the Worst Last Minute Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Mother's Day Countdown: For All of the "Mothers" in Your Life

Mother’s Day Countdown: For All of the “Mothers” in Your Life

If you’re down to the Mother’s Day gift buying wire, there’s hope.  Options abound.  And, chances are good that your mom’s not hard to please.   We’re talking about the woman who still has your handprint/footprint paintings, clay pots, and potholders.  She “liked” you before Facebook.

Dispel the rumors that Mother’s Day is a greeting card, florist, and shopping mall conspiracy.  Jump in, and bring a smile to your mom’s face.  These ideas apply for gifts to all of the “Mothers” in your life.  Here are some Best Gift options:

1. Gift Basket

2. Personalized Photo Gifts (mugs, mouse pads, phone cases, photo books, canvas bags, ornaments, coasters, scarves, blankets, etc.) – a little late (will arrive 5 – 11 days after ordering).  Inform mom of upcoming surprise.

3. Flowers

4. E-Card or Snail Mail Card

5. Handmade Gift

6. Netflix

7. Cookies

8. Custom Made – collect gifts with your mom’s interests in mind.  For example one gift might include a mani/pedi gift certificate, magazine that she might not ordinarily buy for herself, and chocolate.  Another mom might enjoy a canoe rental gift certificate and water bottle.  If your mom is a gardener, perhaps she would appreciate new garden gloves, a sun hat, and knee pad.  If your mom likes to explore, consider giving a certificate for a tour or ticket for transportation.  If you can provide expertise, such as auto repair, technical assistance, or design that she needs, perhaps you could offer assistance.

9. Tickets to a concert, play, or dance performance

10. TIME – best for last.  All your mom really wants is time with you and a hug.

Worst possible Mother’s Day Gifts: anything that’s relevant to the tasks that she might undertake for others, such as a mop or mixing bowl – unless she makes a specific request.  Also avoid giving anything that you would give to her to borrow – forgetaboutit.

Though your mom might have said, “No matter what, I’ll always love you,” use discretion when choosing a Mother’s Day gift.  Worst case scenario; make her a handprint/footprint painting, clay pot, or potholder.  Or, “thank you” will suffice.

Life is short.  Celebrate!


Table Talk – Expert Tips for Choosing the Best Table Linens


Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Eileen Saliba, owner of Table Toppers in Newton, MA.  Table Toppers is a table linen rental service with an inventory of linens for tables of every size, shape and occasion.  They feature an array of high quality sophisticated, whimsical, casual, and exotic fabrics.  If a particular table cloth is not available, Table Toppers can source the fabric and custom manufacture the cloth.

When I toured the Table Topper facility, it was like walking into a backstage costume extravaganza.  Events are theatrical, and Table Toppers had fabric colors, textures, and patterns to “costume” tables for every imaginable event – polka dots, plaids, stripes, solids, florals, embroidered taffetas, cottons, sheers…

Their inventory is extensive, and Eileen Saliba and the team at TT know how to help others choose the best table linens for each occasion.  Given Eileen’s expertise and experience, it was particularly beneficial to get her advice.  Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:


Debbie:  Why should a host be concerned about the choice of table linens?

Eileen: Table linens are an important element in the overall design of an event.  Dining table linens are the backdrop for the china, flowers/centerpiece, flatware, glassware, and any other table items.  When you think about designing your room, it’s important to remember that there are more than dining tables to consider.  For example, a buffet or place card table will reveal more of the table linen than a table set for dining because there are no chairs in front of the table to block the visual.  Introduce a complementary fabric on these “non-dining” tables.  Mix up the patterns and design the room to personalize your look. 

There are so many choices today. It’s possible to be effective with cost savings and not sacrifice the look.  There are options for every taste, theme, and budget.   

Debbie:  What are the most important considerations when choosing table linens?

Eileen:  Here are 3 basic tips:

Do the math.  What are the table measurements: width, length, and height Do you want table linens that reach the floor?  How many tables will be used?  If utility tables are needed be sure to include them.  Don’t forget tables for the bar, storage for the bar, clearing tables for the wait staff, place cards, cake, registration, coat check, etc. 

Establish the look and feel of the event.  For example, do you want an elegant, understated look appropriate for a 50 person dinner party, honoring a colleague who is retiring from a corporation?  Do you want a fun-loving atmosphere with bright colors and interesting design, reflecting the high energy of a family member for his birthday?  Are you searching for contemporary, traditional, or romantic?  What is the setting?  What are the other design elements (flowers/centerpiece, china, flatware, etc.)?  Do you want to cover the entire table or do you want to use runners or placemats to feature a fine wood farm table or glass tabletop?  Is the room getting optimal lighting for the desired mood?  Months before an event, when all of the table elements (linens, centerpieces, china, flatware, lighting, etc.) have been chosen, set a sample table.  If changes are needed, there’s time to make alternative arrangements. 

Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Even with the most detailed planning sometimes there’s an event “curve ball.”  For example, once just before guests were due to arrive, a centerpiece fell on the table, and water poured all over the linen.  Organizers were prepared.  They had a hair dryer on hand to quickly dry the fabric.  Another time, a guest at a party was coincidently dressed in the same fabric as the table linen.  Fortunately, she had a sense of humor and didn’t mistake her dress for her napkin.  In short, if all tables and planning details are well covered, and the host likes hosting, guests will have a good time.

Debbie:  I can tell that you enjoy helping people choose table linens.  Your enthusiasm must make the process fun.

Eileen:  I like opportunities to be creative, resourceful, and supportive.  We frequently collaborate with the host, event planner, florist, lighting, and rental services.  Like any artistic endeavor, all elements of the whole complement each other.  Each event brings new challenges.  Our staff enjoys accommodating our customers’ requests.  One customer requested that we make party hats for dogs that matched the napkins for a doggie party.  We became milliners.  The hats were custom made, each one uniquely styled and shipped off to the event.  It’s unclear if the dogs were as delighted as the appreciative host. 


Eileen provides a wonderful service for people who attend a wide variety of events.  Thanks to Eileen’s input, more hosts choose wisely by doing the math, establishing the look and feel of the event, and not sweating the small stuff.  Enjoy choosing table linens for your next celebration!

Life is short.  Celebrate!

Good Celebrations, LLC

117th Boston Marathon Heartbreak

Every Patriot’s Day thousands of dedicated runners converge from all parts of the world to participate in the Boston Marathon.  They train vigorously to achieve a personal goal or enable a charity to reach theirs.

Patriot’s Day embodies what’s best about Boston.  Most businesses and schools are closed.  It’s a rite of Spring Holiday.  Red Sox play ball at 11:00 am.  Historical re-enactments take place throughout the City and beyond.  Runners line up at the crack of dawn at the Boston Marathon starting line in Hopkinton.  Live music and impromptu barbecue parties line the Marathon route.  Throughout there’s a spirit of joy and inspiration.

My first date with my husband was on Patriot’s Day.  He literally swept me off my feet. After enjoying a French restaurant lunch, Red Sox game, and then cheering for Marathon runners, he carried me into a local bar.  I don’t know what was in that drink, but we’ve been together ever since.

No doubt others have Patriot’s Day family stories, too.  Yesterday’s Patriot’s Day Boston Marathon 26.2 mile run ended at the finish line in tragedy.  The horrendous blasts injured and killed loved ones.  Heartfelt condolences to their family and friends. Boston mourns.  It’s hard to believe.  What could possibly motivate any person(s) to orchestrate such a ruthless attack?

The response from the Boston police, FBI, fire department, medical community, and volunteers is exemplary.  With time Boston will become even stronger and Patriot’s Day will prevail.  Many are wondering if there is anything they can do.  At present, here are a few options:

Inform family and friends that you are safe and well: Red Cross Safe and Well 

If you have information about someone or you’re looking for someone after the disaster  check: Google Person Finder

Mayor’s Hotline for families of victims: 617-635-4500

Boston Police Hotline for witnesses who may have information: 800-494-8477

If you would like to offer a place to stay for marathoners who are stranded in Boston: I have a place to stay

If you are a marathoner stranded in Boston and need a place to stay: Need a place to stay

The Red Cross does not need blood at this time.  You can, however, schedule a time in the future to donate blood: Red Cross

If anyone has further information about supportive resources please let us know.  Many thanks.

Reach out to your loved ones.

Reach Out to Your Roots – Plan a Phenomenal Family Reunion


Family Reunions are a fun way for children to learn about their relatives, ancestors and themselves.  Reunions strengthen adult relationships and welcome new members.  All can appreciate sharing family stories, creating and maintaining family traditions, celebrating success and supporting adversity.  All benefit from Family Reunions that help shape family culture.  By taking a step by step approach, Family Reunion planning can be fun – no matter how complicated the family.

Use a number of free tools at your disposal to speed and streamline organization.  E-mails and texting allow quick communication.  Keeping in touch is easy – before, during, and after the Reunion.  A simple survey to ascertain interest, location preferences, and level of participation can be created on  If meetings are needed, each person’s availability can be captured with  Family members unable to meet for planning meetings in person can participate via  Websites can be created on or other website publishing platform.  Keeping track of details is easy with Excel spreadsheets.  Of course, if you’re more comfortable communicating via phone and snail mail, that works too.

Planning is simplified by determining a strategy.  What do you want to accomplish at your Family Reunion?  What activities might enable you to reach your goal?  For example, your goal might be to provide opportunities for all generations to get acquainted and re-acquainted.  You might be hoping to host the Reunion at a specific resort, camp grounds, or private home.  Perhaps you visualize singing around a campfire; playing ping pong, tennis, charades, and chess; or participating in a scavenger hunt.  Maybe you have family members with particular skills who would be willing to teach, perform, or display their expertise.  You might want to organize a family quiz game with multiple choice answers involving family history, geography, and current events.  Is there a relative who might be interested in compiling a Family Scrapbook?  Write your ideas in a concise, easy to read list for others’ input.

When you have a list of possible activities, as well as suggestions for the look, sound, and feel of your Family Reunion, share your idea list with a few influential family members.  Get their reactions.  If you think there’s sufficient interest, here are some planning ideas:

Approximately one year in advance send family members a survey. provides a free web-based version of its survey design software.  The survey should provide information about interested participants and details pertaining to the distance, cost, and time they are willing to commit.  Questions can be tailored to your Family Reunion.  Examples include:

Are you interested in attending a family reunion?  If so:

  1. What weekends of the year are most convenient; what weekends are you unavailable? Refer to for those who are computer savvy and by snail mail for those who are not.

  2. How far are you willing to travel?  Provide examples, such as Washington, DC; Bridgton, Maine; San Francisco, California; Lenox, MA; and Cape Cod, MA.

  3. Do you have ideas for a specific fun location?  If so, please provide contact information (name of place, city, state, and website).

  4. Do you have a preference for a camping trip, luxury vacation, or something in-between?  Or do you prefer a local gathering at someone’s home?

  • Ask participants to respond to you by a specific date.

When decisions regarding the Family Reunion date and place are established, here are some next steps to assure a smooth launch:

  1. Delegate!  Ask reliable family members to take charge of committees, including contact information research, invitations, maps and directions, website or newsletter creation, food preparation and restaurant or caterer reservations, park permits, activities and entertainment, decorations, favors such as T-shirts and/or commemorative scrap books, welcoming, and clean-up/exiting activities.

  2. Be sensitive to those whose budgets are more conservative and those who cannot travel distances.3. Plan daily agendas with options for participation and down time.  Remember preferences of people of different ages and abilities.  Carve out time and a structure for gathering family stories.  For example, there could be a story telling time while relatives sit by a campfire.

  3. Create family traditions that are a good fit for your family.  Some might enjoy one or more of the following activities: sing-a-longs, talent shows, board games, indoor and outdoor sports, charades, hikes, bike rides, craft activities, storytelling, magic shows, volunteer activity, scavenger hunt, speed get to know you (same structure as speed dating with questions for getting to know someone), ice breaker activities for the beginning of the reunion, and good-bye activities for the end.

  4. After the Reunion: consider surveying participants to learn how to improve the next Reunion and begin to plan when and where to host another.  Create a plan for staying in touch, following through on ideas generated at the Reunion (examples: family website, blog, family scrapbook, group project, etc.).  Once you’ve established a “template,” planning future Family Reunions is easier.

Some useful tools available for free online:

Survey site:

Scheduling site:

Visual phone conversation site:

Website creation site:

Spreadsheets: Microsoft Excel

Reunions Magazine:

Family Reunion Website:

Each family has a unique culture.  You can take the lead to further shape yours.  You don’t have to wait for a wedding or funeral.  Plant the seeds now for a fabulous custom made Phenomenal Family Reunion.  Reach out to your roots.  Let the planning begin!

Life is short.  Celebrate!   

“One of the Worst Planned Events in Boston Party History”

On March 7th, The Boston Business Journal reported that, “The Restoration Hardware launch party shut down by police called ‘one of the worst planned events in Boston party history.'”  When the number of guests exceeded the temporary occupancy permit 2,000 person capacity by 300 to 400 people, the Boston police department shut down the party early.

The Takeaways:

1.  RSVP and Door management is critical – especially when a party features exceptional entertainment, food, beverages, and company, planned by one of the country’s most famous, reliable, and inventive party planners, Rafanelli Events.

2.  Post party acknowledgement and outreach helps.  Restoration Hardware might consider reaching out to guests.  Idea: personal letter apology from the Restoration Hardware CEO “restoring” his brand.  And, perhaps in keeping with Daylight Savings Time, announce that Restoration Hardware is springing forward with exciting home furnishings, spring cleaning products, and a renewed sense of time and space.  There’s a fine line between respecting the customer and using humor.  Finding the right sweet spot can make a difference in healthy customer relations.

3.  What worked at the party?  Is it possible to get testimonials from those who enjoyed the evening despite the unfortunate early ending?

The silver lining: Restoration Hardware can use this unexpected press as an opportunity.  All who plan parties benefit, too.