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Planning A Successful Post-Prom, Grad Night/Project Graduation Or Spirit Week Event
by School Programs USA

For many generations Homecoming, Prom and Graduation were highlights of our school years. They are events that were dreamed of, anticipated, and have created memories and highlights from our school years. Friends, relationships and milestones in our lives are often related to these very special events.

While these have been popular for decades, recently a newer type of events have emerged to become the popular student favorites - Post Prom and Graduation celebrations, most commonly known as Grad Nights or Project Graduations. Also closely related are Senior Celebrations, Lock-ins and Spirit Week/Homecoming events.

For many students, these events have surpassed the longtime standards as the main events of their school years. One of the key reasons for this is that it's not required to have a date to attend these events (such as with Prom or Homecoming) or to be part of the "in" crowd. These events are celebrations for everyone.

These events were created to offer an alternative to students leaving Prom or Graduation to go off to their own gatherings or all-night parties that often included alcohol, drugs, sex and other inappropriate and even illegal forms of celebrating. Many times these private forms of celebration had dire consequences including promiscuity, intoxication, arrests, pregnancy, and even death. Tragically it was becoming more and more common to hear of teen tragedies following Prom or Graduation usually involving teen drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.D.D.) was one of the first to promote the concept of coordinating “safe and sober” celebrations following Prom and Graduation, with events that were supervised and school-approved and endorsed to keep the students from their own private, unfavorable forms of celebrating.

Today’s Post Proms and Grad Nights/Project Graduation events are two of the highlights to our high school years. Memories are created, and events are celebrated but are done so in a much more student-appropriate, safe environment. For some students these events are a right of passage, for others they are the memorable highlights of their school years. These are the events that can and will create memories that last a lifetime. The popularity of these events has even begun to appear on the Middle School/Junior High level.

While the idea of these types of “safe and sober” celebrations was welcomed by many schools across America, these events were not quite embraced initially by the students. These events were usually hosted by a planning committee of parent volunteers. It was thought originally that simply having this type of event with a DJ playing some music in the school gym would be an inviting event. It was soon discovered that simply having this type of event was not enough, it had to incorporate several key elements to interest and attract the students, making them want to attend. In order to accomplish it’s purpose just hosting such an event was not enough, it had to be a great event, an attraction. It had to be more appealing that the long-standing alternative of private celebrations.

Working with school’s Post Prom Committees (usually a separate committee from the Prom Committee) and Grad Night/Project Graduation Committees nationwide since the inception of these types of events, School Programs USA has been a part of these special events from the beginning. Based on this knowledge and experience we offer the following tips, pointers, advice and information to allow your school’s committee to plan a safe, well-attended, successful Post Prom, Graduation, Senior Celebration or Spirit Week event.

Start Early
One of the greatest bits of advice we can offer is to begin your planning early. It may seem like the beginning of the school year is a long time away from Spring events, but to properly plan a successful event requires months of planning and preparation. Another reason to begin early is directly related to the businesses you will need to incorporate and work with that will make your event a true success. 

You must remember that all of the schools in your area are more than likely all planning similar events and are vying for many of the same vendors, entertainment, attractions, rentals, venues, and sponsorships that will be crucial to your success.  Simply put, to have the best options, selections and to receive the most for your efforts you want to be the first to approach and secure these relationships, services, locations and products. For example, when contacting a local business for a sponsorship or donation, you stand a much better chance to receive what you desire if your reach them first, rather than waiting until several other area schools have approached them. By this time they may decline or only minimally participate with you and your event. To get what you want and not have to settle for secondary or backup options, be aggressive and reach them first.

Assemble your planning committee as soon as possible. Many schools even have their planning committee in place just before the previous year’s event, so they new committee members can attend, witness the event, take notes and enjoy the experience first hand to better familiarize and educate them with all facets of the overall event. Other schools form their planning committee in late August or early September right after the beginning of the new school year. The single most common area we find is with schools that assemble their planning committee in October or November, have an initial meeting and then do not really get started on their planning efforts until after school returns from the winter break in January. These committees are regularly faced with setbacks and disappointments as the vendors they wish to work with are already booked or unavailable, it becomes much harder to secure donations and sponsorships, and they are under the pressure of having to work harder and at a much faster pace, as in reality these events are only 12-18 weeks away. Also starting early allows the proper time in the event that earlier in the year fundraisers may be needed to contribute to the overall budget for these events.

Start early, stay on track with your planning committee and your goals. Have regular meetings, at least monthly initially then every other week or weekly as the event gets closer. Allow for problem areas and setbacks. It’s inevitable that someone will drop the ball somewhere in the process, committee members will quit or need to be replaced and problems will occur. By starting early you are not only getting a jump on creating a great event, but you are allowing yourself room for Murphy’s Law to present itself.

Your Planning Committee
The most important component to the success of any Post Prom, Graduation, Senior Celebration, Lock-in or Spirit Week event is the planning committee. Committees can range from only several people doing all of the work, to a more complete committee of many members each with individual duties and responsibilities. Your event will only be as good as your committee.

Choose a good committee leader, someone who can work well with others, coordinate many people and tasks simultaneously, and can have good lines of communications with each member. Organization and attention to detail are good qualities, as are leadership and people skills. This is the single most important position on your planning committee.

While many schools have difficulty getting parents or volunteers to participate, you should still be selective in choosing your committee members. Find the best candidates for the positions required. Use the best person for each position. Teamwork and communication is the backbone of any successful planning committee. Make your choices and designations wisely.

Once the committee is in place, it’s time to meet and determine your initials goals and plan of action. Each committee member should completely understand the goals and visions of the committee, while understanding their specific duties and responsibilities. Timetables should be shared and adhered to by all members.

The proper planning and prevention can head off problems and setbacks that may arise. Remember your event will only be as good as the cumulative efforts of your committee. The entire success of your event depends on the decisions your committee makes in each step of the process.

Make It Worth Attending
Once your committee is solid and in place it’s time to direct your focus onto the event itself. Make sure to review last year’s event file if it exists, perhaps even have a member of last years committee attend your first planning meeting to discuss the key points, setbacks, problems, and any other related issues from the previous event.

Initial areas to be addressed should be the date, times and location of your event. Once these are in place then address the individual elements that will comprise your event.

In planning your event be sure to pay close attention to the issues of price and value. What are students expected to pay to attend your event.  It shouldn’t be too high to discourage attendance, but yet still enough to cover the costs of having the features and attractions desired to be an event the students will want to attend. What is the value of what the students will receive for their admission ticket? What is included - food, giveaways, activities, entertainment?

Be sure to think of your event from the attending student’s perspective as they’re your target audience. It is their choice, their one time memories and most importantly their special event.

Making It A “Must-Attend” Event
To host a successful Post Prom, Graduation, Senior Celebration, Lock-in or Homecoming/Spirit Week Event you must make it a “must-attend” event. It must be able to appeal to all types of students on a variety of levels. Your event should be viewed as both a celebration and a main attraction event. You must make your students want to come. This will be the place be. Single or with a date, everyone is welcome and will have a great time.

This is often easier said than done, but with the proper knowledge and planning it is easily obtainable. Do your research. Learn what works well for other schools both in your area and in other parts of the country. Understand what are the main highlights from previously attending students. What did they enjoy or remember the most? Again, do your research.

Offer a variety of activities, events, entertainment, food and areas that can appeal to all types of students. Make sure all areas are chaperoned and controlled or operated by assigned committee members who understand their duties and responsibilities and the proper expectations and execution of each area or activity. Designate specific areas for certain events or activities.

Learn about the hot attractions and features that create involvement and participation. Try to offer a good balance of physical and mental offerings. Most of all have a schedule and flow of your event that is easily understandable to the students, yet is efficient and practical to your committee and venue.

Making it a major attraction is a combination of events and activities, the proper promotion and visibility of your event, and creating an exciting buzz to not only generate interest but to sustain the excitement leading up to your special event.

The Key to Success  - Entertainment And Attractions
Simply put, from the students perspective, the entertainment, attractions and activities that your event will feature will be a major factor in determining how your event is perceived and how well it will be attended.

The key here is variety and mass appeal. Be sure your event offers something for everyone. Offer both individual attractions and activities as well as group attractions. Understand what is popular with students. Some things are consistent while others change from year to year. For example the number one form of entertainment at Post Prom, Graduation, Senior Celebrations and Spirit Week/Homecoming events nationwide is a Comedy Hypnosis Show. This has been a longtime favorite for years at college events and over the last decade as become the runway favorite at these types of high school celebrations. The reasons for this are many but one of the key reasons is due to the fact that to most students this is something new and amazing that they have not been over exposed to such as a Disc Jockey or Karaoke. It is a major attraction with all of the elements of a professional performance including audience participation, intrigue, suspense, comedy and laughter and the safe and natural ability of the human mind. Another key reason for the popularity of this type of performance is that it runs continuously from sixty to ninety minutes or more attracting the attention of nearly all of the students in attendance. Compared to other forms of entertainment where students may wander in and out or just sit on the sidelines, this type of interactive performance appeals to both the students and planning committee on many levels.

Other entertainment, attractions and activities that are regularly popular include a mentalist, inflatables, climbing walls, casino tables, game shows, standup comedy shows, celebrity appearances (popular television and reality stars), competitions, handwriting and compatibility analysis, special viewings and swimming (at aquatic venues).

Trendy activities include Guitar Hero or Rock Band attractions/competition or a video game room. These are activities that, while popular at the moment, may quickly become old news rather quickly.

Have designated areas for different events and activities while having a main stage or area for your major entertainment or attractions. Let some of your activities run continuously while others should be as part of a schedule creating a flow of actions, activities and attractions throughout your event.

A word of caution - be sure to understand the logistics and technical requirements of each entertainer, activity or attraction you are planning to make sure the pre and post requirements will not interfere with with other entertainment or activities in your lineup.  Remember to allow for setup time and breakdown. Make sure all of your elements can logistically co-exit with each other without problems, interruptions or creating a lag in your festivities.

Use your financial resources wisely when dealing with this area as these are the main highlights of your event and your students memories. Try not to cut corners in this area. This is an area crucial to your event’s overall success so be sure it receives the budgetary support, promotional support and the featured position in your actual event. Once in place it usually becomes quite easy to fit in secondary or support activities around these features.

Involve The Local Business Community
Funding for your special event usually happens through a combination of fundraising and support from the local business community. Typically the two main components that are highlights and main attractions of your Post Prom, Graduation, Senior Celebration or Spirit Week/Homecoming events are the entertainment/attractions and the prizes and giveaways. These two very important elements are often the areas where planning committees turn to support from the local business communities.

Through sponsorships, donations and in-kind promotional arrangements, do not underestimate this area of your event. This can often be the difference in hosting a less successful or mediocre event to having an event that is a smashing success.

Target businesses that are the staples of your local and regional community, as well as those that share a professional interest in the demographics of your student and their families. Banks, car dealerships, restaurants, recreational businesses are always good possibilities, as are sports centers, movie theaters, and department or electronics stores.

Offer several plans or packages for these business to show support to your event and your attending students in the form of financial donations and support, donation of products or services, or the actual underwriting of an activity or entertainment offering. Remember they usually expect a return of their efforts or investments so strategize how becoming involved with your event can benefit their business. Understand the interests of these businesses as their concerns are showing community support while expecting to generate business in the form of traffic, exposure and sales as a result of their participation.

By combining your fundraising efforts along with the support of the local business community you can often take control of your committee’s funding potential in order to be able to host the level and quality of event you desire. The greater the support from the business community, the more likely you are to position yourself for success.

Prizes & Giveaways
This is another area that can be crucial to your event’s appeal and success. It’s a fact - everybody likes to win and everybody likes to receive something free. The most successful events we have noticed all have one thing in common - every student attending receives a prize or giveaway. Not a pen or balloon, but rather something of a perceived value.

Prizes and giveaways usually consist of several levels of value ranging from smaller items with a value of $10.00 - $15.00 to larger items such as lap top or desk top computers, personal electronic devices, cash, and yes even automobiles. Each student should be guaranteed a gift or prize worth the value of their admission price. Then additional prizes or giveaways with larger valued items should also be available as well. Items to prepare students for college are regularly offered at Graduation events such as dorm refrigerators, microwaves, televisions, electronics, gift cards, etc. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Nearly all of the items are obtained through the support of your local and regional business community and other organizations. Creating a profitable and successful campaign to assemble a great variety of prizes and giveaways requires careful planning, direct marketing and promotion, follow-up, and most of all time. It is really an ongoing effort beginning early on in your planning stages and often continuing right up until near the time of your event.

Most business will be more accommodating when approached to provide a product or gift certificate rather than cash, so utilize this mentality to your advantage. There are some great strategies available to not only generate some fantastic prize giveaways but to use this as a means to raise a great amount of cash that can also be given away or used in other areas of your event.

Be creative, consistently work hard, and allow plenty of time to contact as many potential business as possible. It is a numbers game. You will face rejection, but that too is part of the process. Stay on top of the process, maintain excellent communications and rapport and you will find this to be a very lucrative and beneficial area for your efforts with great rewards.

Planning The Flow Of The Event
As with many produced events the flow or structure of your actual event can play a role as a contributing element to your success. All events should have a beginning a middle and and end. You must decide the balance. Many committees choose to have a major attraction early in the event to assure students arrive on time and are offered impact right from the very beginning. Others prefer to have a highlight attraction later in the event to maintain the energy level and interest though out the event. Both mentalities work well. You must decide what serves you best.

Keeping the interest and energy levels up is important. This is where having both group and individual activities and attractions can alter the flow of your event smoothly from one event to the next. If your event utilizes multiple areas or rooms, the flow offers you control. While the students are in one area, another may be setup for an upcoming performance or attraction. When that begins the previous room or area may be converted or prepared for another attraction or activity, or perhaps even cleaned up it not being further utilized.

Mentalities vary from committee to committee. Some chose to start strong, maintain the mid-portion of the event, and end strong. Others start easier and continually build though the entire event ending with the biggest feature at the end. Only you and your committee can determine what is best for you and your event. Factors such as time, venue restrictions, entertainers schedules, vendors and others variables may have an impact on the decision you make. Maintain control and create a solid method and reasoning that makes your event as strong as possible while maintaining the interest level and appeal of your students. The flow can make your event lag or appear to be paced where times seems to fly by, so utilize the flow to your advantage.

Properly Promoting The Event
Regardless of how much planning, the quality and types of entertainment, attractions and activities you’ve selected, the sponsorships generated, and the prizes and giveaways assembled, once all of these elements have taken shape it all comes down to getting the word out to the students, creating a buzz and the proper promotion of your event.

Including it in daily announcements or a blurb on a flyer or in the school newspaper is not enough. Recent research states that students must hear or see a message seven times before it registers enough to consider taking action. This means you must have a multifaceted advertising and promotional campaign that bombards them with your message, while creating interest and generating excitement.

Our advice is to utilize a variety of promotional methods ranging from ticket booths in high traffic student areas such as the cafeteria, at sporting events and school stores, to using in-school medias such as the school newspaper, television monitors, school television or radio stations, and through special group affiliations or events. You want to direct market to your students. Make sure they hear about this event everywhere they go at every turn, and make it easy and convenient for them to buy tickets.

Start your buzz by dropping hints or releasing information early, then releasing additional information throughout your promotional campaign. Promote using contests and publicity stunts. Again be creative and have fun with this process. Grab their attention so they will want to be part of the fun and festivities.

Creating Memories That Will Last A Lifetime
Since these Post Prom, Graduation, Senior Celebrations and Spirit Week/Homecoming events are so closely related to creating memories, make sure your event offers a variety of offerings designed exclusively for this purpose. A photo booth or display for digital pictures offers a fantastic opportunity to create memories. Handwriting and compatibility analysis offer keepsakes that will remembered long after your event. Have a photographer on hand for the entire event to take pictures that will be put up and available for download on your school or event web site. These are just some of the many possible ideas that can help to make your event memorable for years to come.

These entire events are to create a safe and sober celebration that will be remembered while creating long-lasting memories. Keep this in mind at all times as you plan your special event and always step back to insure your event includes these very important components.

You Only Have One Chance To Get It Right
Through careful planning, consideration, and execution you have the ability to combine all of these elements to create a fantastic, safe and memorable event. You only have one chance to get it right, so take the time, preparation and teamwork to create, strategize and plan a winning event.

The success of your event can also have a direct influence and create anticipation for next year’s event, as your impact continues on after your event.

You may not have the opportunity to rest until the final student has left and the cleanup and breakdown is complete, but when you finally are able to sit back, put your feet up with a collective sigh of relief, you and your committee will be proud to know that all of your planning and efforts made a difference and helped to create an event that will stay with your students for the rest of their lives.