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How to Plan and Execute a Memorable Retirement Party

To ensure a fun and meaningful event, start by asking the honoree how he or she would like to celebrate and who should be invited to the party.
To ensure a fun and meaningful event, start by asking the honoree how he or she would like to celebrate and who should be invited to the party.

[Editor's note: A lengthier version of this article is available here.]

One of the nicest rites of passage when someone wraps up their working career and transitions to retirement is the retirement party. If you have been given the opportunity to help plan a retirement party, here are some suggestions to create a send-off that the retiree will appreciate and remember.

There are several options for celebrating a retirement. Factors that enter into this decision include:

  • Budget
  • Whether the party will be held at work (primarily for work colleagues) or outside of work (primarily for friends)
  • How many people will be invited and what time will be for them to attend
  • How much of a program the honoree would like to have
  • Whether or not to serve alcohol

The greatest consideration is what the retiree wants.

This is not an occasion for a surprise party. You should ask the person who is retiring how he or she would like to celebrate their retirement and who they would like to have in attendance.

Pictures make a wonderful addition to a retirement party.

If the party will be held in a room where a projector and a screen will be available, you can have a slide show running as people arrive and again after the program. If the room isn’t conducive to a slide show, you can make several large posters with photo montages and place them around the room.

If there aren’t many pictures available of the retiree in work settings, you can include pictures from their personal life as long as they aren’t embarrassing and don’t infringe on the honoree’s privacy. For example, you should avoid pictures of the person wearing a swim suit that is too revealing or pictures of the person drunk at a stripper bar.

Childhood pictures will probably go over well – even high school pictures with funny hairstyles and out-of-style clothing.

Choose a good Master of Ceremonies.

If the retirement party is going to include a period of time in which people who worked with the retiree will get a chance to speak, it’s a good idea to designate a Master of Ceremonies (MC). Someone who belongs to a local Toastmasters club or has public speaking experience would be a good choice for this role.

Select speakers carefully, and coach them to keep remarks appropriate and brief.

Speakers should be solicited and confirmed ahead of time, and should be told that their speech should last 3-5 minutes – no longer. Nothing will sap the energy and fun out of the party like someone droning on for twenty minutes.

Having an “open mic” period in which anyone can say something about the retiree is risky, especially if there is alcohol served at the event. The MC should make it clear to people who step forward for open mic that they should keep their remarks limited to one to two minutes. The MC should be ready to step in and thank the speaker (a polite way to cut him or her off) if his or her remarks are inappropriate or go on for too long.

Humor is an essential ingredient.

A retirement party should be an uplifting, fun occasion. The best speeches are those that recall good times or funny incidents – as long as they aren’t embarrassing. Brief expressions of gratitude or appreciation are fine, but too much flowery praise will become trite and repetitive.

Jokes are risky. Most retirement jokes that can be found on the internet are tacky, inappropriate, and usually not funny. Any jokes or attempts at humor that are embarrassing, crass, or mean-spirited have no place whatsoever at a retirement party.

It is okay to gently poke fun at the honoree in cases where their personality characteristics and foibles are well-known and embraced by the honoree. It should be clear to everyone that the remarks are coming from a place of love and good humor. Speakers must be coached to avoid any attempt at humor that may seem hurtful or embarrassing.

Have a photographer and/or videographer on hand.

If someone on the guest list is an accomplished photographer or videographer, ask him or her to be responsible for taking some good pictures or footage of the event. If the budget will allow it, hire someone. Ensure that every attendee is included, and label the photos or caption the video with people’s names soon after the event. You’ll be surprised at how quickly names might be forgotten.

Create something memorable for the retiree.

At a minimum, have a large card for all attendees to sign. Another option is a picture mounted in a large poster board frame that everyone can sign.

You can go a step further by asking attendees to contribute a hand-written note or photo in advance. You can assemble these submissions into a scrapbook and present it to the honoree at the party.

Another idea is to set up a website which provides a brief overview of the retiree’s career and plans for the future, and provides a place where people can write well-wishes and tributes to the retiree. This information can then be transferred into a scrapbook.

Allow the retiree to speak – briefly.

At the end of the program, the guest of honor should be given a few minutes to speak. The retiree should follow the same advice offered above for other speakers. Focusing on a few key memories and keeping it light and humorous will be most appreciated by the audience. They are probably not interesting in hearing a full run-down of the retiree’s career and all the awards they received. Droning on longer than five or ten minutes will dampen the party and have people heading for the door.

While it’s true that this is the retiree’s big day and he or she is the person being honored, the honoree probably doesn’t want to cap off his or her career by boring people and leaving that as their lasting impression.

In summary, a retirement party should be a fun, celebratory, and memorable affair.  It will come off best if it is thoughtfully planned by a team of several people. They should ask the retiree what he or she wants, and make every reasonable effort to accommodate those wishes.

If you are the retiree, don’t be bashful about letting your planners know what you want, but stop short of meddling or micromanaging. The planning team may come up with some brilliant ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of!

Please share your questions and comments below!

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Reprinted from my blog on U.S. News - On Retirement.

©2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: Rob Bixby. Some rights reserved.

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