How to Throw a Surprise Party

a smiling woman under confetti
Lucas Ottone/Stocksy

Throwing a surprise party can be one of the most exciting ways to celebrate a big event—both for the host and the receiver. Whether it’s a birthday, new job, or baby shower, special occasions warrant a special celebration, and surprise parties are one of the most thoughtful ways to honor a milestone. Of course, surprise parties are among the most high-risk and high-reward occasions, and they consequently require plenty of careful planning to pull off. To help you throw the perfect bash (and not get caught in the process) here are six tips on how to throw a surprise party that you, your guest of honor, and everyone else involved will love.

1. Launch an Investigation

If you’re considering a surprise party, odds are that you’re close enough to the person to be the right candidate for the job. This (hopefully) means you have access to their calendar, address book, and whatever else you can get your hands on. Start your planning with some respectful snooping. Choose a date and time when the guest of honor is sure to be free and wrangle together a list of individuals they’ll want in attendance.

2. Choose Your Location Wisely

The closer to home, the less likely you are to arouse suspicion. Of course, the location doesn’t have to be secret if it’s somewhere the guest of honor is planning to be anyway (like their own living room), but if you choose a third-party locale, be sure you have a plausible reason for being there and a reliable method of transportation. Additionally, be sure that guests have directions and parking information in advance so that everyone shows up on time.

3. Recruit an Accomplice

Of course, the foremost goal of throwing a surprise party is to surprise your guest of honor. To do this, you’ll need one other person you trust. To throw a surprise party without a hitch, this person will either hold down the fort at the party location or deliver the honoree, with you taking on the other role.

4. Keep Your Guests in the Know

While it may sound obvious, make it clear to your guests that this is a surprise party. This will not only ensure that they stay tight-lipped about the proceedings, but it will also get them on-site early rather than (un)fashionably late. Be sure to note when the guest of honor will arrive so attendees don’t miss the surprise.

5. Set the Stage

Plan to start the party at least 30 to 60 minutes before the guest of honor is scheduled to arrive. A full-on pre-party is essential to cultivating a festive atmosphere, so start your surprise party with music, snacks, and cocktails for guests well before the moment of yelling “surprise.” A generous spread of appetizers and drinks is also a good way to encourage your guests to show up early.

6. Plan, Plan, Plan

If you’ve ever had even the remotest fantasies of espionage, this is your chance to play them out. Carefully map and time your routes. Develop a reliable method of communication with your point person to ensure that everything’s going according to plan. Consider throwing in a code phrase or two. Plant a red herring that throws your guest of honor off the trail. Little details like these can help you successfully throw not just an incredible party, but an incredible surprise.

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