Event Case Study #3: Birthday Party Surprise


In this third case study two sisters shared the one surprise birthday event which was held on Wednesday 3 September. The article is the sixth within the writing serial Event Production & Management, which consists of the following articles:

  1. General Introduction
  2. Christians 20/30 Great Gatsby Ball, held 26 July 2014
  3. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) – Surge Packing Party held 30 July 2014
  4. Friend’s Wedding held 9 August 2014
  5. Bucks Party Surprise held 30 August 2014
  6. Birthday Party Surprise held 3 September 2014  (this article)
  7. Friend’s Wedding held 13 September 2014
  8. Christians 20/30 Music Festival held 4 October 2014
  9. OCC – UCC Packing Party held 14 November, 2014
  10. Friend’s Wedding held 15 November, 2014
  11. Friend’s Proposal Surprise held 4 January 2015
  12. Friend’s Wedding held 11 July 2015
  13. OCC – Young Working Adults Packing Party held 29 July 2015
  14. Friend’s Wedding held 22 August 2015
  15. Friend’s Wedding held 26 September 2015
  16. Christians 20/30 OCC Charity Program held 9, 10 & 17 October 2015
  17. Friend’s Proposal Surprise held 3 January 2016

General Concept

Throwing a surprise birthday party is always a good fun challenge. The premise is simple in that the recipient birthday boy or girl should not we aware of the birthday party being planned. Various elements of the party will form the surprise – but generally it is the party itself followed by the guests who help to make it a surprise. The venue of the party invariable is a critical factor in determining how much of a surprise the party can be. For example, should the birthday person be working, surprising them at the workplace could be great and super surprising. The trick to pulling off a good surprise is to make the birthday person’s day as normal as possible whilst ensuring that all planning, logistics and signs of the real surprise remain protected from their view and awareness.

The following is a general list of things to consider in order to ensure the maximum level of surprise:

  • Plan a small low-key decoy party or some distraction to preoccupy the birthday boy or girl
  • Appoint one person who will act as the communications bridge between the surprise group and the decoy group:
    • Having someone “on the inside” is critical to the success of pulling a surprise party
    • Creating a pseudo-name or code word for the surprise person/party may be required as part of establishing a decoy
  • Roles and responsibilities of the main surprise party:
    • Minimise the chatter – only tell people who need to know and minimise what they are told
    • Be consistent in any necessary “white lies”; be vague if possible.
    • If members of this group are in general conversation with the birthday surprise person, it’s fine to say Person A is spending time with Person  B and vice versa – it’s true and you are not providing any details, and assumes both Persons A & B are part of the surprise group.
    • When hiding, remember that phones need to be silent
    • Separate hiding locations are required for shoes, clothing
    • Park cars away from the location and if parking is limited, arrange carpooling
  • If decorating a place, try to get as much done as possible beforehand to minimise the amount of time required to decorate the surprise venue
  • Plan ahead in terms of program sequences
  • Practice if possible to test lines of sight, if people can be overheard and also if there are vantage points where the approaching birthday entourage is.
  • If purchases are required, avoid a shared/joint account/credit card – a close third party/family member can help facilitate keeping the secret
  • Delegate where possible if your role and proximity to the birthday person could expose the secret.
  • Maintaining flexibility in the plans so that any curve balls can be handled and managed appropriately (for example, people getting sick)

Surprise Birthday Event Review

Two friends of mine had a joint surprise birthday celebration which was held on Wednesday 3 September 2014. Part of the complexity in helping to organise this event was that they are also sisters. Each sister belongs to a different half of two life-groups that were previously one single bigger group prior to multiplication. Initial plans had been to surprise the sisters on the Monday (1 September), which then got moved to Tuesday (actual birthday) and finally to the Wednesday as a combined life-group social outing. A number of elements of surprise were built into the event as a whole:

  • The then boyfriend (now fiancé – see below) was going to drop by as a surprise guest.
  • The mother of the sisters was also going to surprise the girls with her presence at the restaurant.
  • I also suggested that I would not be able to attend whereas I was key in picking up the mother from their home.
  • Not so much a big surprise, but I also organised two birthday cakes from a bakery in the city

The planning of the event took place over the fortnight period leading up to the event and was spearheaded by the then boyfriend of the elder sister. Making the event a surprise was partly his idea but was fully supported by close friends. Part of the success in planning was that a number of us had direct access to him and the mother. The boyfriend had already planned his own private celebration with his girlfriend on the actual birthday, and on the night of the surprise party, the mother had also managed to convince her daughters to go out without her. A separate WhatsApp chat group naturally was formed for the planning committee where we discussed transportation logistics as well as selecting an appropriate venue.

On the night itself, I found that after working slightly later than expected, trying to provide a lift to one friend, drop off the cakes at the restaurant, and then pick up the mother was going to be too challenging, so I detoured slightly to a friend’s apartment so that they could help transport the cake instead. In this way, the delegation and team work ensured a distribution of effort in the lead up to the surprise.

One earlier thought was that the group would surprise the sisters at their home, but this idea was abandoned in favour of celebrating and eating out. This was also a preferred option to avoid having 30 people crowd out the home. The surprise element was slightly deflated when it turned out that the elder sister had gotten slightly sick and was contemplating staying home instead of going out.

As a whole, the whole birthday dinner worked out quite well although the sisters were not completely surprised. However, much merriment was had and everyone enjoyed the outing with a super-massive group photo taken at the conclusion. About 30 people attended and were spread over two long tables and food ordering ended up being managed in smaller groups on each table.