Balloons at parties
To avoid a mad rush, I make a lot of balloons in advance and use them as decorations.
- Planning a Birthday Party
- How Long
- How Many
- The Entertainer: Child Ratio
- How Old
- Entertainer or Coordinator?
- Do You Wanna Party?
- Preparing For A Party
- Getting The Party Started
- When The Show Doesn’t Start On Time
- It’s Showtime
- Getting The Show On The Road
- Happy Birthday To You
- So Many Balloons, So Little Time
- So Many Balloons, So Little Time
- Pre-Made Balloons
- Speed Twisting
- Maintaining Control at birthday parties
- Crowd Control at Birthday Parties
- Crowd Control at Chuck E Cheese
- Saving The Best For Last
- General Advice
Planning a Birthday Party
Planning a Birthday Party
- When I get a call for a birthday party I have found that the parents usually don’t have a clue as to what they want other than entertainment and fun for the birthday child. When I get a call from a frustrated mother who has never hosted a party, I tell her I have the perfect answer – my birthday planning guide. I’ve been using a Birthday Party Planner for about 7 years. The book in which I found the idea for the planner is: The Happy Birthday Business by Frances Marshall. It is published by a magic shop in Chicago called MAGIC INC. I bought it from
Books by Mail
P. O. Box 1444, Dept CA
Corona, CA 91718
It has been quite successful for me. When clients are shopping around, I usually get the booking if I send them this book.
- When someone calls me for a gig, I ask them what they would like me to do. And based on how many kids, adults, etc., and the type of party, my response varies.
- I’m very “up front” with what I do at parties. When the host knows what to expect, everyone is happy. I first find out how old the child is. For the younger children a clown is sometimes REAL scary. I usually suggest a 20-30 minute show followed by a balloon for everyone. Most hosts would like hats and animals for all the kids, and even the grown-ups.
- Timing is key. You have to work out with Mom (i.e., the host of the party) what time you will arrive, what entertainment you will provide (games, twists, etc.), and what time you will leave. The larger the group, the longer everything will take (including arrival, cake, opening presents), so give Mom the benefit of your experience. Know how long it will take you to twist the kind of creatures you intend to pro- vide, and be sure there’s a reasonable time allotment.
- From time to time someone posts asking for some help with planning their first paid balloon job. Although the following is probably familiar to anyone who’s done even a small number of gigs, here are a few experiences I’ve recently had which might help someone starting out. Study your twists and how much to charge and all the other stuff you know to plan for, but here are some things I never thought to plan for:…starting your gig in front of a large group of people, and noticing that somewhere between leaving your car and getting to where you are now you opened up a cut on your finger and there’s a dime-sized blood spot on your nice white glove…
…a party host who, with the sky looking like armageddon when you’re starting your entertainment, insists it’s not going to storm…
…a guest of honor who is terrified of balloon twisting clowns…
…getting a star-shaped button from your vest caught in one of your twists (yes, this really happened to me)…
…small child running off with your hand pump…
- If you can do many bits, you can offer people an “act menu” to choose from, but you could tell the client that you have a 30 minute minumum. Then they can mix and match what they want. I have an hour minimum and get a higher rate because I dress as a clown, and I figure in the time it takes to put on my face.
- Chances are that you will be second guessing yourself with decisions (cost, effects, time, patter etc.) Go with the flow and have a hoot. Be creative, cool, crazy, colorful, and of course be yourself. Don’t think too hard about it. Just stay calm and think FUN!! Have fun with it. Fun is contagious. If the kids know that you want to have fun with them, they’ll join in. I just go with my style. Don’t be afraid of doing parties as long as you can keep them entertained. When they hire you, they already have a good idea of what to expect, because they’ve already seen you perform, wherever you were at when you gave them the card, so they already like you. Be yourself, or be your character, and just run with it, while keeping up professional standards.
- Make a plan. That way you at least know what you would _like_ to do, but be prepared to change according to the children’s needs (some have a little more energy then others). I usually have some sort of list made up with a few extra items in case I run short. You want to give them enough, but do not try to stuff all that you know into one show. Leave them wanting more. That way if you get a referral for another show, you have not blown your whole act.
- I ask the parent, or whoever is in charge, if they want a show or just twisting (“twisting” has a nice ring).
- My policy is to state the maximum amount of time I will work (1 hour for private gigs). This gives me an escape from those large and rowdy parties that would keep me there for days, and it avoids awkward situations at small parties where the kids get all the balloons they can get into their parents’ car in 30 minutes. But I rarely stay less than an hour.
- I tell parents that I do a 30-40 minute show, and I make balloons at the end. Unless I have someplace to be immediately after the show, I usually stay for an hour. I plan for a 45 minute show, but if the show runs short because the kids didn’t respond, I’ve still done what I said I would. If it’s a good group, I’m happy to go longer.
- Our parties are an hour long unless we do face painting. Our show can be shorter if we feel we need the extra time to make the balloons. We don’t estimate according to how many children are at the party. We just time ourselves so we can get the job done in an hour. I usually recommend 1 hour for 20 children or less. If they are planning on having more then 20 children, I tell them an hour won’t be sufficient. I make more extravagant balloons depending on how much time I have and how many children are there. I was hired once to do 1 hour of balloons for 2 children!!! On the other extreme, I was hired for 2 hours to do a party at Bally’s Hotel and Casino for 500 people (I let them know that it clearly wouldn’t be enough time for everyone to get a balloon hat, but they said that was fine).
- Birthday parties go rather quickly. In two hours, there’s just barely enough time to play pin the thing on the picture, eat cake and open presents – you don’t have to fill the whole time (after a couple of hours, the kids go ape anyway). Just make your part the highlight of the day.
- Before the party you must find out how many guests are expected, and their age group. I ALWAYS ask how many will be attending. But I find at 95% of the parties there are 12 children.
- We suggest that the client invite 1 guest for each year plus 3. (A 7 year old would have 10 guests.) If the child is over 4 years old , and you have good help, 8-15 may be ideal for the most fun.
- I like to have about 10 – 12 at a party. I have had as many as 30, but I don’t really like to do that many.
- I’ve handled balloon parties for twenty or fewer kids. More than twenty isn’t a party, it’s a backyard carnival, or, in truth, something like one of those old prison movies where the inmates riot but don’t swear much, and nobody is actually killed on screen.
- There are many different ways to approach a private party with about 500 people in attendence, dependent on the time you have and the set-up of the party. You probably won’t have the time to get to everyone, so you need to decide: Do you spread yourself all over to get color and excitement everywhere or focus on a target population, usually the kids, to make the planners happy? Once the kids see you, you may not have much choice anyway. If there are no (or very) few kids, the choice still stands. My advice? Ask the planner what he/she wants! Don’t forget to ask if there are people or a person you *need* to get to.
The Entertainer : Child Ratio
- I do a one hour party show (max) comprised of face painting, balloons and magic. I tell the host/hostess that I can do all three if I have under 15 guests, but, if there are more than 15, then THEY need to choose what they want cut out so that I only stay an hour. Sometimes I cut the magic down or limit face painting to only the simplest of designs. If I have under 10 guests, I do more silliness before I begin anything else.
- I can only twist 1 simple balloon per minute, so I take one clown for every 25 guests to ensure that everyone is happy. This should give you enough time to make more elaborate designs and even time to clown around and repair broken swords before you make your exit. I have booked 2 parties with guest lists around 30 and have started using another clown to help. We throw in a couple of skits if time allows. My wife and I go to all the parties together. It gives us a reason to ask for more money than the single clowns, it allows us to work much larger events and parties more effectively , and it solves the problem of deleting portions of your act to have time to make balloons for every child. Some of you might want to look for a full-time or part-time partner to work with when the parties get big.
- I will do party’s for children three and up. I tell the mom (it’s usualy the moms that call) that if the kids are under three or if her three is not very out going she would be better off waiting a year. People appreciate this. They don’t want to waste their money. Folks who decide to wait will usually call me the following year. I tell them that I can do magic and balloon sculpting for children 3 and up but for anyone under three the balloons are not safe, and they will not sit for the magic show.
- I have done a couple of parties with very young kids, I don’t like to because of safety factors (choking hazard). I have made up card that explains that balloons are achoking hazard, and I OVER stress to the parents the danger. Most of the time I can talk them in to calling me next year or the year after, and most of the time they will give my name to others because of the fact that I showed that I cared and was not just in it for the money.
- It IS good business on your part to advise the Mom to wait until the kids are older. She will appreciate your honest advice, especially if she goes ahead and hires some schmoe that lacks your sense of ethics. Your instincts are right. The kids WILL be bored, impatient, unhappy, etc. By refusing the booking, you lose money in the short run, but I don’t guess that you are in this for the short run.
- I often have parents asking for things that are simply inappropriate for the age of the children in question. For instance, a guy in a purple dinosaur costume will scare the daylights out of little ones and provide all of five minutes amusement for older kids. But people are always calling for this.
- After 20 years of doing parties every weekend, I find if the children are 2 years old or up, 95% will sit for the 45 minutes or longer if you do the right stuff. I do 30 minutes of magic, followed by rapid twisting. There are always parents to monitor the safety of the children with balloons. It just takes practice to see what works with the younger set.
- I never turn down a party because of age. I’ve done so many for 1 year olds that I’ve lost count. Twos and threes, close to the same. Usually, when there is a party for a child this young, there are few to no children the same age. The kid isn’t in school yet, so the only other kids at the party are relatives (older brothers and sisters and cousins) and maybe neighbors. Many times the birthday child sleeps through the entire party, and I never even see him/her. So, the ones I end up entertaining range in age up to ten and twelve, and even teenagers! If the birthday child is awake, he/she is usually running around, getting into other things (1-2 year olds) and I’m busy with the other kids. But I’ve had a room-full of toddlers of 2-3 years old who will sit there for a short magic show, and then wait for each to receive a balloon. (One 1 year old I remember had a great time running around, playing with all the balloons (didn’t put any in the mouth), posing for photos with me (the clown), and having a wonderful time. There was no other child there even close to his age, and I received a twenty-five dollar tip!) My opinion: you’re missing some geat opportunities (and some great parties) by turning down gigs for these ages.
- Parties for 2 year olds:
- Kids this age love helium balloons (if the party is indoors this will keep them entertained for the entire party, and they usually are not skilled enough to bite or break them).
- These parties are not for the kids so much as for the Mommies. You are probably going to be entertaining adults and the older cousins who got dragged to this thing. The two year old will be more interested in the cake.
- Two year olds LOVE face painting and the simpler the better–we are talking about quickie stuff!
- I twisted at a two year old party a few weeks ago, and the older kids and adults where a lot of fun — they loved just watching me do it. I warned everyone about the balloons and watched for pops everywhere but basically parents watch this group really closely.
- When I’ve had to delete the balloon portion of my show because too many of the children are in the 1-3 years range, I’ve found putting story telling in its place to be effective. Just remember to get the kids involved; just as you don’t want to be a balloon-vending machine, you don’t to be a two-dimensional story vending machine. Also, where the children are too young for balloons, magic entertainment is not impossible, but is more difficult to select, and extra care must be used. (Vanishes don’t amaze a two year old, but a wilting flower will get them going every time). Two year olds can be entertained, but not by the same show that entertains seven year olds.
- I have found that most little kIds love to play with you rather than just sit still and watch you. Have a list of a bunch of things and start trying things till you figure out what works for that group. Sometimes the parents will just let the kids play with toys and want you to entertain them! You’ve got to be flexible in this business. I tell people that I like to go with the flow and do what is fun for the kids!
Do You Wanna Party?
- Preparing For A Party
- Getting The Party Started
- When The Show Doesn’t Start On Time
- It’s Showtime
- Getting The Show On The Road
Preparing For A Party
- When booking a show, we determine approximately how many children will be attending the birthday party. This is verified the night before the show when we call back to confirm all the details. Before leaving for the show, we make up a plastic trash bag full of a variety of balloon animals (no swords, as they create havoc). After games, clowning and our 30- minute magic show, we get the birthday child up and do a balloon trick (cut and restored balloon usually) then make one balloon animal for the birthday child. We then show the bag of balloons and explain that everyone will get an animal balloon and coloring picture or magic word puzzle (with our ad on it of course) to take home as party favors. The bag is then handed to the Mom or Dad to pass out the balloons as the children leave the party. The children are then marched to the table for cake and ice cream. We play our harmonica as they all sing “Happy Birthday”.
- To avoid a mad rush, I make a lot of balloons in advance and use them as decorations. Everybody gets to choose one (or more) to take with him/her at the end of the party. If someone just has to have a particular creature, I twist an extra on the spot. Most of the kids have their eye on a particular creature during the party and are happy to take it or one just like it. This also gives you a chance to incorporate your creations with the party theme. For example, one time I made 360 bears with hearts and had them sitting around the cake table (12 of them). Everybody got the same, big, cool balloon, and not one that was especially violent or conducive to hitting. They matched the teddy bear theme on the cups and hats.
- Whenever you blow up a balloon, you immediately subject it to oxidation. That’s just a fact of atmospheric physics. On many occasions we will pre-make a bunch of sculptures for a party when we know there will be too many kids to twist for in the allotted time. The best, fastest, cheapest oxidation preventer is a plastic bag (55 gallon drum liners are my favorite). Find one large enough to hold your 260 sculptures, stuff them in, and tie with a piece of curling ribbon. Just before the party, take everything out of the bag, fluff and fix where necessary, and wow them with your balloons.
- We use 55 gallon drum liners (trash bags) that are clear. We get them wholesale for $10 a box (60 per box). It’s great to be able to see all the colored balloons in the bag, and it keeps them from oxidizing too!
- A clown friend uses a very large (trash can sized) mylar bag to transport her balloons. It is decorated with balloons and confetti, just perfect for a celebration! She said they’re available at most Hallmark stores. They’re durable and attractive.
- Sometimes pre-making balloons can be very helpful. When I book a show, I ask approximately how many children will be attending. If there are more than 15, I usually make a few balloon animals ahead of time.
- Another approach is to bring a bag containing at least as many balloon figures as there are kids at the party (to be given out later by the host). Find out how many children to expect and make up a few more than that number of figures in advance. I make figures appropriate to the age group and the occasion and take them in a large plastic bag. During the show, I choose and make a variety of detailed figures as a part of the entertainment, telling the kids a story while I twist each one. I keep these figures near me. All of these are for the birthday child or person for whom the party is being held (or they can all go into the bag when the show ends). I leave all of the figures with the parent or sponsor to be distributed to the children after I am gone. It works well and eliminates the hassle of repairs and replacements. Plus, when it is time for me to go, the kids are busy with the host, not me and I make a fast retreat.
- I make the balloons at home so that the magic show is the main event. In this case, I usually do the balloon part of the show which ends up with a real nice multi for the birthday girl/boy. I then ask if anyone else wants one. I then produce my magic plastic grabage bag full of balloons with enough for everyone.
- At kid’s parties, I always bring lots of pre-blown balloons. It doesn’t seem to matter as long as they get to see me inflate some by mouth and some with the Pump1. In fact, when kids are hyped and have a little extra sugar in them, the attention span seems to wane. I now consider pre-blown balloons essential in these situations.
- In my opinion, the people you are twisting for lose out on a part of the show if you use pre-inflated balloons. To me, the whole rountine is part of your act. It goes something like this. . . patter, patter, patter, joke, inflate balloon, patter (twisting in the background), patter (twisting in the background), joke (twisting in the background), finished creation, patter, presentation, patter. This then starts again with the next person. Don’t leave out a part. Creating a twisted balloon character is a total experience for the people that we work for. Don’t short-change them. If you use pre-inflated on a job, then the next step is to twist them at home before the show and take them and sell them out of a bag. People enjoy the whole act of creation.
- Bring preinflated balloons to the party. We put them in a 55 gallon clear trash bag (sometimes called clear drum liners). When you walk into a party with an enormous bag(s) of color, the guests know something fun is gonna happen!
- Bring SOME pre-twisted figures and pass them out after I have made the birthday child’s balloon plus several other figures. The kids do like to watch you make the balloons.
- Just my .02 about balloons in a trash bag. When I arrived at a recent birthday party, the birthday child’s father handed me a trash bag filled with balloons that someone twisted for the party. The balloons were well done. I thanked the dad and put the bag away. I do a magic trick that leads up to making a balloon creation for everyone. I made everyone a creation to order. Then, after I cleaned up, I gave the pre-made balloons to the party guests parents. The dad asked me why. My answer – ANYONE can pull a completed balloon from a trash bag and hand them to waiting kids. A professional entertainer can twist balloon creations from long skinny balloons right in front of the children – that’s magic especially when combined with funny/silly or entertaining patter and movement.
Entertainer or Coordinator?
- Customers get confused about what you will provide when they hire you to “do a party.” Be sure to spell it out with the host in advance. Spell out precisely what you’re providing, and consider offering *more* than what is expected (i.e., more than your competition).Some hosts get a kick out of going to PartyMart (I hope that isn’t a real name, but it probably is), walking the aisles and choosing the decorations. Some hosts *don’t*. What they really want is a great party for their kid with little or no effort on their part.Instead of billing yourself as entertainment (#2 in my list of party activities), some of you might consider offering party *packages*. This requires more preparation, but you can charge more for your services and have more control over the process.
How to go about it? First, find the *best* bakery in town (in my area there’s a little place that makes fabulous cakes in the $25 range). A place that bakes the cake the same day, frosts it by melting chocolate bars over it, that sort of thing. Arrange with that bakery to get the cakes at a discount.
Find a good, reliable supplier of party goods (hats, plates, favors, etc.). The lowest prices will be through catalog/Internet suppliers, but you may be surprised at the lack of quality. Ask for samples, or try a small order and see what kind of stuff they’re peddling.
Find a clean store near your home that provides quality goods. Tell them the price that you’re getting from the catalog, give them an estimate of the business you’ll throw their way, and see if they can match the prices. You may need to fall back on a local store in a pinch, so try to find one in advance rather than get stuck waiting for something back ordered from a catalog. (There’s a marvelous store across town from me that has a lot of the stuff you see in the catalogs – carnival prizes, party favors, etc., all of which you can inspect before buying. There will probably be a store like it in any metro- politan area, and not many people will know about it unless they happen to stumble across it.)
Establish a working relationship with two or more party rentals services – you can offer tables, chairs, carnival games, etc. (you may also get referrals). Even if you don’t want the headache of arranging these things for the host, knowing a good place and saying “Tell them Dennis Dawson sent you” will pay off for everybody (note that I didn’t say “Tell them Asparagus the Clown sent me,” because the store may get you confused with the *other* Asparagus the Clown).
Have a list of assistants available, reliable people to whom you can offer a slightly-higher-than-fair wage to help you with the logistics of setting up and breaking down the party. The helper should *not* be another entertainer, but rather someone who is tasked with keeping things going while you’re being a charming clown. (Someone in a clean uniform whom you would want to invite to your own party.)
Based on the paper goods you find, build party packages around a theme. From the posts we’ve seen go by, it’s probably best not to advertise a “Well known action figure” or “PBS Costume Show” party. So consider themes like “Hawaiian Luau,” “Pirate’s Plunder,” “Unicorn Fantasy,” whatever.
Everything you do should be *classy*. Don’t skimp on the quality of the napkins or get a cake out of the grocer’s freezer. Offer quality goods at a reasonable price. Be fair to everyone you work with (customers, suppliers, assistants, children).
Now, in your brochure, you can offer different pricing based on the services you provide. This not only makes it clear what you’re willing to do (for a fair price), but what you’re not willing to do (without just compensation).
Too much work? Not worth the hassle? Fine. Don’t do it. But figure out precisely what you are going to offer to “do” a party, and spell it out, in your brochure, on your web page, verbally by phone, and in a contract when you book your engagements. Everyone will be able to make an informed choice when you and your customers book an engagement. And go in happy. the attitude you bring to a party has a lot to do with how you’ll describe the party afterward.
Getting The Party Started
- I typically arrive about 10-15 min early. I tell the parents to occupy the children for about 5 minutes in another room so that I can set up for the show.
- I sometimes enter “looking” for the Smith wedding and do a whole bit about having worn my best outfit for the wedding, and, after I find the bride or groom, I ask which guest are they marrying. If the kids are around 4 or 5 this works pretty well to establish that I am a confused, silly clown.
- Make balloon “costumes” as the guests arrive that fit with the theme. Repair them as necessary until time to go, then leave.
- One of the things you can do to add value is arrive before the party and make decorations – more elaborate creations with several balloons or just a *lot* of one-balloon wonders. This gives the birthday kid a special one-audience show and a treasure trove to play with for a few days after the party’s over.
- I bring a 1′ x 2′ poster board (neon colored) with colored pictures of about 20-30 different creations that I am offering for that day. This REALLY helps the child pick something, and the shy children can just point.
- Ask that the kids wear name badges (or provide them yourself) with their names printed on them in large, bold lettering, so you can always call them by name and know who they are. They love it when you say their names and usually forget that they’re wearing a badge, so they’re amazed that you know them, even when you don’t yet.
- My show starts with 15 to 20 min. of face painting when I first get there. This allows for the kids to chat and socialize, and it helps the late comers to arrive without interrupting a lot.
- I sit the children down in front of me and have them take the “Pledge to never, never, ever, ever, put a balloon in their mouth.” I also talk to them about not letting any younger brothers or sisters at their house from putting them in their mouths.
- My show starts with 15 to 20 min. of face painting when I first get there. This allows for the kids to chat and socialize, and it helps the late comers to arrive without interrupting a lot.
- I sit the children down in front of me and have them take the “Pledge to never, never, ever, ever, put a balloon in their mouth.” I also talk to them about not letting any younger brothers or sisters at their house from putting them in their mouths.
- Why do parents wait til the after-school-time, even on weekends? I now suggest on weekends that people have their party between 12 noon and 2pm, or 1 and 3pm. Otherwise the kids get all wound up waiting all day. It’s proved highly successful, I fit more parties in at weekends, and it enhances the “I’m a professional, I know what I’m doing” approach.
- Put them thru some kind of “aerobics” first — something to get all that extra energy burned up before sticking your head into the “lions’ mouth.” I like T. Myers idea of having a “chase the balloon contest” before doing a show — not necessarily a full out gut busting exercise session, but still it keeps them occupied and allows them to run/jump/scream. It’s important to get children worn out when you need them to pay attention. There must be a hundred tagging games that kids enjoy that you can organize when you need to wear them out. Yes, a little aerobic activity prior to the show can work wonders, but be sure to temper it at the end with something that winds them down. For example, you might end with a yelling contest to see how loud they can be, followed by a whispering contest to see how quiet they can be. If you leave them wound up, they’ll be loud and fidgety throughout the performance.
When The Show Doesn’t Start On Time
- How do you handle situations in which you are scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. (for example), but you arrive to find the guests aren’t there yet, or that your show will be delayed through some fault other than your own? It’s a real problem on weekends when shows are booked all over town and scheduling is tight. Beyond the common sense answer of gently telling the client beforehand that “We’ll need to start at 3:00 sharp”, what do you do?
- I am always there in any case at least 30 minutes before I am on. Because I begin with games, I cannot start these until a good number have arrived. But I do have some toys that they can play with including giant balls, baskets, juggling stuff, so that, as I meet and greet, they are all occupied. I also play some simple ‘theatre games’ with them using the microphone which works brilliantly as an ice breaker.The organizers are briefed to deal with new / late arrivals in a way that doesn’t interrupt the games, and I start the organized part once about 60% have arrived. Others then join in quietly (or in fact noisily!) but without that difficult situation of everyone rushing to the door every time the bell rings.
- One thing I’ve done is to preinflate balloons while I’m standing there waiting. It makes the twisting go much faster later on. The result is that the show doesn’t run for the full hour I’ve promised, but I’ve still put in an hour’s work. I’ve never had a client complain about this and I haven’t perceived any dissatisfaction as the result of the practice.
- I always either send a contract (for corporate jobs) or a confirmation letter (for birthday parties). Both have the time that I’m performing at clearly written. My confirmation letter states that I like to start my shows on time, because I may have another show to get to afterwards. No matter what time of day I do a party, I always do have another party to get to (at least that’s what I tell the client).
- Use a written contract. I hate paperwork and avoided it for years. But it’s the best way in the world to deal with all those stupid little things that come up. I have a standard contract, but if I anticipate any specific problem (like the problem of having to rush from one event to the next), I use a highlighter on that part to make sure there’s no question.
- I start to develop my character for the kids as soon as I go in the front door. If I have to wait around for fifteen minutes in order to start my show, I find that the kids just don’t seem to accept how dumb I really am. The kids gravitate towards you as soon as they see you, so you have to do something to entertain them while you’re waiting for the actual show to begin. I found that when I did allow for these delays and then perform my usual hour show, meaning that in fact I had entertained for over the time I was hired for, it was very rare that I received a tip for staying extra time (and I would never ask for one). A party that I did last weekend is a perfect example. I was hired to perform for a one year old’s party. There were to be about 35 kids. The day before the party, the mother phoned up to see if I could be there at 7:30 instead of at 8:00 as originally planned. I told her that I would try, but my previous booking was quite far from where her’s was. I arrived at the party at 7:50. I started my show at 8:00. There were only 8 kids there when I started. Most of the other children showed up between 8:30 and 8:45. By the time I left there were 35 kids. Should I have waited for a half hour and then started my show? My first show that day had started at 9:30 in the morning. This was now my fifth show of the day. I told the lady that I had a balloon delivery to make afterwards and that I would have to start the show on time. Some of you may think that my method is too severe, but to be honest, I’d rather get home faster and see my own kids.
- I’ve found the number of times this comes up can be minimized by encouraging the client not to have you arrive right at the start of the party. Most clients I’ve dealt with already understand the issue of guests, sometimes large numbers of guests, arriving late, and the rest are generally open to your advice as a party professional to allow some time between the party’s scheduled start and your arrival.
- To keep things on time I ask what time they are asking the guest to arrive. Then I tell them that I will arrive 15 to 20 minutes after that time. I explain that I like to make an entrance, and usually by that time the guests have arrived and finished with their “Hello’s,” and they are ready for me! I hate to stand around waiting for people to arrive, I feel like I’m wasting my time and the client’s money.
- However, it still happens even with the best planning. Even though you’re not obligated to give extra time because of a client’s planning problem, if your schedule permits, it’s good business to allow a little extra time for the party to start, but no more than 10 or 15 minutes. Any longer than that is unfair to you and to other professionals. Explain in pleasant, professional terms that you have a party to get to after this one, even if you don’t. You go to great lengths to hold up your end of the agreement, and you’re entitled to a reasonable effort by the client to hold up their end. Spend the waiting time professionally; twist balloons, do pocket magic, be playful with the children who are there, etc. But remember that maintaining a high standard of professionalism involves more than just twisting cool balloons.
- The traditional birthday party goes like this:
- Balloons are the best tool to have for all those shows that don’t have the right staging, atmosphere, or focus.
- Don’t limit yourself. Some people love having balloons and a little something extra.
- I only do balloons at parties. I advertise just balloons hats and animals, and book mostly balloon parties for 2-6 year old birthday children.
- I don’t normally do major sculptures for private parties, unless they are specifically requested.
- I offer a party for older kids instead of the traditional clown party. I have done two of these so far. For the same price as a birthday party (for 10 or 12 kids about 12 or 13 years old), I go out as Kathy the Balloon Lady and I paint faces with full face designs like cats, tigers etc.
- Instead of making the normal 1 balloon figures at parties, all I do now are hats. They stand out a lot better, children have tons of fun switching and trying friends’ hats, and parents feel that their child has gotten a better gift/treat. Best of all, I worry less about the children putting the balloons in their mouths.
- Pet Peeves of mine…
- Parents who sit in the back of the room and keep talking over the show!
- Parents who think their kids don’t care what balloon you make for them!
- Parents who tell their kids what to say or do when you try to talk with child directly!
- Sneak off into another room and begin twisting while the kids are eating their cake. As they finish and start to wander, let them “find” you, and you can handle a few kids at a time (this has worked well for me).
- At times I make the balloon, hand it to the child, the child goes to the adult in charge of a plastic bag, and the child places their balloon in the bag. This way the child has a balloon to take home after the party. Most adults like this better than the broken pieces of latex in the back yard.
- I present my balloon twisting as a show. When I tried strolling around, I found I never got out of there. With a show, there is an ending time.
- I have a running balloon gag through the entire show about making a tazmanian devil or some such thing. I never seem to get it right, and I get them to use their imagination about what these balloon bits could be. This is a lot of fun!
- I give the kids rules and the choices of animal balloons, and then I spend the hour twisting. I have them line up, and I make them a balloon animal or hat of their choice. These are usually one or two balloon sculptures. I tell jokes while making the balloons, or I make a “game” out of the balloons – having them guess what I am making. The correct guesser gets the next balloon – and if one of the older kids who already has a balloon guesses what I am making, I suggest that they pass their “win” on to one of the smaller children. They seem to like that!
- I perform at birthday parties as Heart Throb The Clown or Princess Honeybunch. The Princess does dress up parties for girls only. She usually makes beautiful 160 magic wand balloons for all the guests. Heart Throb does a variety of activities at parties and usually ends with balloon creations. She NEVER makes balloon swords at parties. She first makes a special detailed multi-balloon creation for the birthday child, and makes it very clear to everyone that only the birthday child gets this design – it is Heart Throb’s birthday present. She then makes balloons for party guests usually giving them 4-6 options. The options are usually one or two balloon creations. Sometimes the kids line up, but frequently Heart Throb asks each child what they want. The crowd is never in control – Heart Throb is always in control making sure that everyone knows that everyone will get a balloon.
- I’ll give each kid a choice of 3 animals and I’ll quickly make that one for them. It gets funny when you list 3 animals and the child says something completely different! This is my rule for a birthday party with more than 10 guests. If it’s less than 10, I am inclined to spend a couple of minutes with each child as you suggested.
- If you really want to relate to your young audience, go back in age yourself and try to think with a child’s mind. When you go to a Birthday party, take a few minutes and just TALK to the kids – joke around a bit, make friends with them, show them you are on their side, and laugh at yourself as well!
- I do birthday parties, and 99% of the time I twist 260s. Once in a while, though, the kids like to create faces on round balloons or sometimes I make a special balloon with the round ones for the birthday child. There is a package I found at K-Mart called Balloon Buddies. It had Party Plus on the package and Granger Balloons, Inc., NY, NY on the back, but no phone number or address. The package contained 6 round balloons, stickers for faces and 6 cardboard funny feet to stand the balloons up. The cost was $2.99. Can anyone help? Where can I find something like this?
- You know, I used to make balloon creatures similar to this when I was a kid. I just cut out the feet from scrap cardboard and drew the faces on with markers. The kit you described for $2.99 strikes me as containing about fifty cents (maybe a buck) worth of materials. You can probably save yourself a fortune. Just draw some feet on an 8-1/2×11″ page (anybody can draw simple feet, trace them if you prefer) and xerox them onto heavy card stock. Put your name and phone number in small letters around the edge of the foot, to generate additional gigs. You can have the copy store cut them in squares. Then let the kids do the close work with safety scissors at the party. I’ve seen funny face stickers in party stores, or you can just hand out Sharpies and let the kids draw them on (kids aren’t as reluctant to draw as adults). Throw in a package of chenille pipe cleaners, and the kids can make arms or whatever. You can also coordinate the color of the balloons you provide, and choose accessories that fit the theme of the specific party. Sometimes the packaged stuff is worthwhile (it’s nice to have everything you need in one little box). But if you’re doing this often, you can easily save a bundle by assembling the kits yourself.
- I list 6-10 options they can choose from and tell them to be careful, not to put the balloon on the grass or against a rough surface like concrete. I make a few extra balloons for replacements.
- You’ll find a long list of possible games for your party in the Balloon Games Chapter.
- Also, you’ll find tons of ideas for your act in the Balloon Acts Chapter.
Getting The Show On The Road
- We do a flower for the birthday child to give to Mrs. Mommy to thank her for the wonderful birthday party.
- After all the balloons are made, I have the parents take the children to the food and present opening while I pack up.
- I use the elephant line or whatever animal I think of – “I have to go. It’s my turn to feed the elephants! They get really grumpy when their dinner is late!!” (If they are older 10 or 12, and they persist in trying to make you stay), try – “The last clown that was late is now called lefty (pull your sleeve over your right hand.”)
- I stay and “help” them sing the birthday song – which can range anywhere from Jingle Bells to Row, Row, Row your boat until the kids help me get it right.
- Don’t forget, most children’s parties include a grab bag to be taken home. Make sure you talk the mother (or who ever is going to make them up) into letting you include your business card in these. If you’ve done a good job, the kids will be talking you up like crazy. If your card is brought home, it’s a cheap way to get your name out to others with kids.
- I tell the parents ahead of time to hand me an envelope with my payment as I am leaving. This way they can tip you.
- After all is said and done, I mail them a “Thank You” and an evaluation form. This little extra pays off.
Happy Birthday To You
- I bring a large balloon sculpture as a gift for the birthday child. You can stop on the way to the party and purchase a big bouquet of helium-filled balloons (in the 5 dollar range) for the birthday kid, or bring a gaggle of helium balloons with long ribbons and turn them loose in the house (whatever it costs you, mark it up and pass the cost along to the hosts). Each kid gets to take home one of your creations attached to a helium balloon. Or rent a helium canister and fill them yourself. I have taken a balloon bouquet for the guest of honor – this is five balloon flowers made with 6″ geo’s and placed in a 16″ geo vase. I also make these for hospital patients and other gifts. For a girl, I bring the ballerina with the clown head. For a boy, I make a palm tree with a monkey hanging on it. Or a large bicycle. When other children ask to have one, I tell them to have their mommy invite me over for their party and I’ll bring one for them.
- It’s always good to have a Birthday card (etc) for the guest of honor. If it’s a kid’s birthday, I like to give a “little present” too. Just a little package with little cheap toys. . . i.e. superballs, brightly colored pencils, plastic spiders, whistles. etc. For a buck or two you can put together a pretty cheap gift that the kid’ll love forever. And I usually make cards out of construction paper and crayon or felt pen. I draw a simple drawing, and then write a little message. Nothing fancy, sometimes just balloons on strings, with dots and squigglies for confetti. It adds something personal to the day. Of course, the guest of honor, gets the biggest hat at the party!!!!
- Make it very clear from the start that its is the Birthday child’s SPECIAL DAY, so his hat/animal/whatever will be better than anyone elses. This only makes the guest of honor feel that much more special. The others can still have special things, but when they ask for the same thing as the guest of honor, tell them that you’ll do something similar, but not as big, because you want everyone else to know that the birthday boy is special. Maybe on their birthday you’ll be able to do something extra special for them too.
- I usually begin parties with several special balloon creations for the birthday child, get into my show (magic, juggling, etc.), then finish by making balloons for every child. During the show I get the birthday child up to help with the first routine, usually something small but fun. I also get this child to help me later on for a big routine in which I dress them up. Most children love it, and the parents love the photo opportunities. For boys, I will make them into a complete pirate with hat, sword, scabbard and parrot that sits on their shoulder. Or make them into a helicopter (this works well at company picnics only I do it to the biggest bigwig I can find-first asking if they have a good sense of humor).
- During the Show, I only give away about ten balloon figures. The last one is a Multi Balloon Figure for the Birthday Kid.
- After my magic show when we are ready for balloons at a birthday party, I always make the birthday person’s stuff first. I always give him a bunch of choices, and I tell the other kids not to tell me what they want now. I tell them to think about what they would like so that they can tell me what they would likewhen it’s their turn.
- I tell the parents that the birthday child gets the biggest and the most. So if little Johnny wants three balloons, and it’s not his birthday, I tell him “this is Bob’s special day, and that is why he is getting bigger and more balloons than everyone else. When it is your birthday, you can get the biggest and the most balloons.” This is a quick plug such that little Johnny will want you for his birthday.
- At birthday parties, the balloon segment is usually one or three or four activities in 1 1/2 hours. I usually make a special detailed multi-balloon sculpture for the birthday child (Mermaid, Elmo, Daffy, Pink Panther, Killer Whale, Penguin or such) and offer a choice for the other guests.Generally I suggest 6 or 7 designs and ask them to choose one and choose a color. The suggested designs are usually one or two balloon creations. Of course, everyone wants the special multi-balloon design, but I repeat that the special design is my gift to the birthday child and that they will get just such a special balloon at their birthday party.I’ve been using this formula for several years, and it works very well. I always discuss the situation with the person who hires me – a special multi-balloon creation for the birthday child and simpler designs for everyone else. If the person hiring me wants me to make detailed multi-balloon designs for everyone, then I offer a party with one less activity to allow for enough time.
- One problem I’ve had at birthday parties is making a complex multi-balloon figure/sculpture for the birthday child, then everyone wanting one. To avoid this, I will usually have the “special” balloon created before hand. After the kids have had a balloon, I say that the birthday child gets a special balloon because it is his/her birthday. This usually goes over well because the kids expect the birthday child to have something special. They would want it that way on their birthday. If they say to me that they would like a special balloon, then my response to them is that they would get special things on their birthday. I have had no problems with this special balloon. I usually have a multi-balloon figure for the birthday child so that they get something extra. Not only is it neat for the child but helps to display what other types of balloons you can do.
- I always make the birthday person a special sculpture before I start the magic show. When the kids are sitting down, I tell them what is going to happen and that now I want to make the birthday person a special balloon. I make something huge and cool. It wows the kids and the adults. I want everyone to want one. If anyone says I want one (which always happens), I explain again that this is a special creation for the birthday person on their special day. Then mom always says have Ed at your birthday! (I love moms.) I never have had anyone get upset that they could not have the special one. No matter what the age, they always understand.
- For parties I usually make a large multi-balloon for the birthday child. The child comes up and I have her hold the parts and make a big deal out of it. For the rest of the kids, I make quick ones.
- Sometimes there are more guests than expected at a party, and I always make a detailed multi-balloon creation for the birthday child even if time constraints do not allow me to make balloons for all the party guests.
- One of the presenters at the International Festival of Children’s Magicians offered the idea that the birthday person gets two or three very special balloons. Then the rest of the kids get a choice of two pre-determined balloons that are very simple. I have tried this with my parties, and I really like it. The B-day child feels very special, and the others want you to come be their birthday clown so they can get the special treatment.
- At a birthday party I always make a birthday child his balloon first.
- I make a large multi-balloon creation for the birthday child, then announce that every child get a balloon sculpture – one sculpture.
- I always make a special balloon for the birthday child, and then I tell the kids that, because there were so many invited to the party, that I made a few up at Clown town for them and I hope that they will like them.
- Be careful not to make anything with 3 balloons if you are not going to have time to do this for everyone. (Except the birthday child – he/she should always get something extra special)
- I bring paper magic wands held together with a ring and with a coloring sheet inside, stickers, and a balloon for each child. I tell the parents they will not have to go out and buy a lot of party giveaways as I bring a lot.
So Many Balloons, So Little Time
So Many Balloons, So Little Time
- There aren’t many ways to twist lots of balloons in a short amount of time. Here are tips on dealing with the all too familiar situation of too many kids, too little time:
- Since I work on a per hour basis, I always ask the client how many guests are expected, and then make my time estimate by allotting one minute per guest. Now, that’s a pretty tight estimate. You can work fast and make some fancy stuff in 60 seconds, but you also want to allow time for at least a bit of interaction with the kids. Your job, from the client’s viewpoint, is to get every kid a balloon. Yes, you are there to entertain, but if the kid of the senior V.P. has to go home without a balloon in her little hands, Daddy’s not going to give a fig about how “entertaining” you were.
- “Twists-per-minute” only comes into play for me when I am working a party of more than 30 kids and/or adults. Rarely do I find that many at a birthday party, but there is often a large crowd at a company picnic or Christmas party.
- So far only the very large events are interested in number of balloons per hour. . .but, only if I bring it up and only if they are paying me to work the event (not if I am doing tips alone). I tell them it depends on the complexity of things made, what people ask for, how many people are there and what the client wants me to do in my performance for them. Then with that information, we can talk about a fair estimation of the number of balloon sculptures per hour.I just see it as providing information a customer can use to determine with some certainty that you are worth your fee. But, I really think that number of balloons per hour is only one part of the equation for value. . . entertaining is the other, and if a client is just interested in handing out balloons, then they really don’t need you anyway.If the consultation is in person then they can easily gage your speed and competency when you “audition” for them. If you twist on a regular basis somewhere or if you are working another event, invite the potential client to come to where you are working so they can see you in action. Having a potential client watch you work in real life or private audition speaks volumes as to your ability and erases any doubts they may have about hiring balloon entertainment.
- At big parties you need to accept that not everyone will get a balloon in the 2 hours. Then, publicize yourself to the attendees so everyone who wants one will come see you early on in the evening and not at the last minute. Make as many as you can for as many kids as you can. With a time limit of 2 hours for 300 kids, that’s all they can ask of you. Make sure you don’t get roped into staying longer than they’re paying you for, though. Be firm about your deadline.
- I’ve had some problems with these situations. The customer wants to set a festive mood but only wants to pay you for one hour. I’ve set my base rate for two hours or less to discourage people from hiring me for not enough time to entertain a large percentage of the crowd. They’ll pay me the base rate for 15 minutes or two hours, so usually they will chose two hours. Often this has led to longer performances (3 hours plus) and pleased customers. I’ve turned down a few performances because they didn’t want to go at least two hours because most crowd performances bombed when I went shorter. Sometimes the customer needs to be persuaded to do what he really wants.
- If you’ve got 100 kids and the party lasts two hours, plan to work fast (and use a PUMPO or PUMP1), keep the chit-chat short but pleasant, and don’t get fancy because everybody will want the biggest and most difficult thing you show them. Keep your ego in check and make things easier for yourself. If a kid asks “Can you make Elmo riding a bicycle?” just say “no” or “not today” and make a two-balloon hat.
- Easy answer: Twist as many balloons as you can in two hours and leave ’em wanting more – it could mean a future engagement.
- Another Idea: bring someone to inflate balloons so you can focus on twisting, less time sucking air!
- Make as many as possible for the first hour or so and then start giving out only “cute” but plain rounds such as those with the smiley faces.
- Use some sort of “raffle” system where someone assisting randomly picks out tickets/or names of different kids.
- Stock up on a bunch of inexpensive small toys so that the unfortunate kids left out at least get something nice. Interestingly, I have had many kids ask to trade their balloon for one of these toys. Of course, the answer is no trades, except those that they can negotiate with each other.
- If you’re worried about being able to inflate and twist 20 figures in a short amount of time:
- Upgrade your pump
- Bring an assistant
- Pre-make special items like googly eyes, tongues, etc.
- Get a pump for the really big gigs. I can blow by mouth for a long time, but not all day. And not nearly as fast as I want to to keep the line from getting too long. I have the Pump 1 from T Meyer and wouldn’t do a corporate gig without it. I use it any time I want to make figures in less than five minutes (I’m doing 3-5 balloon creations). There’s some entertainment value in blowing by mouth, but most of the entertainment comes from how you interact with the customers while building their sculpture. After seeing a person inflate 10 or so, the “wow!” factor is significantly diminished.
- Have the kids help you do your work. When I get tired, I pass out preinflated balloons, and we all twist a dog.
- Have your friends help you do your work
- Recruit your friends and work in teams. Using 2 or more persons works well, but you must charge an amount appropriate for 2 or more clowns (also, scheduling between 2 performers and a birthday mother can be tough!).
- Stay longer and charge more
- Give anything a try. What works best for one isn’t always right for another. When you can’t keep up you just have to do the best you can and keep smiling all the time.
Pre-Made Balloons for Large Crowds
- I do a lot of magic shows at schools where they want a balloon for each child. What I offer (which is usually loved by the schools) is to pre make balloon animals or snowmen. I bring them in trash bags, and the school passes them out at the end of the event as the kids are leaving. Then, in between shows, I mingle with the kids demonstrating some of the BIG stuff. I give these to teachers, and they put them in their class rooms. This way everyone gets a balloon (who’s three or over), and I entertain while making some big sculptures. This has worked well for me. I charge for my time at the school and for the time to blow balloons at home to bring.
- The problem I sometimes run into is that a client wants one hour of entertainment for 150 kids. Most little ones simply will not sit still for a full hour of magic. And just try to get balloons to 150 kids in 60 minutes. You can (and I sometimes do) preinflate balloons and carry them to the gig in plastic cans or garbage bags. But the time you spend preparing ought to be included in the price.
- Pre-inflate A LOT OF BALLOONS and pass them out for those that are interested and “teach” them how to make a simple dog. That way they are creating their own balloon and they get very excited. You may run into some snags with popped balloons, but you have an hour, so there you go. You can also tell the kids that if they don’t like the color of balloon that you gave them they can trade.
- If we are doing a preschool with over 100 children, we pre-inflate balloons and make them into doggies. Each child that comes to get their doggie blows on the tail and we “poof” it so the child has a brief interaction with the clown. We always make too many doggies, and those that are left over we quickly “poof” each tail just in case the pre-school needs it after we leave.
- Your speed will come through practice and work. Concentrate on proportion and design. The speed will come as you become comfortable with what you are doing.
- The speed at which I work depends on the number of those waiting in line. If need be, I fly! However, a pace that is a couple steps above casual is preferred because of the time it allows for entertaining. Tips seem to be better if there is time to tell a balloon illustrated story or a moment to play with the kids. At any rate or speed, it should be fun for everyone.
- I can’t use an all-inclusive formula, as my speed varies with the venue. At my fastest, those venues where I am basically a balloon machine, I always bring one bag per hour of twisting, plus one bag extra per job. I always have some left over, but that is better than the alternative.
- I’m hooked on multiple balloon sculptures. Elaborate cartoon characters often take too long, so I am trying to learn to learn more FAST multi’s. A leash on a dog is a fast multi. An inflated 260 attached to a bee or bird makes it big and allows it fly. Hats are always fast multi’s. Parents love them because there is less chance of it breaking and they’re easier to carry when the child is done with them (just put your arm through the opening and keep both hands free!)
- Practice each day. Sorta like those nasty finger exercises for the piano. No one likes ’em. They’re made to enhance your ability. A few each day and it gets easier. It’s slow going, but necessary. Treat it like weight lifting. Set a number. Do the reps each day. Increase the reps slowly over time.
- Make yourself faster:
- Practice, practice, practice until you can do it in your sleep.
- Learn the speed twisting techniques that conserve the number of twists you have to make. I remember reading some speed-twisting tips in a book that had a section on cranking out animals when surrounded by kids. Things like making legs using a fold-twist (elephant ear), rather than twisted side by side bubbles (standard legs); and lock-twisting by squeezing multiple folds of the balloon(s) together without first twisting individual bubbles (eg. S-twist sword).
- Make one balloon animals and not multiple-balloon creations. We do not do any exotic multiple balloons for the children at the party. We do mainly swords, dogs, bunnys, girafes, etc. The multiple balloons are wonderful but I save them for doing a big presentation when you have a lag, or if there is a special party. If we have a party with very few children, then we can get fancy and make multiple balloon sculptures. This doesn’t happen too often.
- When the lines are long and I’m doing only one balloon per child, I make hats with a basic animal face at the front; small nose, ears, neck, and front legs then around the head and lock to body with excess being tail sticking up behind animal head.
- If it is really busy I don’t give them a long list to choose from. I ask them their favorite color and when they say – I offer them a choice of two or three things. I usually don’t have any problems with that.
- In a rush situation I won’t take requests, I’ll mention that it is “clown’s choice” and make something neat but simple ie. a few twists with a flourish and a laugh and on to the next table.
- Use a menu. It really speeds things up if your customers know what they want by the time you are ready for them.
- Use a faster pump.
- Speed ballooning is an art in and of itself, requiring quick hands yet attention to your customers, so they still feel like they’re getting personal attention (because they are). Two simple balloon hats are what I do for mass production. I’m a T disciple here. Hats take up more room (Value=volume), don’t pop as much, are less likely to go in mouths, and are more unusual than the usual quickie animals. There are fewer twists than with animals, so the time spent blowing up the second balloon is easily made up. Also, once you start with animals you have to start dealing with requests. (Can I get a cowboy on a horse? Pleeeeease?)Two balloon hats take up *much* more visible space then one balloon ones, because most of the first balloon has to go around their head. And the Star Trek saying — IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) — applies here, because there are so many combinations you can make with just two balloons. Definately worth the extra time. Two balloon hats also give you an extra moment or two with the customer. And if you think you have the time to do three (or more) balloon ones, then hey, go wild!
- Single balloon bees and butterflies are quick. Just inflate a balloon with just 2″ tail, and then twist a loop. Then twist the loop in half. A flying creature of your choice.
- Swords are fast too – especially if you do a large fold twist then pull the rest of the balloon through the fold to create a handle.
- Try a spiral snake! Just blow spiral then fold twist some eyes. Indian hats and Davey Crockett hats or any other one or two balloon hat should go over well too.
- Lot of folks comment that they’re impressed with how fast I twist. I think the speed comes from experience (just figured it out, in the last 7 years of restaurant work, I’ve spent 2184 hours twisting… wow..I think I need a nap 🙂 rather than a conscious effort to twist fast.
- My fastest time in doing a balloon creation is 2 seconds. It’s a blue J.
- I’m not the speediest twister in the world, but I have done over 200 sculptures in 2 1/2 hours. Usually, there will be a run of swords, swans, rabbits, parrots, etc. somewhere in the job that allow me to make up time.If you get to focus on smaller groups, and can get more creative, keep in mind that you’ll get more requests for that kind of thing. And don’t forget a Multi-Person Balloon Connector hat, connecting the VIPs of the affair and/or a bunch of kids.
Maintaining Control at Birthday Parties
Crowd Control at Birthday Parties
- Who has the responsibility for maintaining control over the children at a party? You as a performer at a children’s party assume the responsibility for control over the children that you are hired to entertain. It’s part of the job. Each of the parties that you do is the best opportunity that you have to be hired for more work based on what you do and how you do it. We all need to be concerned in how we are viewed by the people that hire us. If we make a lot of demands on the folks that pay us (like – you are responsible for controlling the kids, etc.) then I’ll bet that they’ll hire someone else in the future. Always remember that when you are working with children at a party, they are going to be in a very “up” condition. They are excited by the party and by the balloons that you do. I know that it’s hard to be compassionate toward a creepy kid when you’re concentrating on doing your act, but I contend that you’re not there to make balloons or pull rabbits from hats, you’re there to ensure that everyone has a good time (including “bad” kids).
- The goal is not to be just an adequate performer, but a hero, so that parents will recommend you to others, kids will beg to have you come to their parties, etc. We really are heros; we’re paid superb fees to do the impossible. We takeover a bunch of kids whose hearts are set on a riot. Therefore we have to be able to handle ANY problems. The adults are visibly delighted when we turn up. They’re so grateful even if you can only handle 99% of the kids.
- Bored children of a certain age will wack each other with whatever is at hand. In a birthday party setting, I ask for 3 things: That the children remain seated and refrain from blurting out requests since _everyone_ is getting a balloon; that the children take very good care of their balloons so they can show their parents what they received; and that Mom take any balloon blugeons away and put them with the goodie bags. This “orderliness” tends to allow us all to have more fun, since I get to know all the children in turn and we all share some laughs.
- If a child starts to cause a real problem, tell him plainly, in a friendly, loving, but not joking tone, that you won’t tolerate that behavior. Don’t be rough, don’t hit, don’t yell and don’t frown, just smilingly, firmly speak to the child in a kind and loving way (I know it sounds funny, but if you’re thinking this as you do it, your body language will communicate it). If the child continues to cause a problem, take the child to *another* parent (if the child’s actual parent is there, play dumb and ask someone else if he’s their child), and ask for assistance in keeping the child back while you’re performing for the other children. This tends to chagrin both the child and the adult, and while they’re standing there sort of stunned, walk quickly back and let the kids gather around you again. If you can get most of the kids twisted and happy, you’ll have some extra time for the problem kid at the end (and the problem kid probably needs some extra attention, even if he’s a pain in the ***).
- In all cases that I have run into, in over eight years of children’s party experience, children can be handled with no direct threats or insults directed at them or the adults. Learn from each bad experience that you have. Early, calm and creative action can prevent an enthusiastic kid from becoming a problem in the first place. If at all possible you want to handle this without involving the people who are paying you to be at the event. They will give glowing recommendations, and tell other parents “Cap’n Denny made great animals, and he even handled Billy Buttsticker!”
- The key is to be patient, but don’t wait until you’re ready to blow your stack. Tell the child *one time* to behave. If he doesn’t, lovingly force him to comply. Stopping it early without rancor will go a long way toward ensuring that everyone has fun.
- Usually I can get the kid under control, by giving him another balloon, and telling him that I need him to blow THIS one up for the next hat. Every few seconds I “check on him” to see how he’s progressing. “No progress yet?!?!?! Keep on trying!”
- People do invite the trouble-maker kids. S/He’s a neighbor, child of important adult friend, friend of the birthday boy or girl, the class bully, or a classmate when they invite the whole class. Handle the problem kid in such a way that you get sympathy and help. If you spoil the fun for the terrible kid who is a friend of the birthday boy or girl, you’re also spoiling it for the host. Also, the birthday kid IS often the problem.
- For a problem with a kid that won’t listen — A tactic, not to be used immediately (it works well but loses impact if used too often), but definitely before calling in the host of a large event, is to stop and explain that you just can’t continue without everyone’s cooperation. In almost every case, the other kids will ask the troublemaker to stop. This works with hecklers of all ages too. If you can somehow indicate to your audience that the heckler is disturbing you, the crowd will take care of things for you.
- Here’s another trick I use when I want to get the attention of a group of kids. I start whispering something like this:”Here comes the bulletin this is the most important thing I’m going to say today I hope everyone is listening because I’m not going to say it twice and then you’ll be sorry whoooo-boy will you be sorry because everyone else will have heard this wonderful thing and you’ll sit in a corner and gnash your teeth and beat your chest because you didn’t hear me say it” etc. I do this in a nasal, high-pitched monotone that sounds sort of like a television test pattern. When they settle down to hear what I’m saying, I launch into whatever it was I was going to say. Keep in mind that this technique will work a maximum of one time. Once they’re on to you, you’ll have to try something else.
- Now, if you are hired to make balloons, yes, you are being paid, but not by the person receiving the balloon, and you have no control over who you are going to twist for. Since the munchkins don’t have to fork over any of their own money, what do they care if they trash the balloon and demand another – they have lost nothing. You on the other hand can get swamped with these balloon grubbing little monsters, and will find yourself not being able to get to kids who really want a spiffy balloon, AND find some creepy kid/parent complaining to who ever DID pay you about how you will not make a balloon for their little darling who wants their 40th balloon.
- You must get rid of the brat if he/she is ruining the show. Get rid of the problem by calling in an adult. Keeping 8 out of 10 kids under control (by calling for help) is better than 2 out of 10 (because the bad kid keeps on). Even with experience, there’ll always be the odd kid. There are usually enough adults around that this sort of thing doesn’t go very far. (I hear many fellow magicians complain that all too often, they are used as baby sitters. The show starts and the adults vanish.) But remember if you have to call the adults in, while they may not blame you, they won’t praise you either.
- Make it clear in your contract that there is to be a responsible adult who will maintain ultimate control over the children. If things get out of control, the show ends at the point, and you as the performer still get paid in full (it’s not YOUR fault you have to end the show). If you get food being thrown around and more than half a dozen kids heckling and moving around (which I hear is not that uncommon!), then quit.
- Here’s a tip if you are twisting at a small party. Enlist an adult assistant. Its easier than you might think. Just as you are about to start twisting, point to an adult and ask, “would you please line the kids up so I can make them balloons?” Works like a charm. They do it every time, and keep the kids under control for you. Even if they have to leave to do something else, they almost always find someone to replace themselves. It helps to size folks up earlier on, look for someone who really seems to enjoy interacting with the kids.
- When a “brat” starts in, I usually ask the parent or adult in charge to handle the little problem. Our job is not to babysit (although some people think we are) but rather to entertain. The parents job is to make sure that the kids behave so we can entertain. I might look and say to the person in charge “could you help me with this child so I can continue my performance?” I never put myself in the situation of babysitting. In fact, when someone books my show, I send them a Birthday Party Planner that includes some words about how parents or adults should be in the room when the performance is on to take care of any problems that may arise so the performer can do his show without interruption.
- Turning to an adult for help should be a second line of defense. Turn to the host when all other venues have failed. Your last resort should be to take the child to the host (preferably a dad) and ask for help so that you can complete your performance. By this time, the child’s behavior should have been so egregious that the host will be understanding. If the host won’t help, I’d pack up, but I wouldn’t charge for the party (yes, I know, I’ve lost opportunity time and I did show up and do some of the act) because if I get any bad word of mouth from the event (and I will, because I didn’t live up to my end of the bargain for whatever reason) I want to be able to explain it in a way that makes me come off clean.
- I don’t like to make swords at parties. Every time I pull out my balloons the first thing yelled out is “can you make swords?” I usually respond that since swords are sharp, the balloons keep breaking! Then I start making animals. I have NO problem with youngsters having toy swords and guns, its just that kids will be kids, as soon as they have swords ALL control is lost, and the parents decide that perhaps balloons were not such a good idea after all. IF on the other hand I am getting NO help from the adults in maintaining the little darlings, I will start to make the swords. When it looks like a lamp or two is in mortal danger, I suggest that they play with the swords outside (much to the relief of the adults) while I make the animals for the kids who really want them.
- If there aren’t enough adults to keep a careful eye on every child, ask the older children to keep an eye on their younger siblings. Even a 5 year old kid can act quite responsibly when she’s asked to look after her younger brother. This has the added advantage of making the older kid feel great about being trusted to do such an important job. You’re basically reminding the older ones also of the danger, but they don’t know that.
- As I am making a balloon, I say, “You want to know a secret about balloons?” Of course everyone quiets down to hear the secret. Then I say “Those who sit quietly get their balloon first. Those who jump up and down and say I’m next I want a blue dog they go last. So whoever wants to be last can make a lot of noise.” This always gets a chuckle from the parents and the kids really sit still. This works most of the time. As I am making the balloon I’ll say something like everybody is being so good how can I pick someone. This reinforces the concept. I also tell them if they get wild with the balloon swords the birthday mommy will put them away till it is time to go home. Sometimes I will say wow those with balloon are being so patient, are you guy always this good?
- Before I even start, I tell everyone “During the show not everyone will get a balloon, but later, after the show you will all get a balloon!”
- I also tell them that I look for friends who are sitting down on their bottoms being nice and quiet. This works great! Now its a party, and the kids are not going to be silent (I wouldn’t want them to be), but they are not all screaming at me either. They are talking calmly and quietly. The parents are always amazed at the control I have with the kids.
- When I begin the balloon session of a birthday party I say, “Only children who are sitting will get a balloon.” Some of the younger children may need to be reminded, but they plop down really quickly if they don’t have a balloon yet. I first make sample balloons (3 to 6 in number). If it is a very young party, I limit the selections to around 3 because 2 and 3 year olds deal better with smaller selections. I let the children know they will each get a balloon but will need to choose, so they watch pretty closely. When all the samples are made, they are presented to the birthday child, and then I say now “it is your turn to choose which balloon I will make for you.” I usually set it up by saying “My next balloon goes to someone who has his hand on his head, and a finger on the nose. The first one to do this gets the next balloon. As I proceed, I change what they have to do. Make it fun, have them stick their tongue out, or make a silly face or a scary one. This keeps you in clown character, but you have control.
- I was asked to perform for a party that was to be held at a play ground. When I was hired for the event I told the mom that name tags would be great so I knew who was at the party. I also requested that after the magic show, when it was time for me to make balloons for the kids, that it would help if she would watch for anybody coming over that was not in her party. It was her job to tell folks that I was there for her group. This way she was the “bad person” and not me! I always tell people when I get asked about performing in a situation like this that unless we have a private room you are better off at home. I explain why, and nine times out of ten they agree with me, and, if there is no private room, they have a home party. Home parties are a lot easier for me and cheaper for my client.
- When we do a party, we have the kids line up in single file after the magic show. We then do one balloon at a time, and they line up to get their next balloon added to the first. We ask the parents to let us know if we have missed anyone. We also arrive with a bag of about 75 balloons already blown up to use for hats and swords. For a party of 50 kids, make sure that you have lots of balloons already blown up to reduce the dead time. Get the parents to help you control the line. As the line gets shorter, we start to make balloon hats for the parents and brothers and sisters. This seems to start the line going again.
- My show is entertaining, but I am very controlling to teach the kids manners and respect for a performer. I have never had kids go WILD when the balloons came out. For my show the kids are all sitting down in rows on the floor and paying attention. My show is arranged so that when there is a trick that gets the kids all excited and yelling, the next trick will be a CALMING one.
- How do you control hyperactive Johnny from next door who has Attention Deficit disorder and hyperactivity, and is loaded up on sugar and junk food, AND maxed out sensory wise?
- It is easier for a real, straight person (as opposed to a clown, which is perceived as a non-real, cartoon-character like entity) to set and enforce rules. If a clown does it, no matter how nicely, it still sounds too authoritarian.
- If you don’t control the children, they will control you. Most of them know how much they can get away with. They will do this with or without balloons. If you can’t control them with balloons, you won’t be able to control them without balloons. Remember, you’re not a baby-sitter. If the children get out of hand, ask the parents to help. It’s not a crime for a parent to maintain order.
- If, as a clown you start handing out numbers, you sound like a person dressed up in a costume. Start making demands, however “nicely”, and you sound like a school teacher dressed up in a costume. I hear from too many parents who hired a “drill seargent”-esque clown who came in and started barking out orders to the kids for simply doing what kids do. . . go WILD when it comes to the free balloons.
- It takes a little bit of creativity, but it really isn’t all that hard to handle a group for an hour or so if you provide something besides “sit there and watch me twist.”
- Hold to the rules you set about how many creations one can have and stand firm.
- As for the “I know how that’s done” screams. I respond with, “magic is all about illusion. It’s about using some secret to surprise everyone else. If you know the secret, that’s really cool. You know something that not everyone else knows. Let’s keep it that way so that they can enjoy it as much as you did the first time you saw it. If I can, I’ll even make it more surprising than it was for you and make it just a little more special. So watch closely and see if I can make it a better trick for everyone.”There is to be no balloons at the table while eating cake, etc. We have found that this procedure works best for parties in the home.
- There was a quote that I heard at T-Jam that stuck with me. It was from Marvin H. ” When I do a birthday party, I make it clear that at the party I only do balloons for the Birthday child, but I bring a lot of pre-made balloons to pass out at the end.” I liked that a lot because I too have had some problem with crowd control. The kids handled it fine, but I felt uncomfortable being so bossy. I am going to try parties again but as more of an entertainer rather than a balloon machine.
No Balloons at Parties?!?!?!?
- Part of being a balloon professional includes knowing when NOT to twist them. The best way to handle balloon animals at a birthday party is NOT to do them. Yes, I lose many jobs because I’m honest with people up front and tell them that. . . But the parties I *do* perform at go splendidly, without even the suggestion of balloons.I find that if I nicely explain to the prospective customer what will happen when the kids see the balloons, MOST of them will engage their brain long enough to remember what happened with their child the last time they were in a similar situation. . . As soon as they realize what I just reminded them of, they see that it makes sense, and I usually get the booking. It sounds something like this:
“Ma’am, there are many situations where twisting balloon animals for children can be a very fun and appropriate activity. Unfortunately, birthday parties aren’t one of them, and I’d like you to bear with me as I explain why. I’m not trying to sound mean or to deprive them of any fun or anything like that. . . But I’m sure you know as well as I do, perhaps even BETTER than I do, that out of a group of a dozen or so children, it only takes one or two rambunctious ones to start fighting over who’s going to be next, or worse yet, making their balloon animal “attack” someone else, popping them in the process, and then you have a group of children who are upset over who-broke-whose balloon, and its just a complete nightmare for the birthday mom and dad who are trying to keep things cheerful. I don’t want that to happen to you, Mrs. Birthday Mom. . . I’d much rather come over and give your child a fun, enjoyable show, that he and ALL his friends will enjoy, where NO ONE gets upset or hurt, and that Mom and Dad can send the kids home happy and unscathed from.
“Now, Mrs. Birthday Mom, I realize that I’m probably the only person who has said anything like this to you. Many people would rather sell you a “package” clown deal with anything you want, and not be concerned with the after-effects. But I’m not a salesman, and my desire isn’t to “sell” you a “deal”. I am a clown, and my goal is to do everything I can to make sure that your child’s birthday party is as fun as possible.”
There is usually a little more peripheral discussion afterwards, but if I patiently take the time to explain it, more often than not, a customer will schedule me. If they insist on balloon twisting, I refer them to a couple other people, along with an invitation to call me for future parties, which I promise to deliver (here’s the kicker) “with no headaches!”
Now, while I have yet to have one of these people call me at a later date and admit to me how right I was about the balloons causing fights and headaches, I HAVE had many of these people call and have me out to other events and not even ASK about balloons.
- You will find a ton of related advice in the Crowd Control chapter of the Guide.
Crowd Control at Chuck E Cheese
- A parent asked me to do twisting at her daughter’s party in two weeks. Problem is, it’s at a Chuck E. Cheese, a chain children’s entertainment facility, in which the party is in the same room as several other parties. I don’t want to spend half of my time there having to turn away kids (or worse, their parents) from other parties in the same room. It would be different if each party was in a separate room, such as the way Discovery Zone does parties.
- Often times, I carry along a roll of tickets and hand one out to each member of the party. Of course you would still need to offer some form of explaination to other patrons, but it is more cut and dry.
- I have run into this many times and have never had a problem with it. People seem to understand that you are there for “that” group. However, the place where you are planning to work does have entertainers of their own. So the other customers may be confused that you are only working “That table”. By the way, since Chuck’s does have its own entertainment, have you made sure they will let you do this? Better to check it out than them making you leave.
- I’ve found that if I am approached by someone other than the party group, what I do depends on what is going on. At an ice- cream place, there was only one child in the place that “didn’t” belong with the group. I asked the lady who was paying me if she would mind if I made that child a balloon. Of course, she said yes. My last group party in a public place was at the beach on the 4th of July. Hundreds of children. Only fifteen in the group I was working. I didn’t have any children or adults approach me from outside the group, so I didn’t have a problem. However, if they had, I would have explained that I was hired by this group, given them a busness card and told them to call me. And yes, I let my employers know that I will do this, so they don’t think I’m using their time for advertising. If a child would have approached me, I would have used the same thing I use when children ask me to make them the “special” balloon I bring to the birthday boy or girl. Hand them a card, tell them to give it to mommy and daddy so I can twist balloons at their next party. (Or in the case of a special balloon, give them that balloon at their party).
- I would think, in your case, once other people see you hand out a busness card instead of a balloon, they will get the idea. You could always “loudly” talk about how you are there for that child’s party and wasn’t it nice of his mommy to hire you just for his party!
- If it were me, I’d hand out my own stickers to the kids at the party I’m performing for. That way I’d just tell other kids that “only the children with the “X” stickers can have balloons today and if your mom or dad would like to hire me, I could give you stickers and balloons next time, too.”
- I run into this situation all the time. What I do is explain to my client what the problem is going to be and tell them that the best way to make sure the “outsiders” remain that way is to use some form of identification for their group. A name tag, sticker, hand stamp, or even a hand-drawn “X” or “Smiley Face” on the back of the hand. I then check each kid’s/adult’s “ID” and tell the outsiders that I’m sorry, but I can’t accomodate anyone that isn’t part of my group. This technique works especially well in busy picnic areas where kids/adults tend to wander over from all Four Corners of the Earth (it seems people can never go to far out of the way when they think they’re going to get something for free!).
- We have worked children’s parties at several Pizza places. The most effective method is to have the mom provide name tags for the kids. If you are not comfortable with that, take your own stickers and put them on the kids at the party. If asked to do balloons by others, we explain we are being paid to provide balloons for a private party and offer a business card. We have not had a problem with this and the person hiring appreciates it, and we even get bookings from other people.
- I don’t think you will have anything to worry about. Around here (in Indiana) clowns or balloon twisters are not allowed in Chuck e Cheese. If you are allowed, ask the mother to buy some really unusual name tags for the children and then tell the other children (in a nice way) that you have been asked to make balloons for only those children with the special name tags on. That is how I did it when I used to work parties there occasionally. It works but not 100 per cent I am afraid. Some of the “other” parents can’t seem to realize why the clown can’t “make a balloon for “just” their child cause it is her birthday and you are a clown so don’t you love to do things for children?” “what kind of a clown are you anyway?”
- Probably any of us who have done a lot of parties have had this problem. It’s not quite up there with the “there will be a lot a parents there who might hire you for their kids parties” rationale, but it’s just as annoying.
- I was in a similar situation today – did a party with lots of balloons and stuff at Travel Town at Griffith Park in LA where they have lots of railroad stuff. One of the first things I do at a party like this is introduce myself, and get introduced to all the kids. Then when a child I do not recognize comes by, I tell them nicely that I’m entertaining kids at a private party but tell them to have a great day or some other nice thing.
- Another suggestion is to bring nametags and then you can tell anyone with out a nametag the same info.
- My advice, from someone who has been there is, DON’T DO IT!!!! I have done 2 at Chucky Cheeses and would not do it again on a bet!! First – there is too much going on to even attempt to get the children’s attention. Between the animated figures and the games there will be the food and the noise. Second – is the other problem you mentioned of the rest of the children there wanting what you are offering whether it is balloons or whatever. Third – the people at the restaurant might not want you there because they bill what they have to offer as all the people need for a complete party. I have told people who ask me that I don’t recommend it for the reasons stated above as well as the cost factor. They are basically throwing away money by doing both on the same birthday and should save one for another year. If I explain things this way the parents appreciate my candor.
- If you do decide to do it, try to get an older sibling or adult to help police the group by giving the attendees of your party a sticker and explaining that balloons are for those in your party only, but you might be able to include everyone in the magic show (after all, the size of an audience isn’t as important as the number of balloons or faces to paint).
- I twisted in a McDonald’s… once. The kids there were out of control, and I was really not equipped for that kind of mania. It seems that the balloons inspire some sort of chaos in the kids (in a McDonalds or Discovery Zone atmosphere). When I do parties at a restaurant that has that kind of atmosphere, I give the mom tickets ahead of time. She then gives these to the kids as they arrive. I usually use Avery business cards, and make them look like a business card for kids. It has also helped my business name and number get home to the next mom that is having a party. I DO NOT COLLECT the tix, but, if a child doesn’t have one, I assume they are not with the party. They are also numbered so that first to arrive gets the first balloons. I do not try to put on my show at these places, too much competition with the ball pit.
Saving The Best For Last
- At a picnic or a birthday party, save the balloons for last. If your crowd is going to be there all day and you make balloons in the morning, well, what would you expect? Try to foresee problems like all day kids or dry grass (blades of grass are like pins) and control the situation as much as you can.
- I almost always make the balloons as the last activity before I leave.
- I twist balloons for the last 15 – 20 minutes. This way the kids don’t start beating each other with their swords through the rest of the show, and, if anything pops, I don’t have to replace it later on.
- If there is time left at the end of the party, I will make some big hats for the kids, more swords, or hats and flowers for the adults, or else a large construction, like a Bugs Bunny, etc.
- I used to make the balloons first thing. BAD IDEA. I quickly learned that making the balloons first meant that the show would be interrupted every two minutes by a popped balloon, the child getting upset, and having to stop whatever trick or routine I was in the middle of to make another balloon to keep the child from crying. Making the balloons LAST is by far the lesser of evils. (And you still hear the balloons popping right and left behind you as you’re walking away from the house to your car, and the kids crying because you’re gone and can’t make them another one.)
- Our procedure is to pass out the balloons at the conclusion of the magic show. Then we immediately instruct the children to place their balloons on a chair or sofa until they leave the party. That way their balloons won’t break. Then we march to the table for cake and ice cream.
- I do a balloon show. Finally at the end of the show I grab all the pieces that I have been piling on the floor and turn them all around and say “lets see, what can we make out of all of this.” Then I proceed to put them all together to make a 6′ pink flamingo. This leads me into twisting balloons for every child.
- Do not drink a lot of sodas before your show! Brush your teeth and use the bathroom before your show.
- Bring a few bags of balloons, so that you have spares in case you’ve gotten a bad batch.
- Parents like it when you get the kids involved – the more the better.
- Always park at least 3 to 4 houses away, so the drinking crowd has less chance of tagging your vehicle.
- Kids really love to see you make hats for the adults at children’s parties – giving Grandpa a hat is a great way of getting a laugh. Don’t forget to give out a calling card with each balloon you give out. The calls will start rolling in.
- Break a leg. . . er, um a balloon!