Become your party’s social engineer
Let’s face it, when you show up to a party or work event, those initial conversations can be a bit awkward. You’re unlikely to start mixing it up right away with people you barely know or don’t know at all. It usually takes some chance encounters, a few drinks, or an introduction to get the conversations rolling. Sometimes work events or large private parties don’t live up to their own hype, and fall flat because the social energy is off.
Party and event planners rely too often on the environment for making parties great, rather than the content of that environment (the people). In other words, just because the place looks cool, doesn’t mean people will be social. This is especially true when the vast majority of your guests don’t know one another. A little social nudging may help things along. After all, the whole idea of having get-togethers or "Roxis" is for people to talk to one another, get comfortable, learn something, and have a good time.
Here are some suggestions that may help improve your social gatherings… it’s a bit art and science… well mostly it’s just art.
Create the vibe
Whether you are having a year-end holiday party for your office or roasting a pig in a pit on the beach for 40 friends, the vibe of the party is the first place we start. The vibe is the first impression your guests have.
For me the “vibe” is comprised of the following parts: 1.) what the scene looks like; 2.) Bigger isn’t always better. 3.) the lighting; 4.) the ambient sounds. Let’s break down each part…
1.) what the scene looks like.
This is the first impression your guests have. Close your eyes and think about what you want your guests to feel when they arrive. To figure this out, it’s important to think about the purpose of your party and what feeling you want to invoke. What is the reason you’re having the party? Parties can run from festive to serious business and everything in between.
If you want something festive, try buying fun looking decorations from a party supply store. You don’t need to go crazy doing this. Just add a few items here and there, and it will help turn an every-day space into something a bit more party-like. Be careful to not over do the decorations, because they can be expensive and may clutter space too much.
2.) Bigger isn’t always better.
Don’t fall into the trap of getting a big space, because you think it’s better for the number of people you have. Some of the best parties I’ve ever been to were inside a small NYC apartment, where a few dozen people were packed into a one or two-bedroom apartment. Why were those parties better than the ones in an open warehouse? The reason is simple.. we have to get close to one another.
Proximity is a natural conversation starter. If you sit on an airplane for 3 hours next to someone, you’re likely to engage in a conversation with them at some point. The same holds true for parties. Don’t spread your guests out, because it’ll only help to perpetuate cliques or sub groups with very little mingling.
3.) The lighting.
I feel lighting is too often overlooked. The lighting has to match the vibe. If you’re having an outdoor beach party, the heavens provide the lighting and set the mood. During the day it’s sunny and the party is in “day” mode with people playing beach games, swimming and running around. During dusk, the sun casts a warm glow over the ocean, and people start to wind down a little and the music and energy changes. When night is cast across the beach, the fires start and people move a little closer.
Indoor party lighting should follow a similar sequence. It may make sense to vary the lighting a bit from room to room. This will allow people to naturally go to where their mood finds them. If they are feeling sleepy, maybe they’ll move to a brighter room, like a kitchen, where the energy is high and people are eating. When they want to have more intimate conversations, a slightly darker room that’s away from noise and music may be a good alternative.
4.) The ambient noises.
Having the right sounds in your environment will help set the mood for your guests. Music is the most obvious sound that may affect mood, but it isn’t the only sound that your guests hear. Try to not to overwhelm each space with music that's too loud. This might make conversations extremely challenged or even impossible. Rooms with soft background noise helps soften the attention on individual conversations and may make a more comfortable speaking environment.
By definition, a niche is a shallow recess, especially one in a wall to display a statue or other ornament. A niche in a party is a seating area that’s placed away from the main congregating areas. If you have the space, you may want several of these for your guests to retreat to. They can use this space for private conversations; or for those who need a break from the action, it can be used to disappear and regroup.
Use a provocative game
An awesome way to get people mingling is through simple games. Perhaps try games that require people to move around and mingle, as opposed to board games that require you to join at the beginning and stick with it throughout the entirety of the game. Nothing breaks the ice better than an activity that gets your guests laughing, smiling, asking questions of each other, and perhaps involved in something physical.
Recently, I had a party where we played the "Who am I?" game. This game involves putting stickers on the backs of your guests as they arrive. On each sticker are names of people, characters, historical figures, etc. that other guests will recognize. Each guest with a sticker needs to figure out who is written on their back. They do this by walking around and asking other guests questions that could lead them to figuring out the name of the person on their own back.
This game is a perfect ice-breaker, because you need to ask a lot of questions figure out who you are. What usually happens is that they get stuck with a group of people and a particular line of questioning, and need to move on to someone else in order to get more information. Of course by doing this, a natural rapport develops with each encounter. Later when the game is over, everyone has something to talk about, which hopefully leads to other meaningful conversations. For more information on how to play this game, check this out.
Lastly, it is your party, so you may need to spark a conversation or two to get things going. If you have an event where people are seated, try seating people next to others they wouldn't normally speak to. Also put the most conversive people on opposite ends of a table and have the quieter people sandwiched between them. This will help to make sure the quieter people aren't being left out of the conversations.
If your party is more about hanging out and mingling, you may need to draw a couple of friends together into a conversation and kick it off. Don't hang out too long and make it about you... get it going and move on. 🙂
What are your thoughts?
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