So many organizations set up cocktail parties in hopes that their members will connect and get to know one another. Unfortunately these gatherings usually end up with the same people hanging in cliques. Or worse, the events are held in loud bars where it's hard to hear people and connect.
Socializing at a cocktail party should be fun, and the networking should be valuable. It can be so long as the organizers set a good environment and help people make connections. Here are some creative ways to "break the ice."
1. Rapid Fire Introductions.
Some people get anxious in crowds, not knowing how to start a conversation with strangers. The host can alleviate this issue by having the group pair up and engage in quick rapid-fire introductions for a brief 30 seconds. They should be instructed to reveal one interesting fact about themselves to the other person and then move on to someone else. After the exercise people may gravitate toward the most memorable people they met, looking to learn more.
2. No names on the name tag.
Names tell little about a person. Put something interesting about the person on the tag instead. They could put either their favorite travel destination or the farthest travel destination they have ever encountered. Maybe they could put their favorite movie or TV character on the sticker as well to get the conversation moving in a different direction.
3. Give them a buddy.
Why not pair people off from the start? Use the name tag to your advantage here, either color-coding or numbering it so that people have to find someone else that belongs to their pair. If you know your guests well enough, then you can try and arrange people that could potentially help one another.
4. Ask people to add a distinctive/creative addition to their wardrobe.
How you look certainly impacts a first impression. As an organizer you can stimulate creativity and individuality by requiring people to wear something different (think an ugly Christmas sweater party). It can be anything from cool shoes, a weird hat or unique jewelry. Put it on the invitation that they must prepare to tell a story about the item. This will get everyone thinking hard about their wardrobe and also have them looking forward to seeing what others are wearing.
5. Empty out their pockets.
Nearly everyone carries something in their pocket. So get everyone opening out their pockets and showing people around them what they have. That is a quick and easy conversation starter that should create a fun and unique experience.
6. Have professional facilitators.
Why depend on the attendees to connect and mingle? Bring in some shills that can get the introductions and conversation going. Hire a few actors to liven up the group and keep the momentum flowing.
7. Create a scavenger hunt.
Ask each person on the RSVP to identify a few simple facts about themselves. Then give people a checklist and ask them to go seek out a person that matches the item on the list. Everyone in attendance will be in on the activity and even latecomers can get in on the act. Offer prizes to those who find the most people on the list.
8. Create small group interaction.
Instead of letting people stand alone or hanging out with the same old group, put people in groups with fun and intellectual activity. This helps people socialize in comfortable ways and build working relationships.
9. Have a Storytelling Contest
Have people prepare a 2-minute story on an interesting topic like My Scariest Moment or My Funniest Experience. Give a prize for the best story. You can even break into groups and have a final with the best story from each group.
10. Get them dancing.
You don't always need to break the ice through verbal communication. Dancing is a daunting experience for many people, but once they get in the groove, they loosen up pretty good. Bring in a Swing or Salsa teacher and make it a lesson so people aren't self conscious about their abilities.