When Name Tags and Ice Breakers Are Cool
If you complain about your empty social calendar, flaky friends, or cool but unavailable co-workers, you might need to take matters into your own hands.
That’s exactly what author Nick Gray did when he moved to NYC.
Then he took those matters and, tinkered and fine-tuned them by hosting dozens of get-togethers, and molded them into something that works:
A step-by-step formula for an event that:
- even flaky people would show up to,
- didn’t take too much effort to organize, and
- reliably rewarded him and those who attended with new friends and memories.
Gray summarized this formula in a book, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party. And he sent me an advance copy to give one a try myself. So I did.
Here’s my experience.
The 2-Hour Cocktail Party Outline
What is The 2-Hour Cocktail Party?
The 2-Hour Cocktail Party is a party planning formula and handbook written by Nick Gray. It has everything you need to know to feel confident organizing and hosting a cocktail party.
The idea for a 2-hour cocktail party came about when Gray, a successful entrepreneur, moved to New York City in 2017. He had a small social circle and spent time and energy trying to meet new people. He attended networking events and meetups but found most were often uninspiring and somewhat challenging to meet exciting people.
Gray wished there were more exciting events where people could authentically connect and decided to do something about it.
“Instead of going to random bars or meetups to try to create new connections, I decided to go a different route. Instead of going to other peoples’ parties, I decided to bring the party to me.“Nick Gray
And did he ever bring the party to him! He hosted dozens and dozens of events.
And now he’s a published author. His book, the 2-hour cocktail party, was published in June.
What makes The 2 Hour Cocktail Party different from other parties?
There are a few things that make the 2-hour cocktail party different from a typical gathering.
➜ Invitations with an RSVP page: Gray recommends sending out invites using a service like Mixily or Evite that has a public list of who’s coming. Why? Nobody likes surprises. People are more likely to come to a party when they know who’s coming. An RSVP page, according to Gray, can also improve your reputation among new connections.
➜ Time Limit: There’s a short and strict 2-hour time limit. People are busy, so throwing a party with less time commitment than a dinner party improves turnout.
➜ Name Tags: Everyone wears a name tag, so there’s no awkward experiences of forgetting peoples’ names.
➜ Ice Breakers: There are set times throughout the night where the host facilitates ice breakers. These brief pauses break up conversations, introduce new ones, and allow people to be reacquainted with different guests. (You can find the suggested ice breakers in the book).
➜ Food and Drink: The host is responsible for all snacks and drinks, making it easy for guests to accept the invite and show up. It’s up to the host to spend as much or as little as they want.
Yeah, I know. Some of these ideas sound cheesy, awkward, and overly complicated. But, they all serve a specific purpose and can make for an awesome party. Take it from my experience…
My 2-Hour Cocktail Party Experience
When my husband Chris heard about Nick Gray’s book in a newsletter, he challenged me to try hosting one of his cocktail parties. I immediately said yes because I wanted an excuse to throw a party.
After I accepted, Chris asked Gray to send me an advance copy of his book to try out his formula.
As I began diving deeper into the chapters of Gray’s book, I realized that this party required me to change how I typically hosted, making me think twice about my commitment.
I was worried people would think the invitations were too over the top and would bail. Or that the ice breakers would be painstakingly awkward.
I didn’t need to tarnish my reputation as a good host by throwing a party that was a total flop!
But, after getting reassurance from Gray about logistics and invitations, I regained confidence and decided to give it a go. On a beautiful weeknight in Cape Town, I had sixteen guests show up at our apartment for my version of Nick Gray’s 2-Hour Cocktail Party.
What I loved:
✅ Ice breakers are awesome!
In The 2-Hour Cocktail Party, Gray asks you to introduce ice breakers to the group at specific times throughout the party. You bring the group together in a circle and lead the discussion by asking the question and then answering first. Then, the rest of the group answers one by one. I was nervous about doing this because it seemed rigid and awkward, especially for a party with friends. I felt bad breaking up peoples’ conversations, but it was a surprisingly refreshing experience and generated some interesting discussions among the group.
✅ Mixing different friend groups.
Typically, my dinner parties are around eight guests, but this cocktail party had 16. Because Gray recommends you have 15-20 guests, I was able to bring together a mix of my beach volleyball community, close friends, and neighbors. Friends and their plus-ones could join without having to commit to a more formal sit-down dinner. This party also allowed me to introduce different friend groups who connected separately after the party.
✅ I didn’t have to cook!
Sometimes it’s nice to take a break. As much as I love cooking for others, I couldn’t imagine cooking for all sixteen guests and hosting this party simultaneously. I was grateful the book provided example snack and drink ideas to keep everybody happy.
✅ Cleaning up is easy.
When I ended the party, clean-up was a breeze. Guests offered to help, and I only had to wash a few platters and glasses.
✅ The challenge.
While my friends know me as a regular host, I think throwing something different like this shows versatility. My friends thanked me for a “fun and different” party. I also appreciated the challenge of trying something that put me outside of my comfort zone.
✅ Meet new people.
By inviting people you don’t know super well (coworkers, an employee of a shop you regularly frequent, or a friend of a friend), you maximize the chance to meet new people. You never know who someone will introduce you to and what kind of opportunities will come from this event.
✅ Improving my reputation
People who organize fun events are good people to know. If you use Gray’s book and plan a 2-Hour Cocktail party, you’ll quickly become one of them. You’ll be surprised by the new opportunities from being a party host – new business opportunities, introductions, new friends, and future invites to other cool parties.
✅ Small commitment, big reward.
Planning a 2-Hour Cocktail Party allows you to catch up with multiple friends simultaneously. Your friends who are usually too busy might also be more inclined to join because of the shorter time commitment.
What I didn’t love:
❌ You need to invite a lot of people.
To have enough people at your cocktail party, Gray recommends inviting between 20-30 people(!). This number is easy to achieve if you’re social and have a large friend group. But, for others, it could be a major obstacle. If you struggle to find people to invite, Gray recommends extending invites to coworkers, neighbors, and friends of friends. Allowing your guests a plus-one can also grow your guest list.
❌ There wasn’t enough movement.
People hovered around the drinks and food table because of where I had set it up. One piece of advice would be to move it to an area where people can access the table from all sides. Or, you could ask the group to move away if you find people hovering and sticking to one location all night.
❌ You need to host at home and it might get tight.
I was lucky enough to have the perfect venue to host my cocktail party in Cape Town. But, now, back in Vancouver, my 650-square-feet apartment with a tiny balcony is a little less appealing. But don’t dismay! If you’re keen on trying out one of these parties, see if you can ask a friend with a nice pad and host it at their place. Or, take the party outside.
❌ Not enough icebreakers.
After getting over the fact that I’d have to set a timer and announce ice breakers at specific points throughout this party, I actually wished there were more of them!
❌ Can be expensive.
Gray says one of these parties will cost the host about $100. I spent about that, but the cost of living is considerably less in South Africa. In Canada, where booze is expensive, it would’ve costed at least $200. Not everybody has $100-$200 extra to spend, so if money is an issue, you could co-host the event with a friend.
It Takes Work (But It’s Worth It)
Building and maintaining relationships takes work. If you, like many Americans, haven’t made a new friend in a while and are genuinely interested in being a better host, friend and coworker, try hosting a 2-Hour Cocktail Party. You’ll never know who you’ll meet and how your life might change by doing it.
And even if you’re an experienced host, I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two that you can use for future gatherings.