Whether you go to an event with a friend, or meet new people there, events are better when you share the experience with another person. The Atlantic writer Olga Khazan found a psychological science study stating that “sharing experiences—even with a complete stranger—makes people rate those experiences as more intense than people who underwent them alone.”
I found endless articles on how to make small talk at events and meet new friends at events. But just because people know socializing is an important part of the event doesn’t mean they’re good at it. And let’s face it, walking into a room of unfamiliar faces can be pretty intimidating. So how can you help make your guests comfortable and create an environment conducive to socializing?
Here are 7 things we’ve tested that work:
Welcoming people into your event should feel like welcoming them into your home. You invite your friends and family into your living room, which lends itself to conversation. If your event is small enough, set up the seating in a circle so everyone can see each other.
No one has to awkwardly turn around or crane their neck to have a conversation when seats are in a circle. If your event is larger, or there’s no way around theater-style seating, think about how you can set up break spaces to encourage conversation.
Designate a few people to make small talk. Making people relaxed and welcomed is the first step to getting people to mingle. Be on the look out for people who are by themselves. Catching them at the start of the event can help set the tone — let them know most event goers are there by themselves, or ask them what they hope to get out of the day–are they looking for work? Hoping to learn something? Seeking new friends? It’ll let people know that meeting new people is A-OK.
It takes work, but if you ask your event goers about themselves ahead of time, in a few hours, you can learn who’s looking for work, who is hiring, who might be interested in similar things and who is just ready to have a great time. Armed with this knowledge, you can spend your time playing matchmaker! Explain why two people should know each other and get the conversation started before moving on.
You know, we wondered for a while why people weren’t leaving comments on Events University. Turns out, we kind of forgot to tell everyone that we’re interested in what they have to say (that goes for you, too, btw). The same goes for your event. It’s so easy to get caught up in event details and forget that people might have no idea you want them to talk, to ask questions and to mingle.
Doing something creative with your hands makes it easy to start talking to people. “Hey, can you pass me the xyz” is a much easier conversation starter than bringing up the weather. We organized everything from a flower potluck event to a pickling event. Things that don’t require too much concentration and that quickly reward results seem to work best for getting people socializing. Having a distraction from figuring out the perfect thing to say makes the conversation flow.
Do a partner exercise so everyone meets at least one new person. For some people, a crowded room is too overwhelming to start a conversation with someone. But a one-on-one situation can offer a more relaxed experience. Having a nice conversation can give someone the confidence to meet new people. The key to this approach is to give people enough time to make it feel meaningful, but not so much time that people feel as awkward as they do on a bad first date.
Having your event be the reason why people make new friends is a pretty cool feeling — it makes all your planning feel worth it. You may encounter some shy event goers, and there are bound to be people who just don’t want to socialize, and that’s totally okay.