I hosted a party! I mentioned Nick Gray’s book “The 2-Hour Cocktail Party” in my yearly review post, announced to host one in “early 2024”, and kept the promise to myself! Here’s a little field report about hosting this event.
For those unaware of Nick’s party concept, here’s the gist: you invite around 15 people using a website that allows you to hype them up with an email campaign, have them come to your house on a weeknight, serve them beverages and light snacks, give everyone a name tag, make three rounds of icebreakers where everyone shares something about them with the group while letting people mingle freely the rest of the time, and finally kick everyone out after two hours. The book and Nick’s website explain how and why, so I won’t go into detail in this post.
My main change to the formula was not calling it a cocktail party because I felt it was false advertising without serving proper cocktails. I named it an after-work party instead. Other than that, only minor changes to the tools and shopping list (you can’t host a party without serving beer in Germany).
The exciting but emotionally intense part of the party wasn’t the event itself but sending out invites and waiting for reactions. I feared people’s thoughts about me if I invited them to such an event. With every message and reply, my mood changed from stressing about being unable to fill the room and ending up with only 2-3 guests to worrying that my apartment would overflow and I would have to decline some RSVPs. I sent out a few invitations, waited for reactions, and, depending on how I felt about them, I shared more invitations. I didn’t pretend to be confident about the concept but instead always mentioned that I got the idea from a book and that it was an experiment, so people knew what they signed up for. The fact that so many of my friends and acquaintances supported me made me quite happy. I configured the guest list to close automatically after 20 RSVPs. In total, 18 guests signed up, three having to cancel due to being sick, so it was precisely 15 guests. Including my flatmate and myself, we ended up being 17 people.
While anxious during the preparation and planning phase, I felt relaxed on the event day. I was concerned about finishing cleaning and food preparations, not guests. The RSVP list looked solid; even a few no-shows would have been acceptable. However, there were none. Everyone who signed up ended up being present. One person messaged me and said they’d be late, but everyone else arrived between 19:00 and 19:10. German punctuality, FTW! I was too busy opening the door, greeting guests, and taking care of other last-minute logistics (I would have needed 10 minutes more for preparations) to end up feeling in the awkward zone Nick describes in his book. I gathered everyone for the first icebreaker at 19:20. I did the second icebreaker around 20:10. The book recommends three rounds, but due to the punctual arrival, running the first icebreaker with the easy question twice, once for early arrivals and once for latecomers, made no sense. We ended with a big thank you from me to the guests for participating and a round of applause from the guests for me for organizing at around 21:15, and by around 21:45, everyone left (except for one of my flatmate’s closer friends who stuck around with him).
As I’ve given talks and led meetings before, I’m familiar with addressing crowds and enjoy taking the initiative, so gathering people and explaining icebreakers wasn’t an issue. Of course, it helped that my guests were very supportive. Nobody questioned the format, and everyone participated. In the second icebreaker, I sensed people had warmed up and felt more comfortable sharing, and the energy in the room, which was great from the beginning, was even better.
The best type of feedback that I got about the event was from people who were critical of the formula and things like nametags and the two-hour restriction, who eventually saw the value of these ideas and changed their minds. Some expressed the desire to gather again in the same crowd on a weekend with no end time, which is an excellent testament to the people in attendance.
My focus was on running a fantastic event for my guests. I talked to most people but was also slightly occupied with party logistics. Hence, I haven’t gotten the maximum possible value from it regarding individual conversations with those who came and whom I knew less well. However, I didn’t have any set expectations about it. I still had a great time that Wednesday night and ended with the feeling that the whole affair was quite effortless despite the time invested in invitations and preparations. I’m happy to check off one thing from my list for the new year.
I can’t say how much time I invested precisely. A few hours went into setting up the event website, but I also indulged in a lot of custom coding that wouldn’t have been necessary, but it’s something I obviously enjoyed. Sending invites and replying to messages were sprinkled throughout my workdays. I went on a big shopping trip (thanks to my sister’s tremendous support!) the day before and spent some time cutting vegetables and cheese to serve. Again, I could have spent less effort, but I enjoyed the preparations. I would have gotten away with only simple, ready-made snacks. I won’t count the time cleaning because that was due anyway.
Nick’s book not only provided a formula and a potential scapegoat in case the party failed, but it also helped me overcome the fear that my living space wouldn’t be appropriate to host a crowd. An exciting side-effect of hosting was that the apartment felt more like home, and I’ve gained some new appreciation for where and how I live.
Will I host again? Absolutely! I know that the concept works. Also, some people wanted to attend but couldn’t, and others I hadn’t even invited because the list was already filling itself. Next time, I hope for a mix of new faces and repeat guests.
Being known as a host and community builder is a long game. I haven’t seen any significant effects on the rest of my social life yet, but it’s not something that can happen with a single party. I imagine that after hosting two or three more of these parties and maybe other formats, I will see some unexpected effects later. I hope that others will follow my example and host as well. I also look forward to sharing my knowledge and experience and helping others host. And if there’s one takeaway from this post: you can do it, too.