Today on Author Hour, I’m talking to Nick Gray, the author of The 2-Hour Cocktail Party. Here’s a brief description of his new book: You know the well-connected friend who only exists in the movies? The one who throws the best parties and can set up any introduction you need? Everyone wants to know someone magical like this, who brings people together.
The secret is, you can be that person, you should be that person. The 2-Hour Cocktail Party will show you how. Discover a simple formula, with step-by-step instructions, to host parties that help you meet new people, strengthen your existing relationships, and make you the person everyone wants to know.
You’ll learn which days are the best, and what to say to the first people who arrive. Read how to ensure your invitations get responses and your guests show up, excited to mingle. Plus, get a helpful, pre-party checklist and a breakdown of activities to encourage new connections. With The 2-Hour Cocktail Party, you’ll make new friends, boost your career, and leave everyone asking: “When’s your next party?”
Here’s my conversation with Nick Gray.
Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Benji Block and today, excited to be joined by Nick Gray who has come out with an exciting book, The Two-Hour Cocktail Party: How to Build Big Relationships with Small Gatherings. Nick, congratulations on the book, welcome to Author Hour.
Nick Gray: Thank you, I’m excited. I’ve been working on this for like five years and I am just so happy to get it out to people.
Benji Block: Yes, five years is a long time. So tell us the genesis, and a little bit of you — and, obviously, we could tell by the title, right? The 2-Hour Cocktail Party. What got you interested, excited about parties?
Nick Gray: I’ve been hosting gatherings, and cocktail parties, and museum tours, and a lot of different things. I’ve been hosting probably over the last 15 years, since I first moved to New York City. This is everything that I’ve learned, that makes something work well, that can help somebody who has never hosted an event or maybe who just wants to host a good event, how to do it. So, that’s really my goal, was to give somebody the zero to one of hosting a very easy, successful event for 15 to 20 of their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and then, how to use this to really build those big relationships.
Benji Block: Okay, so before we get to how to do it, let’s talk—what originally sparked this for you, Nick? What made you interested in hosting your own parties, what did you say, 15 years ago or so?
Nick Gray: I first moved to New York, and while I sound like a very extroverted individual, I can tell you, when I first moved to New York City, I was very intimidated. I really didn’t have any friends out of people who I already knew, and I decided that I wanted to change that. I went out to some networking events or things like that, and I just realized that, what I found the most success with was, instead of going to crappy events, I started to host my own great events. That was what changed everything for me.
Benji Block: Okay, so then you’re hosting these events and, I guess the question I always love asking authors is, what sparks you wanting to write a book about it? Because it’s one thing to have the internal knowledge, a lot of people have that. They’ve done something with their life but they don’t get around to putting it on paper, encouraging others to do the same. So, what in the last five years or so has sparked you to actually put this out into the world?
Nick Gray: In the last five years, I’ve taught about 50 to 55 people. I need to count. I’ve taught dozens of people on how to host their first event. It started just as a Google doc that I shared for my friends, with my pro tips and my key learnings and lessons on how to really run a great event, to not stress out, to make it easy, and to make it the type of party that everyone is asking you: “When’s the next one?” Or “Oh my gosh, you got to meet my friend such and such and invite them to your party.”
My friend, Tyler, who I used to work with, was moving from New York City to Little Rock, Arkansas. And he told me, he said: “I don’t know a single person there besides my wife’s family. How can I do this? How can I do what you do there to build my network?” I think he was one of the first ones that I really started to write it down for him, and say: “Look, here’s exactly the step-by-step formula for how you can make this a success.”
Benji Block: I also want to hear how that ended up going for him. Tell me this, when you think of the person that you’re writing this for, was it essentially the ‘Tyler’s’ in your life? But you’re saying now: “I can give this away to all the people that would ever ask. I’ve compiled one mass document, this book, like the holy grail for hosting these events.” Who are you imagining as your ideal reader?
Nick Gray: I’ve thought a lot about that, and I think that my ideal reader is someone who wants something more for themselves. Maybe they want new friends, maybe they want a better job. They’ve said: “Gosh, we should really host something, we should really have people over some time.” But life gets in the way, you know? We’re all busy and, for some reason or another, we just never get around to doing it.
My ideal reader is somebody who maybe has been wanting to throw a housewarming party, or they moved into a new apartment and they’re dying to have people over, but they just haven’t. Or someone who maybe once hosted a dinner party and said: “Oh my god, I’m never going to do that again, that was too stressful.” I think about another reader of my book, the woman named Nagina, who lives in New Jersey. She has two or three kids, who are amazing, and she has an awesome business, but she’s so busy with it that she just never met her friends, these people in her neighborhood.
She would go to her kid’s schools and not be super connected with people. And she started to host these events, she read my book and now—I mean, this sounds like so much hype—but now, she gets recognized when she goes to the PTA party and when she’s at the grocery store. She has friends in her neighborhood, she meets all these awesome women. She started to host Wine Wednesdays, and all because she read my book, to find a successful formula that’s easy and actionable to host these events.
Benji Block: All right, so let’s dive into some of the content. We’ll start right where your book starts. The basics. Kind of asking/ answering the “why” question, and you’re doing that a little bit just by talking about your ideal reader. But talk through—and assuming there’s going to be some skeptics—whether it’s just because of busyness, like you just mentioned, or they thrown a party and it didn’t go quite the way they were expecting.
So, speak to the skeptics. Speak to those that maybe more introverted. What’s the power of a part? What’s your pushback on their internal fears about doing something like this?
Nick Gray: You should host a party because you will make more friends, build more connections, you’ll be happier, and you’ll have more business opportunities, and science proves it. It shows that we find out about more opportunities, whether that’s new jobs, new businesses, new customers, clients or even romantic interests, we find out about those things not from our best friends but from our acquaintances.
From what they call the “weak ties” or “loose connections.” And parties like this, like my book suggests, help you to develop your network of acquaintances. Those people that you bump into in the office or at the gym or something like: “Oh, we should hang out.” And then, you just never do, you’re both busy. A cocktail party enables you to start to connect with those people, and that’s where you build these big relationships from.
I’ll tell you, the part one of my book, these first five chapters, why host a party, when to host your party, where, who to invite and then the magic of nametags, these chapters, for me, are really just dealing with the reader’s psychology. To get them really bought into the idea of why they should do it. Because the next two sections of the book, the whole rest of it, are extremely tactical and practical.
But it’s these first sections of mindset—and I really struggled with that as an author, in fact, probably the hardest part of the book for me to write were these first chapters, to really think about the theory because the whole reset of it is extremely specific and tactical—it’s telling you the scripts and exactly what to do. We’ll talk about that later. But that’s sort of an overview of part one, is that what you were asking about?
Benji Block: Yeah, that’s actually perfect. It leads me to I think, probably, I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but I would assume one of the main questions on the “who you invite,” and you’re talking about these loose connections and I loved how you wrote about that in the book, to try to make it seem a bit easier. I think we overcomplicate it. In fact, you had an image in the book, that will stick with me, of essentially a stick figure standing at the bottom of this mountain, and that’s how we think about hosting something like this, versus it’s actually like a staircase, right?
So, talk a little bit about the “who and what” it actually looks like to expand our network, and start to invite some people that might be on like the periphery, right on the borderline of acquaintance/friend.
Nick Gray: Yeah. So, the first thing I’ll say is, I have a lot of friends that are overachievers. Whenever I tell them about this cocktail party idea, they immediately jump to their top shelf connections, the people they most want to impress. It could be a client they’re trying to win, a new boss, a potential romantic interest. And I tell them, slow down, your first party should be a low-stakes affair, do not invite those people yet. Wait for your VIPs.
I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that people try. To host an event, and they really reach for the people they most want to impress, when in reality, that causes them the most amount of stress. They’re unable to enjoy the event, and it’s probably a great event, that just doesn’t set them up for success. And by success, I mean that you go on to host more of these, because the benefits truly compound when you learn a formula to host events every, let’s say, six to eight weeks. And that’s what my parties are about.
Benji Block: Okay, so how would you go about getting that first list? Are you really just—
Nick Gray: Yes, the first list, I’ll tell you exactly who.
Benji Block: Yeah, I’d love to hear that.
Your First Party
Nick Gray: First list I’m thinking of—what I call—first you have to start with what’s called your core group. Your core group are your old friends, your work colleagues, your neighbors, significant others of your best friends. You’re looking for five to 10 people, that you can trust, that aren’t going to judge you, that, even if nobody else shows up, you’ll have a good time with. So, these are just five people that you happen to know, that you know well, and you can get them all to confirm.
They’ll give you that sense of confidence, they’ll sign up an RSVP first, these are the ones that are really going to make you look good at the party. They’ll laugh at your jokes, they’ll show up on time, probably. After you get those five people to RSVP and to commit, wow, now you have a base level. Now, your party is on. Now, you can start to invite those neighbors who you might now know as well.
You could invite maybe a work colleague or somebody new that just joined at your company. You can invite the barista that you see every day and just have small talk with, who you think is a cool person, and you’re happy to see him every day but you just never have gotten to know them.
Now, you get to be generous and invite them over to have a drink and have some snacks and meet some of your friends. We think about these parties, the ‘who’, as different groups from your life that you get to bring together and introduce. People will love coming to your parties because they get to meet new friends. That’s the whole point of these parties.
Nobody teaches adults how to make new friends. You become, when you host a party like this, the facilitator. You become the person who introduces people to make new friends. That is such a powerful thing.
Benji Block: What’s the ideal size, like, I know we’re saying small gathering but what do you find to be ideal for you?
Nick Gray: I think that the ideal size is 15 to 20 people, that’s what you want to shoot for. Ideally, 15, but for advanced people, that could go up to 20. 15 to 20 is the perfect size for me because it creates this sense of energy and excitement at your event and, actually, a secret is, it’s like counterintuitive, but the more people at your party, within reason, the less work and the less stress it is for you as a host. Can you guess why that is?
Benji Block: I actually can’t. Break that down.
Nick Gray: The more people means the less hosting that you have to do. There’s enough people in the room that you don’t have to babysit and monitor every conversation, look for those that are bored conversations, you know. If there’s six or seven people, you have to be kind of “on” the whole time, to be entertaining in conversations yourself. You have to be just very—but with 15, there’s this energy in the room, there’s side conversations that are happening.
In two hours, people probably won’t get a chance to talk to every 15 people. They’re going to feel like: “Wow, there’s a lot of people here, there’s halfway through the party, I haven’t even talked to half of everybody here.” So, 15 for me really sets the example of, in a two-hour event, it gives everybody the chance to meet and talk to a lot of different people.
Benji Block: It’s interesting, because one of the other things you point out, is it puts the party in a good space when people are standing and not sitting. And that’s actually a little bit counterintuitive as well. Because I think people just think: “Oh you know, it’s comfortable, it’s a small gathering, we’re probably going to end up sitting.” But then you end up getting stuck in a certain conversation, it doesn’t feel as lively.
And that’s, I think, part of the fear even of a house party as adults. As, you’re like: “Uh, what’s the energy going to be like in the room?” So, what are other ways we can set the environment to keep that energy high and people engaged?
Nick Gray: One simple thing is just playing background music. I don’t get too complicated with this. I just like to play the Beach Boys on a streaming service, but I like to have a little bit of energy, a little bit of music in the room. Not too loud so it’s hard to hear people, but loud enough that it adds a sense of, I don’t know, depth or richness to the room. So, I like Beach Boys because it is just—it is not too annoying, it’s fun.
I am glad that you mentioned about standing, because that’s another thing. Sitting down is the kryptonite to a successful icebreaker, and my parties do have icebreakers—I can talk about that later. But doing these rounds of introductions, where everybody gets to signal to the room who is there, and give people an excuse to have a new conversation, oh my gosh, sitting down is terrible for that. It lowers the energy level.
I’ve heard from a lot of people: “Oh, I can’t host a party right now, I don’t have enough chairs.” I’m saying: “That’s good you don’t have chairs. In fact, you should remove the chairs.” You don’t want people to be sitting down. You want it to be standing up, because why? It is easier to join conversations; it is easier to leave conversations; groups can form; it is more dynamic. The energy level in the room—there is a bit of a sense of urgency and excitement to these events.
That is also why you finish the party—that is why it is called the two-hour party. This is not an excuse to have an all-night rager. Something else, you know? You’re supposed to host these parties on what I call a non-red level day. So, that means you are not going to host it on a Friday or Saturday night, a very socially competitive night when people are busy.
The number one fear that a new host has is: “Nobody is going to show up to my party.” So much of my formula involves guaranteeing that you have 80 to 90% attendance ratio, so that will never be a problem for you.
Breaking The Ice
Benji Block: Okay. So, go to the icebreakers, because I think this is part that—you are imagining a small gathering. That can feel a little like: “What’s the right type of activity to get people engaged but also not come off as too much a forced interaction?” What do you find to be helpful in the icebreaker situation?
Nick Gray: It’s the scariest part, for a new host to stop the party and run an icebreaker, and it can be terrifying. Why would I want to stop the party? Everybody is talking, everybody is having a good time. So, I come up with this concept of the first 20 minutes. Have you ever been to a party and the first 20 minutes, like, not everybody has shown up? It’s awkward a little bit, and I talk about that.
How do you avoid the awkward zone or how do you move through it? One way is by leading a small group icebreaker for your first arrivals. A lot of the book actually is just teaching about facilitation techniques for somebody amongst their friends. So, leading that first icebreaker when there is just a few people there, and also letting them know in advanced in the RSVP and when you invite them that there will be these icebreakers.
That helps people know what they’re coming into, it sets the expectations. Then, oh my gosh, I hear from everybody who hosts the party: “I was so nervous before doing it but then I did the icebreaker and it was awesome. The energy in the room was incredible, all these new conversations, we learned a lot, we made new friends.”
One of my favorite icebreakers is, I think about it like green-yellow-red. Green is your easy, safe icebreaker. It is what to do when you start your party. A good green level icebreaker that I talk about inside the book in chapter 12 is, “What’s one of your favorite things to eat for breakfast?” And I know that might seem silly or stupid or childish, but I have done thousands of icebreakers at hundreds of parties and this one works a 100% of the time, especially for a cold room or a new gathering of new friends.
The reason why I ask is because everybody eats breakfast. Everybody knows what they ate or didn’t eat that day for breakfast, and it’s generally a positive memory. You have good feelings about breakfast. It is a little way for us just to signify and signal a piece of our personality, to maybe create some conversations later.
Benji Block: Yeah, it’s not making you think too hard. You probably have something that comes immediately to mind. So, for the person that is like a little: “Ah, I don’t want to say something”, I mean, they are going to think of something pretty quick. Let us talk about most overlooked parts of a successful party. When we are talking logistics, I mean, you laid out in part two, and I appreciated the depth you went into, making sure that everything from invites, covered timelines, but talk a little bit about what you think are overlooked pieces of successful parties.
Nick Gray: One of the biggest things that, and I will die on this hill, but it’s nametags. I feel so strongly—
Benji Block: That’s an interesting one.
Nick Gray: It is an interesting one, and it is a weird thing to be passionate about, but, I myself, I’m not good with names. I remember I went to this really big party and I had met this CEO. It was a woman who had ran a successful business that was really cool, and I’d love to do business with her sometime, but she was also just a cool individual. And, I went to this party and she ran up to me and she remembered my name.
She said: “Nick, it’s so good to see you.” I was like a deer caught in the headlights, I forgot her name and I could tell that she knew that I forgot her name, and it was awkward. It all could have been solved with a simple nametag. Now, it didn’t mean that I completely forgot who she was and didn’t know about her business, I just happened to forget her name. So, I think that nametags are a really easy thing to do, to make your guest more present and focused, to not have to stress about remembering names, to make it more welcoming for introverted people.
I do want to talk about that. A lot of what I have written about is making these parties, if not a safe space, a very welcoming space for introverts, by letting them know what to expect, giving them ideas, so there is very few (if any) surprises, and I think nametags help. I mean, Dale Carnegie said that the sweetest sound to anyone’s ears is the sound of their own name, and why not use a nametag to make that easy?
Benji Block: I’m right there with you, Nick, as far as remembering people’s names, so something like a nametag gives me a sense of ease. But it is also, just in a smaller gathering, I think people might overlook that, going: “Uh, do we really need it? Is that going to—people are coming into my house and now they’re wearing a nametag?” It adds something. So here’s what I want to do, as we start to wrap up here. You’ve mentioned a couple of examples throughout, but let’s go back to your friend and, again, what was his name, because I am not great with names?
Nick Gray: Tyler, who moved to Little Rock, yeah.
Benji Block: Bring us back to Tyler and bring us to Little Rock. What were the results from the parties you started hosting?
Nick Gray: Tyler moved to Little Rock. He didn’t know anybody there except for his wife’s family, and he started to host events. In his first events, he didn’t know anybody, so he teamed up with somebody who could help him invite people, and he used the framework from my book to run activities and icebreakers. He started to meet people going through his daily life at coffee shops or showing up to events, and he would invite them to his party.
It was an easy way to get to know somebody, to give them an invitation to an event that you happen to be hosting in a couple of weeks. By the way, the phrase cocktail party, you know, there is not a single drink recipe that’s in this book. The book is not recipes on how to drink. These parties—we use the phrase ‘cocktail party’ because it encapsulates an easy idea that is about socializing and meeting new people.
After hosting several of these events, Tyler really had a waiting list and he started to have so many people in Little Rock going to attend his events. It wasn’t immediate but, eventually, he was able to get an incredible new job, a vice-president role at a growing company, where he is still employed today and he found that through hosting his parties. Someone had mentioned it, they came to his party a couple weeks later.
Then, when they were hiring, they thought about him, knowing his facilitation skills and bringing people together. A huge success story, and I am not trying to brag and toot my own horn, but I am very passionate about this. And I have a lot of stories like this, of people who truly have hosted events, learned how to do it to change their lives.
Benji Block: Go back to the beginning of that story for a second, because you are moving on it. You said: “He partnered with somebody for the first one.” Do you know any more detail on that? Because I think that’s an interesting piece of this, how you really get off the ground. It goes back to probably my infatuation as well with who you invite to the party, but do you know what that looked like for him, for that first one in figuring out who to bring?
Nick Gray: Tyler partnered with a woman named Erika, who was what some might call a super-connector. And, he said: “Hey, can we co-host a party together? Can you invite your friends and I’ll help do this. I can host it at my home, we can do rounds of icebreakers.” And she was happy. She said: “Yeah, that sounds really cool.” Tyler used her to help build his initial network, and I think that can help when you move somewhere and you know absolutely nobody.
But, most people will have some friends in town. Think about on your Facebook or LinkedIn or some other social network, all these connections that you’ve added maybe over the last two years of living in the town (or more) that you just never see. People maybe you went to school with, neighbors you haven’t had a chance to connect with, this will form the beginning basis of your first groups and then, as you go about your daily life, once you have your cocktail parties scheduled three weeks out, anyone interesting that you meet that maybe you want to get to know better, why not give them an invitation to see and hangout, and it’s just a great way to think about that building big relationships.
Nick’s Favorite Party
Benji Block: What’s your favorite party you’ve ever hosted, Nick? Do you have one that comes to mind?
Nick Gray: One of my favorite parties—I always host a big party every year on my birthday. For my last birthday, it was my 40th birthday—now, for anyone listening, this is not the type of party I suggest. You don’t have to go all out. This is advanced level. But, I rented out a waterpark, one of the largest indoor waterparks in all of America, and I rented it out for my friends in the morning. I think it was a Wednesday morning. I was so happy to see all of these friends of mine just riding waterslides, just being like little kids all morning.
Benji Block: That’s awesome man, I love that. And I love the creativity of even—one of the funny, and you have pointed it out, those off days are also just the perfect days to get into people’s schedule. So a Wednesday morning for a birthday party and then waterslides, I mean, it just sounds incredible, so great job there. Okay, last thing I want us to leave our audience with is just tips for being a great party participant.
So yes, as the host , maybe it is going to be 15 plus so you won’t have to do as much facilitation, but what does it look like to really be engaged at a party, and be a great party guest?
Nick Gray: One thing that I recommend for new hosts to have, is to be aware of how you can delegate duties. What’s the one thing that a host, if you show up earlier, you show up on time, someone always asks: “How can I help?” Right? So, knowing how you can help when you go to a party.
Some of those delegate duties, things that I recommend the host have in mind, are help people get a drink. Help people write their name on their cup, help people get a nametag, to put their bags away. Be the person who snaps photos at a party, that you can follow up to the host: “Hey, amazing event. I took some pictures for you here.” What an awesome way to give back and to help out.
Be the person who goes up and introduces new people, goes out of your way to say: “Hey, my name is Nick, how are you doing? I don’t really know people here, I want to come up and say hello.” That is a big thing that you can do to help the host.
Benji Block: Fantastic. Well, when someone picks up your book, Nick, they read it, let’s say they actually host their first party, what do you hope the main feeling is/the main takeaway is after applying this book to their lives and creating this type of party?
Nick Gray: Learning how to host a good event is an incredible life skill, and it is not rocket science. There are a couple counterintuitive incredible learnings and lessons that I have learned from hosting hundreds of my own events that you can skip, you can get the cheat sheet, learn every little thing like host on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night, send a series of three reminder messages to boost attendance.
Use these things, my secret weapon called guest bios that I speak about in chapter nine of the book—how do you use these guest bios to create more connections, to guarantee attendance ratios and to leave people just begging: “When is your next party?” Those little tips and tricks, I think, that I have written this book to help somebody be successful. And, the day afterwards, they feel a huge sense of success and accomplishment.
Benji Block: This has been a fascinating conversation, Nick. I know there’s going to be those that want to stay connected to you, what’s the best way for people to do that, and potentially reach out?
Nick Gray: I have an awesome friends newsletter that, maybe, folks listening to this already subscribed to. You can find that on my website, which is, nickgray.net. The name of my book, it’s called, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party. I made a whole website all about it at www.party.pro. So party.pro, and on that site, you can download the first four chapters, for free. You can read about some of the core learnings and lessons, and read dozens of case studies of other people that have read this book and had their own success in hosting their first party.
Benji Block: The 2-Hour Cocktail Party: How to Build Big Relationships with Small Gatherings. It is going to be a great resource for so many, and it is available on Amazon now, so go pick it up. Nick Gray, thank you so much for taking time giving us your wisdom on this topic, and stopping by Author Hour today. We really appreciate it.
Nick Gray: Thank you, hosting a party is a skill that you can learn, and I’ll try to help you out.
Benji Block: Love it.