Breathing Life into Your Opening Reception

By: Christina Welty

Is your meeting getting stale?  Are your attendees getting bored with the same events year after year?  Here are five creative ideas to breathe life into your opening reception or party. 

PROGRESSIVE DINNER – Think of this as speed dating.  Each attendee is assigned a number. They sit at their first table for the appetizer or salad.  During the next course, they go to a different table with a new set of attendees and so on.  This is a great way to encourage your attendees to meet people they may not normally interact with at the meeting.  ADDED BONUS:  Besides the meal, this idea does not cost anything additional.

IMG_1557THEMES – Use colors, costumes, food and go all out! For example, at a recent 50th Anniversary convention, we had a sports theme at the opening reception. The attendees are mostly men, so we encouraged them to dress up in their favorite team jersey, shirt or colors.  We had sports-themed food – hamburgers, hot dogs, finger foods, etc.  Each table had baseball cards and team color tablecloths. You could also add games (corn hole), music or fundraisers. Mardi Gras and Cinco de Mayo are also ideas, but really any theme will do.  When you use a theme, attendees can really feel a part of something and it definitely adds life to a party!

Bring Las Vegas to your meeting! This idea has become quite popular among many of our clients and it is fairly easy to coordinate. ThFDLA 309.JPGere are companies in Florida and throughout the nation who will set up all of the casino tables and have dealers come to you. You use “funny money”, which is great because you can brand the money with your logo or convention theme.  And even if your members don’t know much about casino games, it’s the perfect chance to learn how to play blackjack, Texas Hold ‘em, Poker (you name it!) because they aren’t losing THEIR money.  At the end of the event, have attendees turn in their chips for raffle tickets and give out prizes. We’ve purchased gift cards and gift baskets in the past. You could ask vendors or sponsors to donate items as well.

WHO DUN IT? – Just like Casino Night, there are companies who will help create a Murder Mystery in front of your eyes. This works best for a group of 10-75 people. You can choose a particular mystery like “Murder in Margaritaville” with a Jimmy Buffet theme, etc. Prior to the party, each guest receives an invitation with detailed character description and background information. This encourages guests to dress up like their character and take it to the next level.  Once there, guests mingle and start acting out their part until the murder occurs. This activity encourages attendees to talk with each other and problem-solve, but only to the level they feel comfortable.  Prizes can be given for best costume, best acting and of course, who solves the murder.


UNIQUE VENUE – If you have a larger budget, consider taking the group to an off-site venue. One of my favorite recent events was held at a farm in Alabama. One of our vendors makes award-winning BBQ, so he provided the main dish for the meeting and we had an outside caterer provide the sides. There was a bluegrass band for entertainment and attendees played corn hole and horseshoes. We also had a shooting skills clinic and sporting clays. The barn was beautiful to begin with, but the owner added centerpieces and decorations to the bar for the finishing touch.  Keep in mind that you will have to coordinate transportation, which can add extra cost.

The next time your board or staff start brainstorming about future meetings, keep an open mind and use these examples or other creative ways to breathe life into your opening reception or party.  As you can see, there are many different ideas within a variety of budgets. The sky is the limit!  It’s important to consider your audience, but don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone.  If the event doesn’t do as well as you hope, shake it off and try something new next year.  Who knows?  You could plan an event that is talked about for years to come!

What ideas have you used to breathe life into your opening reception or party?

2016 Christina Welty


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