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Amsterdam Cocktail Party: Guests from Kazakhstan to Zimbabwe

Last updated: September 6, 2023

One critique that I’ve heard is that only Americans can have parties with icebreakers.

Does The 2-Hour Cocktail Party work for cultures all over the world? And what about in The Netherlands?

Read this post to meet Monique and find out how her party in Amsterdam went using my special party formula.

Why you should listen to me: Hi! My name is Nick Gray. I moved to New York City with very limited social connections. I lacked outgoingness and social confidence and didn't have any experience hosting parties. But in the past 15 years, I've hosted hundreds of events to establish strong relationships and build my network. In this post, I interview Monique who is a professional event planner in Europe.

Meet Monique

Monique is an Amsterdam-based curator of events. Her primary interest is in media and technology.

Over the last 25 years, she has dedicated herself to finding the best stories, the most interesting entrepreneurs, inventors, artists and putting them on stage.

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Headshot photo of Monique van Dusseldorp

Cocktail Party in Amsterdam

Monique’s cocktail party was held in Amsterdam. She had 20 guests attend!

But this wasn’t your average cocktail party. Monique had an incredibly international list of attendees. People from Kazakhstan to Zimbabwe were coming to her party.

Over the years, Monique collected a few artworks from local artists. She invited them, and two of the artists came. Everyone was delighted to see their work on Monique’s walls.

She also asked a singer for a short musical contribution, so they had a musical intermezzo after an hour during her party. She said it was very lovely.

Hiring Cocktail Helpers

Monique’s daughter and two friends served cocktails. She is 16 and for a small fee, she and her friends did the whole cocktail party. They decided to dress for the occasion as well. It did make for a really nice experience.

Monique makes sure to have lots of non-alcoholic options as well. These have proven to be very popular.

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Monique’s daughter and friends mixing cocktails

Trial and Error

Monique used multiple rounds of icebreakers, this allowed her guests to meet new people. It let everyone find new people to talk to without it being awkward.

Also, Monique thought the 2-hour limit was great for herself as well as the guests.

Monique only invites people a week or ten days in advance. When she asks someone “Do you have time next Sunday?” they immediately say yes or no and show up.

Monique found that asking people weeks in advance often led to scheduling conflicts and took up more time than needed.

Invitations and Guest Bios

Monique takes a lot of time to get a really good guest list together and tries to find 20 people with very different stories. They should be curious about each other and delighted to meet others.

Monique’s focus is to invite creative and entrepreneurial people. Mostly those who work in the arts, in technology, or are changing the world in other ways.

Over the last 20 years, Monique has put together a lot of conference programs and has invited quite a few former speakers and performers. Amsterdam is a very international city, so Monique also tries to combine different nationalities and cultural backgrounds – guests from Kazakhstan to Zimbabwe and beyond.

Monique also has a small collection of art on her office walls, so she puts local artists on the invitation list as well.

Monique writes short bios for all guests, including links and a bit on how she knows them. Monique sends this info two days before the event. Her guests appreciate this!

Guest Bios with headshots

Lessons Learned

After her parties, I interviewed Monique to learn even more about her two culturally diverse cocktail parties.

Q: What was the most surprising part of the party?

A: People loved my cocktail party idea and even suggested others to invite. I received great suggestions from guests in an evaluation form, including the need for more active introductions between guests. Most guests preferred structured events with prepared questions, introductions, and logical breaks to make the event better.

Q: What was your favorite part about the party?

A: At the last event, a singer asked guests to hum a note and improvised a beautiful song, creating a special moment. I also enjoy seeing guests continue their conversations or gather outside my building after the event. Guests shared their favorite cultural recommendations in response to my question, ‘What is something of beauty you hold dear?’ and I compiled and shared the list with everyone. I hope that my events inspire meaningful connections and collaborations among guests.

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This is Monique and her guests from her Amsterdam Cocktail Party.

Q: If you were to do it over again, what would you change?

A: As I said, I love to experiment a little bit with the format. Different kinds of conversation starters and new interactions. One thing I was thinking about was doing a 2-hour cocktail party followed by an hour of dancing. Not sure of that one yet, but I do keep thinking about it, so who knows.

Unfortunately, the office I have now will close in a few months, and it is unlikely I can find such a great space again. So I am thinking of keeping this going at guest locations.

As for what I should do better – I should prepare more and start earlier. The first time I just ran out of time to make badges, the second time I got them but forgot them at home. Just the result of doing things too last minute. But that is more about changing how I work, a lifelong battle!

Q: Did you find it difficult to host it on a Sunday instead of a weeknight?

A: I prefer Sundays for conversations as I have more time and energy compared to weekdays when I have work and family tasks. Many of my previous guests also agreed that Sunday is the best time, although some with young children may have scheduling conflicts. I may consider hosting on a Monday in the future.

Q: What made you want to host an event like this, instead of an event similar to the ones you have hosted before?

A: I actually have never hosted events before, strange as that may sound. Well, I remember a great dinner party many years ago. Right before Christmas, we invited everyone we knew who was single at the time, and got them together for food and conversation. And of course, before I had kids there were all kinds of gatherings and parties. But my life changed. I think cocktail parties are an excellent way to get to know new people in this phase of my life.

Q: What would be your single recommendation to a first-time host?

A: No reason to be nervous at all. The conversations between your guests are what make your event magical. Those are up to your guests, not you!

And perhaps also – if you are not so sure of how to run an event like this, do not improvise but just follow the recommended steps in the book. Not just because they are good recommendations, but also because it means you do not have to overthink every step and take all kinds of decisions.

Conclusion

Monique put a ton of work into her cocktail party, and it paid off! Afterwards, Monique heard back from several people who met up on new projects after the party. That made Monique super happy.

She is used to larger-scale events like conferences, so this format was a lot different for her. Monique learned that:

  • Guest bios excited her guests
  • Hiring her daughter to make cocktails made the event easier
  • A diverse list of attendees is the most important ingredient for an interesting party

Congratulations to Monique on an excellent gathering!

When is your party? Send me an email and I will give you some bonus tips, including a pre-party checklist that you can print out. Plus I’ll answer any question you have, free of charge. I love talking about parties and I’m on a mission to help 500 people host their first party. My book, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party, provides a comprehensive guide on how to organize your own cocktail party to foster strong relationships, even in Amsterdam.

About the author

Nick Gray is the author of The 2-Hour Cocktail Party. He’s been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and in a popular TEDx talk. He sold his last company Museum Hack in 2019. Today he’s an expert on networking events, small parties, and creating relationships. Read more about Nick Gray here.

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