Refreshing Alternatives


Why (and How) to Plan Networking Events That Don't Revolve Around Alcohol

By Matthew Ziebarth 

When many of us think of professional networking events, the first thing we envision is a happy hour with a few drinks to loosen us up and get comfortable conversing with unfamiliar people. However, for many people who do not or cannot drink alcohol, alcohol can be a barrier to networking events. Whether they are sober for personal, religious, or health reasons, those who aren’t drinking may feel left out from an event or be unable to attend gatherings where alcohol is front and center or even a background component. Many people are also buying into the “sober curious” mindset and trying to engage more mindfully with alcohol. In the HCBA New Lawyers Section, we have been working to ensure that everyone feels supported and welcome at our events, and we have a few tips to share. 

Tip 1: Plan an event with multiple options or layers

When planning an event, you should understand that there are numerous reasons why someone might not drink. There is no need to keep track of people’s drinking habits or ask any questions about why they aren’t drinking. Planning an event with multiple elements and activities allows for people to participate where they feel comfortable, while also providing a natural topic of conversation. Starting the event with an approachable service project or activity, with randomly assigned groups is a terrific way to skip past the awkward introductions and create organic conversations between members. Following the activity with a happy hour or social gathering can help further build those connections by using the prior activity and conversations as the base for conversation in a relaxed social setting. 

Tip 2: Be creative with events

Expanding beyond the traditional happy hour by incorporating non-drinking elements can help foster better opportunities for connection and camaraderie. Events that incorporate teamwork or force people out of their comfort zone—like a cooking class, art class, or outdoor activity—allow for more natural conversation and moves the focus from what people are drinking to what they’re doing. Being creative with assigning teams can also help ensure that people are not just grouping with their current colleagues or friends and can make it easier for someone who comes without a group to feel included in the activity. Start an event with a cooking or mocktail recipe and demonstration, and then create teams to make the same recipe. This allows everyone to work together with their group, and they can enjoy the fruits of their labor afterward. Not only does this give members an activity and conversation point during the event, but they also gain new skills to try at home or a new hobby to build on personally. 

Tip 3: Create engagement with events tailored for a specific group

For professional groups or organizations that share a particular interest, try to tailor the event to the shared interests of the group. For the New Lawyers Section, a lot of our interest is in fostering connections with other lawyers early in their career, and seeking advice or guidance from experts in fields of law to help newer lawyers understand what practicing law looks like. Tailoring events with the goals of a group in mind helps to create an event that is beneficial to the participants, while also allowing for networking and social interaction. This helps to drive increased attendance at events and eases awkwardness and discomfort for members who are not comfortable in a standard happy hour setting. 

Tip 4: Incorporate a service element

Incorporating a service element into an event is a fantastic way to create natural conversations between people as well as give back to the community. This is beneficial to the Bar Association but also creates an inclusive event for participants. Service events can also be tailored to a particular section or organization by giving back in an area that is related to the type of law practiced by the group. Service elements can also help to increase attendance at events, because giving back to the community is important to people’s lives and provides an easy justification for attending the event. Finishing the event with a casual happy hour allows people the chance to participate in the service event, while getting the chance to opt out of the happy hour if they are not comfortable. 

By being thoughtful and creative to host events that do not center solely around alcohol, an organization can increase attendance and representation for all its members, regardless of individual consumption habits. Fostering inclusivity helps to increase the connections between members, and creative multi-layered events can help make each social event feel fruitful and impactful for members.

Matthew Ziebarth is an associate attorney at Levander Gillen & Miller P.A., where he concentrates his practice in Municipal, Real Estate, and corporate law. Matthew is an active member of the HCBA, both on the New Lawyer’s Division, where he serves on the board as a social coordinator, as well as a member of the HCBA hockey team in the annual Barrister’s Cup. He received his law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and his undergraduate degree from Concordia College Moorhead, where he was a member of the baseball team.

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