I’ve loved theming parties since college – I hosted a That 70s Party (based on the show), a Throwback Thursday soiree (with a hashtagged Instagram-inspired photo booth), and countless other costume-required events throughout the years.
For my company’s most recent onboarding happy hour, I decided to theme our event something that almost anyone, from any generation, can relate to: summer camp.
Full disclosure – I didn’t host this on my own. To create engagement within our office and ownership over our social activities, I’m going to be teaming up with different departments to host our happy hours each month. Since the People Team owns our employee engagement, activities, hiring and benefits, it seemed natural for us to take the form of camp counselors.
To begin planning with my team, I broke down the happy hour into a few essential categories:
- Catering – what kind of food will we serve?
- Signature drink – a special cocktail relating to our team, with a non-alcoholic version option as well.
- Visuals – a Keynote presentation ran throughout the social hour to provide extra context about who we are.
- Activities – bring the theme home with related games and entertainment.
Now, down to the execution:
Summer Camp food was simple, but so delicious. We ordered catering from a local sandwich and salad restaurant to create a picnic vibe. But what about a yummy afternoon treat, and everyone’s favorite thing to eat when camping?
An ice cream s’mores bar. No campfire necessary.
We set up tubs of ice cream next to bowls of crumbled graham crackers, chocolate chips, marshmallows and chocolate syrup. You better believe I made a few microwaved s’mores.
We named our cocktail after our referral system, Lever. Fortunately, one of the girls on our team used to be a bartender, so she whipped up our “Lever Lemonade” with blueberry vodka and mint – and a non-alcoholic version too, of course.
A mandatory part of this team-hosted tradition moving forward will be a Keynote presentation running on loop throughout the party. Since the goal of these happy hours is to give the office insight into the ins and outs of a particular team they may not be familiar with, this is a simple way to transmit information in a fun, creative and personal way.
We employed a Wet Hot American Summer theme (I used my Photoshop magic on a picture of the cast to put our faces on the characters) and shared fun facts about ourselves along with our individual functions within the team, and pictures of us throughout the presentation. These fun facts carried into the next portion of the event: games and activities!
Aside from setting out cards and board games, we wanted to bring the theme home with some tailored entertainment for the party. I’ve been known to use “Get to Know You” Bingo as an icebreaker, so I created some game cards with facts about the members of my team, clues for which were hidden throughout the presentation.
I’ve created these manually before, but this time I found an awesome Bingo Card Generator online that allowed me to submit my own values for the boxes. I took the output and used a page designer to brand it and give it color.
Some of the facts worked for more than one person (like, “has tattoos” and “California native”), which made it more fun. If people didn’t know the answer, they had to come up and ask us. We had prizes at stake, which motivated people even more to fill one out.
Another quirky icebreaker was our nametag station. Rather than having everyone put their actual name on a “Hello My Name Is” sticker, we placed a sign next to the tags encouraging people to use or make up a “camp name” of their own. I provided a list of ridiculous nicknames I found online to help jog people’s imagination. The names were hilarious and were great conversation starters. (“Jess, how did you get the nickname Spillz?” Answer: I’m kind of clumsy.)
The most fun activity by far was the spirit stick decorating contest. You’d be surprised how many people will get sucked into any arts and crafts project at a party. Often, it’s the person who doesn’t want to drink, or is a bit more introverted. But when you turn it into a contest, even the more outgoing partiers will want to participate.
What’s a spirit stick, you ask? If you ever saw the movie Bring it On, you’ll remember that it is a sacred object that holds an important status in camp culture, and will give one bad luck if dropped.
This activity was also a chance to get people to mingle and talk to people outside of their normal groups. We placed numbers in a bowl that corresponded to a particular “cabin,” where a stick with art supplies was waiting. People decorated throughout the party, and we voted on the best one at the end.
Some of the sticks were minimalist, some very creative, some kind of ridiculous – but all of them were fun to create, and one was even brought back to someone’s home office in Chicago as a memory of our awesome summer camp.
Our happy hour got rave reviews, and I know this tradition of team-hosted happy hours will be a great way for people to share their personalities and interests with the company!
Click on the thumbnail below to download all of the signs in a PDF. They are meant to be printed portrait orientation on heavier paper and folded in half to stand on a table.