How might a group of strangers at an event form a memorable connection with another?

My Activity Instructions

My Activity Instructions

Objective

The Speed Date Portrait Project is an experiment to improve stranger-to-stranger interaction at larger events. I feel frustrated with our shortening attention spans and unfocused interactions that I believe lead to people feeling more alone and prone to staying within their own comfort zone.

Problem

Making connections with other humans and being fully present is crucial to progress, empathy, and a vibrant life. Nowadays, it is common to shake someone's hand, hear their name and forget it. So I surveyed my peers and put on my problem-solving goggles while attending end-of-the-year parties.

I decided to create a "meet-cute" that prolonged quick interactions and created a silly opportunity to hyper-focus on another human's name, face, and eyes, laying the groundwork for a more genuine connection. 

I watched this whole set-up happen. This is my friend Anjule, who told me she thought this boy was cute. She boldly asked him if he'd do the activity with her, and I watched as they giggled and to my shock, exchanged numbers. 

I watched this whole set-up happen. This is my friend Anjule, who told me she thought this boy was cute. She boldly asked him if he'd do the activity with her, and I watched as they giggled and to my shock, exchanged numbers. 

The Set-Up

I arranged a small table and two chairs, forcing two people to sit close together. On the table was a timer, an instruction sheet, a drawing card, and tons of fun market colors. The instructions asked participants to find someone they didn't know, sit down with them for 3 minutes, and draw a picture of them without looking at their paper (a blind contour). Meanwhile, they had to ask each other's name, maintain eye contact, and learn something about the other. Afterwards, they'd spend a few minutes coloring their drawings, laughing at the goofy result, and writing something they learned about their person. 

Outcomes & Learnings

The project was so much more fruitful than I had expected. Many of my hypotheses about events and strangers were confirmed: if people have an established activity or topic to discuss, they feel much more comfortable coming right out of their shell. This applied to the drawing table and throughout the long line of people waiting to try it the entire night. 

Dozens of people came up to me to share in their excitement. One man told me that he'd sat across from someone who was visiting his town in the next month, and they had made an arrangement for the other drawing participant and his wife to stay in his home. 

There were so many smiles. I re-created this project at a graduation party a week later, and got the same response. I'm looking forward to exploring this subject in more projects.