How Do We Design Alcohol-Free Events That Increase Attendee Engagement

Who says you need alcohol to have fun and mingle? Well, quite a lot of people actually, but with a healthier lifestyle becoming a trend, there is now a modern movement towards alternatives to the pint and the wine glass.

The discussion for alcohol in the events industry is not recent, new, or innovative in any way. There is however not enough information and tips being shared on the available alternatives if you wish to design an alcohol-free event. This article is a summary of ideas for those who want to try and play with their event’s design and move away from the traditional cocktail drinks at the end of the day, towards healthier and more energizing options that guarantee networking, fun and engagement.

So let’s have a look at some features that can be revamped to create a better experience for attendees, with no requirement for boozing.

Time of day

Our moral code would generally prohibit us from drinking alcohol earlier than noon. Although it is acceptable to have a glass of wine at lunch, drinking in the daytime, unless you’re on holiday, is a no go.

If you want to skip the drinks, and maybe even save on catering, you can simply have your event earlier in the day, say early morning till noon. Another option is to have a lunch break and continue the event until the early afternoon.

Session or Meeting Design

When you have your standard “sit down and listen” lecture with a short Q&A session in the end, how would the attendees connect and engage? At the cocktail bar, of course, but what about having more engaging sessions in the first place?

Here’s a quick recap.

Fishbowl: A small group of people discuss a hot, trending topic in front of a bigger audience. In the classic Fishbowl any person can join the small group and become part of the discussion.

PechaKucha: PechaKucha or Pecha Kucha (japanese: chit-chat) is a style of presentation in which 20 slides are presented for 20 seconds each (altogether 6 minutes and 40 seconds).

Open Space Technology (OST): In OST it is moderator’s task to present the issue to the meeting’s participants, and explain a little about the format. From here on it’s the participants who create the agenda and set the pace for the event.

Unconference: Participants gather together and discuss the meeting design through an Open Space session (OST, described above). Unconferences are organically created by the participants.

World Café: In the “World Café” format participants are divided into groups of 4 to 5 people and seated around a round table. The meeting begins with a 20 minute discussion (‘research’) on a particular topic. After the discussion time is up, a member from each table switches to another group.

The 80/20 format: Eventex’ 80/20 is probably the newest format, designed to bring extra value to the attendee. First they attend one masterclass, picked from a number of topics for the day, participants get to join an interactive mash session where they learn more from all of the other classes.

These interactive session formats are guaranteed to create more movement, engagement and interaction between your event’s participants.

Event design

When we talk about key elements that directly affect engagement, such as session design and dress code, another feature that influences attendee behavior is the seating plan and layout design of the event.

Just picture yourself sitting in in a row with one hundred people, and then again sitting in a beanbag with five or six others. In what setting are you more likely to feel at ease, engage and connect?

It’s not just the seating however, there are other design elements that are key for engagement. Consider the layout of your event, where will you have your cool-off, relaxation zones, what elements will they incorporate to create engagement?


Another good way to remove the need for drinks, is to have an activity-filled event. Just like sports and drinking make for a disastrous combination, activities (with the exception of college drinking games) require participants to be focused and alert.

‘Gamification’ can be summarized as the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity. Though we immediately think of technology, apps and games (like the PokemonGO craze), the old-style role-playing and board games are also a great source of engagement for attendees. Think about a treasure hunt, murder mystery, catch phrase – you can incorporate elements from your event’s theme and tie them to the game.

How about classic teambuilding style activities? Depending on your location and venue, you can add some competitive sports or recreational activities that will get participants collaborating in teams. Apart from the more classic tug of war, potato sack or egg and spoon race, you can even incorporate more complex elements from classic TV game shows like ‘the Amazing Race’ and ‘Fort Boyard’!

How about workshops and arts & crafts? Though they are usually individualistic activities, you can add a group element, just like your sessions’ design above.


There is something about the venue and dress code that strongly affects our behaviour. For example, if we are on sales call, we feel much more confident when dressed formally, in fact, in many call centres, there is a dress code in place for that particular reason. However, at an event we may feel constrained to really express our true selves when in formal wear.

The same applies for venues. If we are in a hotel conference room, there may be a need to dress up, however what about an industrial style space or an event outdoors? I’m not saying put on shorts, sandals and your most outrageous Hawaiian shirt, just tone down that bank clerk vibe.

An informal venue, with a smart casual dress code is guaranteed to increase attendee engagement and networking. It is important to note that for some industries, and on some occasions, a formal dress code may be required or at least recommended, and it may not affect attendee behavior to such a degree.

Healthy alternatives

How about a ‘healthy’ cocktail bar, mocktails or a juice bar? Even if some of the attendees prefer to drink-drink, they’ll surely appreciate a healthy day-off with these alternatives.

There are also many companies that specialize in healthy snacks and drinks, who will appreciate being seen at your event and will gladly offer treats for product testing.

Tying it altogether with a sponsorship or a cause

Connect with a local fitness, health and well being brand for a big sponsorship opportunity. If you’ve tied all of the ideas from above together in a neat presentation, you will have companies jumping at the chance to be seen in a such a positive and modern light.

The cause should be clear by now, a healthy and active modern lifestyle, need we say more?

Some customary final words

This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are infinite options available to create engagement and increase networking, without the need for the customary drinks. A healthy, feature and fun packed event will guarantee that people will have more to talk about, and they will appreciate the effort you have put into the overall design.

What do you think eventprofs? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Featured image: Red Cocktail by leeroy licensed under CCO 1.0
In-text images by 
Kiên TrịnhFlorian PircherPublicDomainPicturesPrayoga Danuwirahadi,
Mario PurisicJames Riess and Mayur Gala, all licensed under CCO 1.0

Guest Author:

Dimitar Toshkov
I’m a wiseacre Millennial, but you’ll find my articles are the result of meticulous research and careful observation.