In preparation for the 2nd Annual SFShenanigans Free Hugs Event, we have assembled a list of learnings that we made during our previous Free Hugs events.
Enticing Hug Subject
1. Eye Contact
More than any other technique, establishing good eye contact with your passersby nets you a substantial number of hugs. When a potential hug-ee is open to the idea of hugging a stranger, they will try to gain a first impression of you by looking at your face. If you meet their gaze with a kind eye, many people will decide right there that you are safe to hug.
2. Leave one hand free
If you are holding some sort of Free Hugs sign, it is best to make it a single-hand sign. Use your unoccupied hand and body language to signal that your subject's hug is primed and ready to go. Holding a sign with two hands creates a false barrier that many people won't be inclined to breach.
3. Get down to kids' level
Sometimes families will show up and experiment with their child's openness to receiving hugs from strangers. Kids will usually react more favorably if you take the time to get down to their level. Drop down to one knee and outstretch your arms. At that point, many kids will run right into your arms.
4. Hugging Style
Once a person accepts your invitation to hug you are now in their personal space. It is very important that you take cues as to your subjects hugging style. Some people like soft hugs, and others love bear hugs. Some people will only give strangers "a-frame" hugs. Some of them may be injured. Take the cues and match their hugging style, and they will have a great experience.
5. Heart to Heart
There is a little known custom that some people embrace, and it has to do with which side you hug on. The belief is that if you hug with the other person's head to your left, then you are conveying more intention because the physical hearts are face to face. Some people prefer this type of hugging, and others will specifically *not* hug a stranger on the left like this. Like all hugging style differences, just be aware of this and adapt to your subjects preferences.
6. Mix Genders
In the general public, and all-male group of huggers is kind of a hard sell, though not impossible. All-female or mixed-gender hugging groups seem to provide the "social proof" that you are not up to any kind of lascivious behavior. (We take this as an artifact of centuries of gender relations that we may not be able to change, but which we can surely challenge.)
7. Bring Extra Supplies
If you're going to be out in public hugging people for a couple of hours, you need to make sure to provide for yourself and your fellow huggers. Remember your water, as all that hugging can dehydrate you. If you're going to be outside, remember some sunscreen so you don't burn.
Many times people just love the idea of giving away Free Hugs, and they decide to your your rag-tag group of huggers. Having extra t-shirts, markers, and poster board with you will enable them to jump right in!