Practicing physical distancing is a priority for us all right now. Nonetheless, it can be saddening to completely cancel special occasion gatherings between family and friends—especially when we’re craving connection more than ever.
One solution is to collect your loved ones to mark milestones virtually. These tips will help you ensure your digital party is a success.
“The biggest mistake we make, whether we’re gathering online or off, is we tend to assume the purpose is obvious,” Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, said in a recent TED Connects talk. Especially now, “The biggest way to create a meaningful gathering for your community is to first ask: what is the need?”
Parker advises creating your event’s meaning through specificity and structure. Perhaps you’re marking a graduation, and the brilliant young man you’re celebrating ought to know how proud his family is of him. Or you’re celebrating a birthday, and the girl of honour needs to loosen up and dance to some good music. When you and your guests have a clear purpose, the atmosphere you generate is more likely to be fulfilling.
We may intuitively navigate parties in real life, but on platforms like Zoom and HouseParty, social conventions like knowing how to introduce yourself to new people or say goodbye to the group can be trickier to pull off.
“My strategy is: as soon as someone joins and I know they haven’t met somebody else on the call, I say, ‘Hi X, by the way, this is so-and-so,’ and gesture to where whoever else is on my screen,” says Kat Tenbarge, a journalist who quickly took to hosting online parties and has plenty of advice for first-timers. “The awkwardness kind of gives everybody a sense of companionship. You all roll with it.”
Tenbarge recommends preparing a few topics to encourage conversations, especially since it’s impossible to break off into groups to chat when everybody is sharing a screen. The fact that only one conversation can really happen at a time is also why smaller parties tend to work better online (Tenbarge feels seven or eight people at a time is best; if you want to invite more, considering staggering your invitations over the course of a couple hours so people arrive and exit throughout the event).
Speaking of exits, “It’s really up to you as the host to precede any awkwardness about leaving, because most people probably aren’t going to be like ‘Ok, I’m done now,’” says Tenbarge. Consider setting a firm end time for your event, and cap it off by saying something encouraging like, “When should we do this next?”
As Tenbarge suggests, prepared conversational topics or icebreakers help ensure everyone gets a chance to speak and feel included in your party. Use your discretion, of course, but most of psychologist Arthur Aron’s famous 36 questions will do just fine.
Getting into a theme always lifts spirits—the goofier the better. Ask your guests to dress the way they did in high school, or to surround themselves with all of their houseplants before getting on the call.
For a little extra flair, send out a virtual event invitation (Paperless Post has cute ones) or offer your guests a drink recipe ahead of time, so you can all enjoy the same signature cocktail at your party.
Finally, even if you have a lovely celebration in isolation, considering holding a collective “everything-we-missed” event with your friends when it’s safe to do so again; you’ll likely be in the mood for a big party, anyway. Having a virtual celebration now, with an in-person gathering waiting for you sometime in the future—that’s like having your cake and eating it, too.