You’re not alone. We’ve all been feeling it. That sense of sameness, that looking out the window twinge of boredom that just makes you want to bang your head against a wall. The COVID-19 crisis has driven many of us to our homes, and, as the days tick by, the need for human interaction increases exponentially. But shelter-in-place doesn’t have to mean hide from your friends. The digital world now offers an excellent way to throw your own virtual party and shake off those COVID blues!
Pick a Platform, Plan a Party
You’ve probably heard of Zoom, but there are a number of platforms available that will allow you to hold video celebrations with intimate groups or raucous crowds, depending on your preferences. Some even cater to specific types of gatherings, such as Houseparty, which includes built-in party games. Discord is designed for gatherings of serious video gamers, while Netflix Party allows “attendees” to sync viewing experiences and hold chats while watching. For intimate gatherings of friends, you may want to opt for Google Duo or Facetime Messenger (up to six people). For larger parties, platforms such as the ubiquitous Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Jitsi may be more to your liking.
Whatever platform you choose, there are a few preparations that will make your virtual party more memorable and enjoyable for your “guests”:
- Pick a theme: what sets the virtual party apart from a group chat is some focus to designate the gathering as special. Whether you focus your party on a celebration (birthday, baby shower, graduation), an activity (cooking, crafts, games), or a theme (Westworld night, Italian dinner night, 90s music night), a theme creates hype and gives participants the opportunity to contribute in their own way.
- Send an invitation: we all need something to look forward to in these long COVID days, and a thoughtful, well-designed invitation creates that sense of anticipation. It also allows you to not only include a link to the platform you will be using but also to give basic instructions to your less tech-savvy guests.
- Festivize: is that a word? It doesn’t matter, but what does is making the event special. Invite guests to dress up or wear costumes (you can even award prizes), make a banner, or create a decorative backdrop out of cloth. And for the truly dedicated, you can even send out packets in advance with party favors, game instructions, cocktail recipes, and more that will create a sense of unity, heighten expectation, and intensify the celebratory nature of your event.
- Plan for an hour: the nature of the online gathering is different than face-to-face events, and it is easy for guests to get screen weary. An hour is about right for event length, but a good host should plan for early arrivals (and for time to explain things to the less experienced) and should stay late for those not quite ready to leave. That means planning a window with 15-20 minutes added on each end of the scheduled hour.
- Create an agenda: because there is not the physical sense of movement or the ability to find other things to do for guests, a good virtual host should lay out an agenda of activities. You can play games, ask musician friends to perform, or plan short activities. It’s also a good idea to allow guests to introduce themselves if you have a group that is not all acquainted.
- Plan a final memorable moment: virtual parties feel more clearly finite, so, as the hour comes to a close, plan a nice final moment that “seals the deal.” Have a toast, bring out the cake and sing, pop the party poppers, and give your guests something to remember.
Some parties speak for themselves. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, retirement don’t need a raison d’etre. But why wait for a life event or holiday to dictate you out of your doldrums. There are plenty of other reasons to crank up the good times. Here are some favorites:
- Quarantines: pick a cocktail and gather friends for drinks and good times. You can even encourage guests to create some twist on the cocktail and share their recipe at the event. One expert recommends giving your gathering a name and a rule, such as “The Tired Mom’s Club” with the rule that any mention of kids requires you to do a shot.
- Cooking Class: this can be an ongoing event where each week, one member of the class picks a dish that everyone will cook. This does require sending the recipe out in advance so that everyone has the needed ingredients. Another variation is to pick a style of food–Mexican, French, etc.–and have each person create a dish from the style.
- Game Night: Check out these game sites for a fun evening of laughter, drinking, eating, and gaming–Jackbox Games, Game Pigeon, Online Jeopardy, Roblox, and Minecraft.
- Mystery Theater 2020: for those who remember it, Mystery Science Theater 3000 set movie watchers of sci-fi B-films in the foreground and allowed them to make sarcastic comments on the action. Why not send your friend’s popcorn packs and boxed candy and invite them to watch a truly awful (or truly wonderful) movie as you add your own snarky comments over video chat.
- The Great Virtual Bake Off–Just like the Great British Bake Off, choose a style of baking–scones, bread, cookies, etc.–and judge the final products on appearance.
- Book Club--take turns choosing a book that all members of your group will read and make it the responsibility of the chooser to come up with questions/topics for discussion. You can even theme your snacks accordingly–a nineteenth-century comedy of manners? Tea and biscuits. Twentieth-Century Noir? Whisky on the rocks with . . . more whisky?
Don’t let these days of isolation keep you from reaching out to friends. The parties are out there waiting to happen. Just happen to be waiting in a world of links, platforms, and chat groups. Plan a virtual party with friends and find a little camaraderie even on the quietest days alone.