How to host an online party for family and friends
March 16, 2020 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I want to host an online party tomorrow night for about 30 people. I've never done anything like this before and I'm looking for tips from anyone who has.

We will be using Zoom. I've signed up for the pro version on the assumption that we can go over the 40 minute limit. I've got some people lined up to play music and sing but I'm wondering what else I can do to encourage participation and avoid boredom. Are drinking games a good idea? Does 'charades' work in an online setting? How do I avoid too much chaos. Any advice welcome.
posted by night_train to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My first thought: Embrace the chaos. Nobody really knows how to do this and it won’t go the way you expect no matter how you prepare. Think of some activities but if the experience goes in a different direction just roll with it.

30 people is a lot, so I think that activities structured where one person is the center of attention and everyone else is watching/guessing are the way to go — like Charades. I’ve never played it over video though.

Have fun!! This sounds like a blast. I’ll be watching this thread for birthday party ideas, since my birthday is likely to be eaten up by this virus.
posted by mekily at 7:10 AM on March 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can find online multiplayer party games to play together (e.g., Jackbox games, though either I can't find the link now the way they're set up seems to have changed from the last time I played them), where everyone's phone is a controller or input device for the game, and one person can share the admin view of the game from Zoom.

Also, using Zoom's annotate functionality on a screenshare of a window with a blank image or an animated GIF as a "canvas" is so much fun. I used it to create this music video by Zooming with folks and recording the process.

Also, use the green screen background option with animated GIFs, and either record it or use Giphy Capture to record the results in GIF form for later. It's like Instagram selfies with weird backgrounds, only in video/virtual form. If it says you don't have a good-enough processor for it, just check the box on that screen of Zoom settings, and it will let you use the feature anyway, with perhaps more hilarious results than if the processing were better.

You can also play any game that requires each person to draw something by having folks draw ("work alone together") for a set period of time, then take photos of the work using their phones, then email or Slack their images to themselves, then download them on their computers and upload them to a shared Google Slides presentation, one per page. This is how my organization conducts remote design sketch sessions together, and it would totally work for drawing games. Or you can just have people hold their drawings up to the camera, or play the game if possible using Zoom annotate on someone's screenshare of a blank window as a canvas.

Similarly, you can play any game that requires people to raise their hands or show cards or otherwise buzz in by either 1. having people physically raise their hands or a card on video, or if there are too many people to see everyone on one screen, 2. using Zoom's raise hand functionality. The former is one way scrum teams vote together, by showing cards in "planning poker." The latter is one way, if you look at the participant list or the icon on each person's video in the grid, to see who has feedback or input and take turns.

Sharing links to things in the Zoom chat and talking about them, screensharing them together, etc. can also be a ton of fun. You could also use that site we use to share and chat during MST3K Club marathons during the holidays, CyTube, and either start your own channel or watch an existing one together, with everyone pulling it up separately or one person sharing screen on it. This might work better with everyone pulling it up separately to avoid bandwidth issues resharing the video through Zoom. My company's film club did something similar by syncing a video and watching it separately together. (I've also long done that with friends over chat, syncing a movie to watch together and commenting on it, MST3K-style, in real time. This would probably work great for shorter videos via Zoom.)

Someone can also share their audio from a window via Zoom, to provide a soundtrack to the proceedings. Only one person can share at a time, but if you had a browser you were sharing and shared audio from one tab and whatever the group is looking at or doing from another, that will work really well!

Definitely also just drink together! It can be a lot of fun with a critical mass of people on the call; my company has done remote happy hours for years this way, and you can really get to feel close to people that way. Encourage people to bring pets, kids, significant others, etc. on the call too. The more the merrier, and the more unexpected things come into the call environment, the more fun it is.

And yeah, basic conference chilling rules apply: Everyone should mute as much as possible when not speaking or sharing their audio, use headphones whenever possible and check audio and video settings before joining to avoid weird echoes or feedback loops, etc.

I might repurpose this info for a blog post. I bet a lot of people are trying to figure this out right now!
posted by limeonaire at 7:20 AM on March 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Of course someone should be designated to stream good music, while the others mute their feed, to drink & listen.

A drinking game, with a shared feed?

Could folks who want to say something (story, thanks, maybe an expert who can educate without killing the mood) let you know ahead of time, so you can sort of emcee it?

Can you open multiple windows, for all the side conversations that arise?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:37 AM on March 16, 2020

Best answer: I think that it makes sense to have one person who is the designated talker - taking turns answering a funny question or telling a story, and having a lot going on via sidebar chat. For a number of biological and technological reasons, it's a lot harder to have a lot of people talking at once and fluidly taking turns online, than in person. Chat works well, because you can all sort of talk and listen at once.
posted by mercredi at 10:57 AM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Zoom allows you to move people into smaller groups, either randomly assigned or selected.

I hosted a virtual happy hour last night, and folks just went around and introduced themselves and I asked an ice breaker question of favorite handwashing song. We were only on for 40 minutes because cheap Zoom account, but it was a hit and I'm upgrading to do it again next week. Even though not everyone knew each other, there was plenty of conversation with just the basic introductions.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:01 AM on March 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Ask participants to tell a joke, short anecdote, say a poem, read a very short essay(under 90 seconds which is longer than you think).
posted by theora55 at 1:07 PM on March 16, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. I'm going to have a list of stuff to try and if something doesn't work we'll move on. The people I invited are really enthusiastic so it will be fun regardless. I'll give an update on how it went tomorrow in case anyone's interested.
posted by night_train at 4:43 AM on March 17, 2020

Response by poster: Well that went great. The were people playing music, singing, dancing, poetry reading and every 30 minutes we had a quiz round. There were about 18 logins and about 40 people participating. The sound wasn't great but it didn't matter and it was really funny when people decided to sing along. It was worth doing.
posted by night_train at 3:24 AM on March 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

Glad it went well! Answering in case this helps anyone else. I hosted a party for the same size group and most people didn't know each other (though everyone knew me). Here's what helped:

* Encourage people ahead of time to use Zoom on the largest screen they have (a laptop is better than a phone, etc) and encourage them to switch to gallery view during the call (shows everyone equally-sized regardless of who's talking).

* Consider doing intros when each new person joins, something like name / where they live / favorite hand washing song / how they know you (the host).

* Jot down a few conversation ideas ahead of time that you can throw out in the event conversation stalls and it gets awkward.

* Make good use of Zoom's features and encourage others to as well. The virtual backgrounds are a huge hit - people get a kick of changing their backgrounds and watching others change theirs as well. Polling is fun too, you can set up a poll that others fill out during the call (even something silly like voting on milk vs dark chocolate). You can even set up the poll ahead of time. There's also a chat feature and a couple of emojis (thumbs up and clapping).

* Play music! You can use the screen share functionality to play the same music for all attendees ( Simply playing music on a speaker won't work unless everyone else is muted; in order to have people talk while listening to music, you need to use Zoom's screen share functionality.

* Consider a game that requires no cards/board/etc, for example a drinking game (drink anytime someone says a certain word, etc) or "Never Have I Ever" depending on the crowd ;)
posted by sunflower16 at 3:40 PM on March 29, 2020

By the way, for anyone coming back to this thread later on, the post I wrote based on my recommendations in this thread just went live today, with even more games and general fun ideas and goofy GIFs of my coworkers.
posted by limeonaire at 4:48 PM on April 1, 2020

I was at a zoom party the other week where we spent time trying to arrange ourselves on screen so it created amusing screenshot set ups for the host. For example so that each person in the top row just showed their head, each person in the middle their torso and each person at the bottom their legs. Or a single Frankenstein's monster with the top centre person as the head, the centre as the torso, the people to the left and right in the middle as arms and the bottom centre as legs.

We also did rounds where we high fived the people next to us, or pretended to pass objects back and forth between the windows.

And a human pyramid.

Bearing in mind that the order of windows in the gallery appears different for each user, organising each shot was a fun challenge in itself that required the host to give instructions about where each person should place themselves. She did screenshots or video of the results and then shared them with us.
posted by lollusc at 3:59 AM on April 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

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