Most adults have years of experience attending social events, meetings, and other gatherings. We abide by social customs regarding greetings, conversation topics, attire, and acceptable standards of polite behavior. When our in-person social life is put on pause, the challenge is exploring how much of our social behavior translates into virtual behavior.
From mingling guests at a cocktail party to faces on a computer screen, socializing continues. But unlike an offline party where people can saunter in at different times and naturally begin to break off into smaller conversations, on virtual platforms, such gatherings must be strategically organized and orchestrated. Brave meeting and party planners using Zoom or other platforms to recreate social gatherings, whether personal or professional, are challenged to create an experience that attendees will find both comfortable and enjoyable. Here are five tips.
1. Remember, Timing Is Everything
Although you probably already know how to use Zoom, there are always tips on how to use it better. You might not have much flexibility if you are organizing a professional call, but if you are planning a social function, there are indeed ways to improve the enjoyment and entertainment value of your event, which will boost attendance at your next one.
First of all, as they say, timing is everything. If you are inviting people from different time zones, make sure you are not inviting them to an event that starts for them at 10:00 at night, or 6:00 in the morning. This consideration will impact your guest list, because unlike a party offline, a Zoom party might attract party crashers from all over the world. This might be just fine if you extend an open invitation to like-minded enthusiasts anywhere and everywhere, depending on your theme. But if your party is strictly invite-only, consider the time zones of everyone on your list.
2. Start Strong
Kat Tenbarge in a Business Insider article gives some useful advice on how to run a good Zoom meeting as the host, including the importance of having strong Internet and a workable method of beginning and ending a meeting.[i]
In order to start strong, Tenbarge suggests admitting people in a staggered fashion to avoid a crush at the door, which reduces the awkwardness of group introductions. Most of us have experienced this challenge, trying to speak to one another over constant bell-ringing signaling another guest has joined the meeting. To facilitate introductions and reduce distraction, Tenbarge texts her URL to only a few people at a time beginning several minutes before the official start of the meeting, permitting proper introductions of newcomers.
3. Respect Virtual Boundaries
Once your party guests are in the front door, some will not show their faces—at least not right away. This might be noticeable, especially if a black square with just a name or a small image is depicted within a field of gregarious attendees engaged in a visual display of show and tell, revealing everything from their personal appearance to their (real) living room in the background. Instead of jokes and lighthearted taunts to “reveal yourself,” treating an attendee hiding behind an avatar just like everyone else will create a sense of comfort and camaraderie for everyone. People new to the virtual party scene are dipping a toe into the water to begin with by joining your call; don’t be the one to push them into the pool. They will share more when they are ready.
4. Use Breakout Rooms
Just as it is easier to interact within smaller conversation groups in person, the same dynamic takes place on Zoom. Break out rooms provide a breather from the sensory overload of one massive screen with multiple faces and names, and can be more comfortable for guests both mentally and physically. Interacting with only a few faces at a time can be less stressful, and even grant guests a license to relax—both mentally and even physically in the uncomfortable chairs where they have been stiffly sitting at attention. To maximize mingling, depending on the goal of your gathering, perhaps you have guests switch breakout rooms every 15 minutes.
5. End Strong
Even the most entertaining Zoom meetings must come to an end. Newsflash if you are the host: If your first party is a Zoom meeting marathon, no one will come to your second. Unless you are throwing an open-ended evening where guests are invited to come and go as they please, limits of one hour, for example, allows everyone to remain fully present and attentive.
If you are planning an event during the workday, because many meetings start on the hour, limit your meetings to 45 or 50 minutes maximum, giving everyone time for a short break before their next one. To maximize efficiency, consider opening your Zoom room 30 minutes early for socializing and working out technical difficulties.
Zoom party planning is a work in progress, as virtual meetings continue to grow in popularity, and attendees grow in virtual proficiency. With proactivity, diligence, and digital competence, you can create remote gatherings that are easy to attend, entertaining, and enjoyable.