How to Throw a Virtual Party

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our everyday lives, forcing many of us to rethink and reassess our routines, including how we socialize. Restrictions on gatherings mean that we can no longer spend as much time with family and friends, and that social engagements should be avoided at all costs. Though necessary, these restrictions have a negative effect on many, as they are tantamount to forced loneliness. Luckily, though, a new type of “gathering” has caught on, one that allows participants to meet up and socialize, while still adhering to proper distancing guidelines: the virtual party.

What Is a Virtual Party?

Though its name might conjure images of virtual reality headsets and holograms, in actuality, a virtual party is much less futuristic. Think Skype, not sci-fi. As a general concept, a virtual party is simply a planned social event where guests attend and interact with one another using video teleconferencing tools and applications.

Logitech C920s HD Pro Webcam

Just like regular parties, virtual parties have various themes and functions. There are virtual dinner parties, virtual dance parties—last week, I attended a Super Mario-themed virtual birthday party for my nephew. However, regardless of its nature and intent, almost all virtual parties will benefit from the same best practices, which we’ll discuss below.

How Do I Attend a Virtual Party?

In many ways, attending a virtual party is much easier than physically going somewhere. For starters, unless you live in a mega mansion or on a multi-acre estate, the travel time will be considerably less. Also, depending on the party type and your particular grooming habits, getting ready shouldn’t be as much of a chore. I’m not saying you should wear pajama bottoms to your next virtual party—I’m just pointing out that no one would know if you did.

But there are some things you will need to attend a virtual party. For starters, you have to have a suitable webcam—one that meets your personal criteria and is appropriate for the party you’re attending. Basically, what you’re looking for is something that can capture decent video and quality sound (although sound quality is negotiable if you’re willing to invest in a separate mic). The good news is that many of the devices you already own have a webcam. I have a 2017 iMac with a built-in webcam that I use for just about all my virtual partying, and it works great—no extra equipment necessary.

Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 USB Webcam

You’re also going to need a reliable and relatively speedy Internet connection. How speedy? Well, as one of our video experts, Jennifer Hahn, points out in her primer, Basic Introduction to Livestreaming Video, video streams require a lot of bandwidth, so DSL and dial-up are not great options. She recommends basic cable service at the minimum, or faster if possible.

The final piece of the virtual party puzzle is the telecommunication platform you need to attend. Telecommunications platforms are the cab ride to the party; they’re the secret password that lets you inside. Regardless of how good your webcam is or how fast your Internet connection, if you’re not using the right platform, you’re not getting into the party. There are many different telecommunications platforms and applications—Skype, Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, etc.—and each of them is relatively easy to use (often, at most, it’s just a matter of a quick signup). However, one thing you want to keep in mind is that each of these platforms has its own set of specifications and requirements for use. Odds are, your built-in webcam will meet these requirements just fine, but it’s worth double-checking beforehand. Don’t want to get all dolled up in your finest pajama bottoms and then find out at the last second you can’t attend.

How Do I Throw My Own Virtual Party?

Although you’ve probably thrown many a real-life party, planning a virtual party can be slightly different. For starters, you might want to consider having a theme for your party. Establishing a theme can help navigate expectations and flow, which is important because a virtual party free-for-all can be super chaotic. Picture twenty of your friends stacked up Brady Bunch-style on your computer screen talking over one another. It’s madness.

Speaking of your friends: It’s also important to consider the number of people you want to attend. Going back to the previous example, having too many people at your virtual party can create chaos. Unless it’s a gathering where there isn’t as much talking—a virtual dance party, for example—you might want to consider limiting the invitees to a more manageable amount, especially if you’re throwing a party where individuals often talk at length (e.g., a virtual book club or happy hour).

Now, on the topic of talking: Being the host of a virtual party means added responsibility for keeping the party going, specifically the conversation. Virtual parties often have these untimely breaks in conversation that can create awkward silences. Sometimes these lulls are so long and uncomfortable, people just take them as a cue to leave. As a host, it’s on you to help avoid that. One way to do that is to have some backup topics on hand. Yes, I realize preplanning your party banter sounds pretty lame, but it’s actually a good way to stave off those awkward silences. You don’t need to practice and rehearse every single question and answer that might come up, but keep a couple topics in your back pocket in case things die down prematurely. Try to keep the questions general enough to apply to the majority of the group, and, if possible, in the spirit of the party. This will help avoid the appearance of a preplanned questionnaire. Which, OK, is lame, but no one will know if you pull it off right.

Lastly, you’re going to need to plan the logistics. Specifically, you need to find the easiest way for the most people to attend. That, more or less, boils down to which telecommunication platform to use. Go with the platform that best serves the theme of your party and can be used by the other attendees. Other considerations include timing and other peoples’ schedules. Not everyone can attend a raucous virtual dance party at 4:00 p.m. Likewise, your partner might not appreciate the 16-person virtual draft party you’re hosting the night before they take the bar exam. Finally, your logistics planning should also include assisting the less technically savvy attendees of your future party. For some attendees, this will be their first virtual gathering. And while your nephew’s virtual birthday party wouldn’t have been the same without him, watching a poorly angled shot of your father wrestle with his audio settings for 20 minutes isn’t the best use of his company. If you suspect one of your attendees might have an issue getting into the party, maybe help them out and do a practice run beforehand.

After that, you’re all set. It might not be the same as the real thing, but virtual parties are a great way to remain safe and in contact with your friends and family. We hope that you’ll give these tips a shot, and that they’ll help you connect with your loved ones until we all can be together again. If you have any questions about virtual parties, or if you’d like to leave additional tips and comments below, we’d love to hear from you.

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3 Comments

What you suggest for singing together party? All these software tools allow only one person at time to speak. Professional musicians have such tools that allows to play together, you could watch a lot of such videos. Is something exist for amateurs?

We just had one. My sister (in Minnesota) and (I in Hawaii) chat on Facetime frequently. I had to cancel my trip to Minnesota due to covid. I was disappointed for several reasons one of which I would not be able to visit my 2 remaining uncles. At 88 and 92, they live with their wives in carehomes in different towns. Sister arranged with the carehomes to have their personnel bring computers into each of their rooms and assist the 4 elders with feeling comfortable with something they had never done before. Then sister connected us all together on Zoom and we had a wonderful time catching up. It was a great experience for me as I hadn't seen them in many years. Word from both carehomes was that the uncles really enjoyed it and want to do it again.

Jan, thank you so much for sharing that story with us. That's really sweet and uplifting and makes me happy to hear that you found a way to stay in contact with your loved ones during these trying times. 

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