When you can’t connect personally, get together virtually. In today’s changing environment, after-work happy hours have been put on hold. However, the inability to connect face to face doesn’t mean you have to miss those memorable moments with friends. Thanks to technology, staying connected – even when apart – is easier than ever.
Planning a successful happy hour requires a number of steps that, ultimately, focus on helping your attendees feel comfortable in this new environment. While we’re all used to relying on technology for work and communication, using it to socialize might take some getting used to. By thoughtfully planning your virtual gathering, you can ensure that your guests not only feel comfortable – they also have fun.
Design a creative way to reconnect with your pals with these virtual happy hour planning tips.
Choose Your Guests
When you’re at a favorite restaurant or bar for happy hour, you might be meeting up with old friends but end up making new ones while you’re there. Virtual happy hours don’t offer the experience of connecting strangers and forming new friendships, but they can allow you to foster your current friendships in a new way. So, use your happy hour to reconnect with colleagues, friends, and family at times when you cannot gather together.
When selecting your guests, choose people who already know each other. Doing so maximizes every attendee’s comfort and ensures that conversation flows well without any awkward lulls or interruptions. So, choose guests from a group with something in common, such as:
- Colleagues – If your work week often ended in happy hour with your colleagues, carry on the tradition in these virtual times. Schedule a Friday happy hour where you can stop talking business and start catching up with your colleagues after a long week working from home.
- Friends – Dinner parties and happy hours with friends are on hold, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop socializing with your closest friends. Bring your social circle together by saying “cheers” over the Internet.
- Neighbors – Evenings spent on the back patio with your neighbors might not be achievable right now, which makes virtual happy hours an ideal replacement until you can all gather again.
- Long-distance family – Bring your extended, long-distance family members together by gathering virtually for weekend cocktails and conversation.
As you devise your guest list, remember one important tip: keep it small, with no more than about 10 guests. Since you won’t be able to break out into separate conversations like you can in person, you want a more intimate crowd that can converse with ease. You want your guests to be able to catch up without having to talk over each other to be heard.
Select Your Platform
Choose the right platform when planning your virtual happy hour. Several platforms are available––some for free––that allow you and your guests to connect, so take some time to consider each option to choose the one most appropriate for your guests. You can even poll your friends to see which platform they prefer.
Zoom is a popular platform that works on both desktop and mobile devices. It uses HD video and audio, which can allow for a more seamless virtual gathering. It can also show up to 49 videos on the screen at once, which will be more than enough for your social gathering. Keep in mind that Zoom is primarily an interface used for business meetings, so many of its features, such as recorded videos and transcripts, might not be relevant for your event. One drawback is that free Zoom meetings can only last 40 minutes, so you’ll either need to purchase a monthly plan or keep your happy hour within that 40-minute limit.
If you’re a dedicated Google user, Google Hangouts might be the right choice for your virtual happy hour. You’ll need a Gmail account if you want to host the hangout, but your guests don’t necessarily have to have those accounts too. You can easily send an invitation to your happy hour guests via email, no matter what email service they use. Google Hangouts can accommodate up to 150 people, so there’s you’ll have plenty of room for all of your guests. Plus, it includes fun features like photos, videos, emojis, stickers, and animated GIFs that you can incorporate into your virtual event. Best of all, it’s free.
Houseparty might seem like the most well-designed option for your happy hour because it’s designed for socialization. Like Google Hangouts, it’s free––all you have to do is download the app, which is available for iOS, Android, and Chrome. As a result, you can connect using your smartphone, tablet, or computer. The app includes options for games, which you can play to add some fun to your happy hour. However, each room in the app is limited to eight people, so it may not work for larger events.
Once you’ve chosen a platform, send the details out to your guests. You can send them links to the event, which will provide all of the information they need to check in at the right time. They’ll also be able to test the link before the gathering so that there are no hiccups.
Plan the Conversation
You’ve created a guest list, sent invites, and chosen your platform. Now, it’s time to focus on the most exciting part of the planning: the fun. Happy hours, by nature, are fun social occasions. But, the virtual aspect might mean you’re all a little tense when it starts. By facilitating the event, you can ensure that everyone enjoys themselves. A successful virtual happy hour is made when you’re planning, so consider these tips.
You don’t have to ask pointed questions to every happy hour guest, but you do want to make sure that everyone gets to participate. So, jot down a few topics that can get the conversation rolling. Some topics to consider include:
- Prompt every guest to find out how they’re doing in this new virtual environment
- Ask guests what they’re drinking to lighten the mood
- Give each guest an opportunity to share current news and what’s going on in their world
The conversation will continue to develop from there, but these questions will help you ensure that every guest gets an opportunity to speak and catch up.
Get Creative for More Fun
If you have an enthusiastic crowd attending your virtual happy hour, go beyond your favorite beverage and casual conversation. Design creative ways for your guests to engage over the web.
Toast with your friends and choose a theme for your happy hour drinks. When you send out your invitation, tell guests what the theme is so that they have time to prepare a drink. You can all enjoy craft beers or your favorite red wine. Get more specific by encouraging them to enjoy local craft beers or favorite French red wines. Or, encourage every guest to create a signature cocktail around a certain theme. For example, you and your guests can create your favorite tropical beverage – and share your recipe – to add a festive touch to happy hour.
Make your virtual happy hour even more memorable by turning it into a costume party. Your theme options are limitless here, and your guests will love having something to get dressed up for. Focus on a theme simple enough that guests have items on hand to make their costumes at home. You can encourage them to wear their favorite costume from previous Halloweens. Ask them to dress as their favorite book or movie character. Or, just ask them to get fancy for a night out because – let’s face it – we all miss getting dressed up every now and then.
Get even more creative with your games by planning a home scavenger hunt during virtual happy hour. After your guests enjoy a beverage, encourage some friendly competition. Create a list ahead of time of items that you want your guests to find around the house. Call out each item at once and see which friend can find it first and hold it up to the camera. Keep score, and let the guest with the most finds pick the next game (or next drink).
Let your first virtual happy hour go off without a hitch by thoughtfully planning your event. Excited guests, organized conversation, and some fun and games will bring you all together, even when you’re apart.