It’s looking like the 2021 holiday season may be similar to last year, with large, in-person parties being replaced by smaller household gatherings with some guests attending remotely. Maybe you fumbled through your first few events hosted on Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, or any of the other popular video conferencing apps. But now we’ve had more than a year to practice, so here are some ideas that can help make your remote holiday event a success:
Have a plan – Just as every good video conference has an agenda, it’s good to have a plan when you bring together family or friends at a virtual holiday event. To start, make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. Maybe each person could share their fondest memory from the past year. Or, each guest could open one gift while all the others watch. You can even play a game where everyone participates, such as Trivial Pursuit.
Go mobile – An online holiday party doesn’t have to take place in a sterile home office environment. Most of the popular video conferencing services have free apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone or tablet. Download the one or two used most by your friends and family. Android users can go to the Google Play Store and search for “video conferencing.” If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll want to go to the Apple App Store and conduct a similar search.
Add some entertainment – There’s no need to hire a live band for a virtual party. You probably have several entertainers already on the call. The kids can sing Christmas carols. Aunt Susie plays the piano. Grandpa can lead a New Year’s toast.
Get to know your settings – Most of the video conferencing apps are simple to use, but there are a few settings you should get acquainted with. There’s usually a “Grid View” (or similar name) for seeing everyone in a single screen, but you’ll want to switch to “Speaker View” where the person talking takes up the whole screen. Virtual backgrounds can add a festive mood too. Swap your current background with a photo of snow-covered hills, holiday lights, or a nighttime cityscape.
Set a time limit – While you could sit in a living room and catch up with old friends for hours, there are limits when those friends are two-dimensional. When you notice that people are starting to drop off the call, that’s your cue to wrap up the virtual party. If you’re using the free version of the Zoom app, for example, you have a time limit of 40 minutes. That just might be the perfect time for keeping everyone engaged.