How to Adapt Your Party for the Social Distance Era

Learn how to host a virtual party with help from this author.

Usually, spring is the time of year when we emerge from our winter caves and look forward to calendars filled with bridal showers, baby sprinkles, diaper parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, graduation celebrations, and whatever new parties were invented since last fall. Spring 2020 has upended all of our party plans as we’ve been told to get back in our caves and maybe never leave.

Is it possible to stay in our cave and still have parties to look forward to? Of course! We need to stick with each other — and celebrate together — now more than ever. Whatever we can do to keep our networks of relationships vibrant is worth it. So don’t cancel or postpone your party — instead, re-imagine it into a virtual party. Stick with me here.

Maybe you’re thinking the last thing you want is even more virtual hangout time. I hear you, 100 percent. But with some preparation and structure, your virtual party won’t be just another rambling video chat — it can still feel like a true celebration.  

Prep the scene

Running a festive virtual party may require a little more preparation and creativity, but at least now you’ll have something to focus on beyond your Twitter feed.

First, you’ll want to choose the main platform you’ll be using for your video call. FaceTime, WebEx, or Google Hangouts are all great options, but it’s pretty clear that Zoom is the hippest option right now. If you’re unfamiliar with the platform you’ve selected, go ahead and test it out with a small group of friends first.

Next comes the part where you get to add your personal flair. Think about your typical party arrangements: food and drink, decorations, party favors, and activities. Now think about how you can bring them to a virtual level. Below are some examples to get your creative juices flowing:

Bachelor Party (credit for these ideas go to my husband):

Ship cigars to your guests via the internet and arrange for wings to be delivered to their homes just before party time. Encourage attendees to build their own backyard campfire and mix their preferred cocktail. Play some online poker, dust off your old drinking games, and conclude with cigars and a toast to the groom-to-be.

Bridal shower

Mail your guests streamers and balloons that the ladies can display on the wall behind them and include some popcorn and candy for them to snack on. If guests are local, pints of ice cream can be dropped off at their front doors. Prepare a few virtual-friendly party games that can be played with pen and paper. Instead of the standard “what’s in your purse” game, a more on-point version of “what’s in your pantry” can be played — bonus points go to guests who showered at least six days in the last week and can avoid touching their face during the party.

Birthday party

Send birthday hats to all guests and ask them to make custom signs to hang behind their heads. Arrange for the birthday celebrant’s favorite meal and favorite cake to be delivered to his or her home. If the birthday celebrant is an extrovert, plan a virtual karaoke party. If that’s not their style, plan a game night. Use an online platform like Jackbox or devise a way to play a good, old-fashioned board game, such as Yahtzee, Scattergories, Pictionary, or Taboo. Don’t forget to sing “Happy Birthday!”

A note on delivery/shipping: at the time of publication of this article, the CDC has expressed low concern over the virus being spread through food or mail. If mailing packages or delivering food makes your guests uncomfortable, however, don’t force it. Perhaps your guests can all prep and eat the same meal from their homes with the basic standards they’ve stored up. French toast, anyone?

Notify your guests

E-mail or snail-mail instructions to all of the party guests on what to prepare and expect, preferably at least a week or two in advance. You may wish to keep some parts of the party a surprise — especially for the guest of honor — but you’ll definitely want to make sure everyone knows how to smoothly join a web meeting. Especially if you have older adults on your guest list, try to make the directions as detailed and clear as possible and provide an audio-only backup option. Think about including suggestions and tips like, “Practice joining the meeting a couple of days early;” and, “Use headphones to eliminate audio feedback.”

Encourage guests to get festive and dress in the attire they would have worn to an in-person party. A graduation party could feature the graduate wearing a cap and gown while the guests wear suit coats and spring dresses.

Finally, think about thoughtful gifts that can be sent. While registry items and “diaper party” diapers can be shipped directly to the recipient’s house, a handwritten card sent separately can be more meaningful. Guests could also send a gift card for a local delivery service or make a donation to the celebrant’s favorite non-profit in their honor.  

Keep the party moving

Some final advance arrangements can help ensure your party doesn’t drag. Some of these decisions will depend on the size of your guest list and how well everyone knows each other. For example, a small, close group of college friends might be fine just hanging out. Most virtual parties will work best with a schedule and a clear end time, though. Think of that person who always lingers a little too long at your house parties — now imagine more than 20 people lingering too long on your computer screen.

If those older adults will be in attendance, try to avoid your party starting with an awkward “how do you Internet” situation. Assign one attendee who is comfortable with technology to be the point of contact and include their phone number on the instructions you send in advance.

Any party games played should have simple, clear rules and be capped at two or three. And regarding presents: it may be wise to suggest that gifts and cards be opened sometime before or after the party, via a one-on-one video chat with the gift-giver.

End the party with a concise hurrah: a final karaoke song the group can sing together, a toss of the graduate’s hat in the air, or a shot of whiskey to honor the father-to be. Then, when it’s over, sit back and enjoy the lack of clean-up you have to do.

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