How to run your virtual holiday gathering like a pro

Tuesday, December 8, 2020
by Zainab Ashraf
Virtual party

Communities will always need a place to come together, even if that place is mostly accessible through our devices. With the pandemic still looming over the world, almost every aspect of our pre-pandemic lives has shifted online. Work, school, social lives, entertainment, voting and even reading bedtime stories to your grandchildren has found ways to work remotely. Why not plan your traditional holiday party online as well?

Fortunately for you, virtual events are on the rise, and with it, more options to make your festive social dreams come true. As we learn how to make technology more accessible, equitable and reliable for people from all walks of life, we can also get creative and innovative in how we use it, like recreating a virtual rock around the Christmas Tree. People have found creative ways to keep up virtually with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Be it Bob Ross paint nights, murder-mystery dinners or homework sessions, each event needs a facilitator to ensure it recreates some elements of our social lives.

But how do we manage to facilitate a good event that not only doesn’t tire us or our audience out, but excites and revives us the way parties should?

There is a lot of overlap between best practices for using online video platforms (e.g., Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts) for work and for your friends and family. Keeping your audience engaged is one of the biggest concerns of virtual meetings. To address this, experts have suggested making the event interactive: add polls, activities, icebreaker check-ins, breakout rooms. “It can feel a bit disembodied spending so much time online,” Tara Campbell, L3’s Lab Designer and facilitator of L3 workshops, acknowledges and suggests an important tip to counter this fatigue: “so we always start our gatherings with a grounding meditation or an energizing activity that has our participants interacting with their environments.”

To maintain engagement, ensure that your audience feels comfortable to participate. This can be done by being mindful of time: have structured time for participation, discussions and consider each attendees’ time zone. While structuring the event details, Tara recounts the importance of timelines: “Everything seems to happen a bit slower online, so we anticipate this as much as possible when planning an agenda. We often find that we need to adapt and adjust these plans on the fly, so we try not to over-design our events and stay responsive to our participants’ needs and desires.” Making your event follow a timeline will ensure the interaction is digestible and entertaining.

In addition to engagement, preparing for your event will go a long way. For all the fun entertainment you can facilitate online, each requires prior work. If you are hosting a Jeopardy night, make sure your attendees have the right website and game room. If you are having a bake-along, send the relevant recipes prior to your call. Preparation entails sending reminders, expecting tech difficulties (but not being defeated by them), having a rough timeline and designating co-facilitation responsibilities if needed. This preparation allows time to include activities and exercises that can make the virtual event less tiring.

With the holidays just around the corner, we are all wondering how to safely meet our family and friends. Many birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, conferences, festivals, religious holidays, and trivia nights have been missed this year. But with some tips and tricks in mind, we can still host creative virtual events to stay connected.

Want to watch how it’s done? Join the Legacy Leadership Lab’s festive, facilitated and fun-filled social on December 10 from 4-6pm EST for all community members old and new. L3 is putting their expert facilitation skills to the test this December to replicate virtually the kinds of socials we all wish we could attend in person.

Picture of laptop in a banner with Community holiday social

Registration closes December 9 at 11:59pm Eastern. Reserve your spot here.

About Legacy Leadership Lab (L3)

L3 is an 18-month initiative by the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, funded by the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness program. We are leading online workshops and events to help build expert-driven solutions for Canada’s transitioning small business community. The L3 Community is developing and activating market interventions and prototypes that allow conventional and social finance players, business service providers, and community leaders to facilitate social acquisitions of existing businesses in their own towns and contexts.

About Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR)

WISIR is a research institute at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development committed to generating trans- and inter-disciplinary knowledge about social innovations and the social innovation process (the dynamics of learning, adaptation and resilience). Our approach is to pursue collaborative research and projects that bridge University of Waterloo departments, involve researchers from around the world, and engage those beyond academia. We seek to mobilize this knowledge through a range of new curriculum offerings and training opportunities - both within and outside of a university setting.