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Most countries have now implemented practices from Social Distancing (please stay at home, and don’t gather) to full lockdown (leave your house and we will punish you). This means Friday afternoon beers and post-church morning teas are outlawed. Already people are using their digital “work from home” tools to maintain their social lives.

To the uninitiated, this can be mired in frustration. Repurposing corporate tools for a party is definitely a learning experience. Here are eight tips we have found that change 60 minutes of frustration into an hour of fun…

1. Use the application you know

Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, BlueJeans, Whereby.com – they all do the job, and you will spend far too long reviewing pricing and features to get the “best app.” Just use the tool you know.

If you don’t use an application like this, then currently Zoom appears to be the best tool around. It’s what we use now at ACHIEVR. But it’s not worth debating, if you are a whiz on Google Hangouts, or everyone in the office uses MS Teams, use them.

2. Create a single “room” to meet in

Most collaboration tools allow you to create your own “room” with a personal link (aka URL). If they do, use that. It is much more work for you to create and share separate link for every different gathering you host. Not to mention way too confusing for your (non-technical) guests.

It is best to create a single virtual room, with a single link and use it for every gathering. This also allows you to configure the meeting settings once to persist across your gatherings.

Now you and your guests only have to remember one address, and you can share that on your webpage, social channels, and email communications, without risk of mixing up links and events.

3. Create a “shortlink”

Talking of remembering. Why ask your community to remember a 9 or 10 digit number when you can create a short and memorable “shortlink”. There are plenty of free URL shortening services – bitly probably most popular. E.g. if you want to meet with me you can use r42.it/zoom which is a Bitly link to my personal Zoom Room – drinks every Friday at 6pm, and Coffee every Wednesday a 7:30am.

4. Allow guests to join early

Yes you can place your guests into a “waiting room” but really this is a social gathering, and who knows if you end up running late. Perhaps your computer needs a reboot, maybe the kettle just won’t boil. Either way, letting the party start without you means you don’t lose anyone stuck trying to get in. This is critical for guests unused to this technology.

5. Let everyone speak freely (don’t mute everyone)

Whilst it is “best practice” to mute large groups in a corporate setting, this isn’t a corporate setting. For one thing most of your audience haven’t used an online meeting app before. Those that have, probably not in such a large group. By muting everyone on entry you find yourself having to explain to every person that joins that they are muted. Then you have to explain to each novice how to unmute – with differences for different devices. This is tedious for you, and disruptive for the party.

In practice people tend not to talk over each other. In fact, people rarely speak online without prompting at all. If someone has a lot of background noise, mute them individually. If another is hogging the conversation, politely send them a private text chat asking them to allow others to participate.

6. Prepare and share guidelines

A couple of guidelines ease uncertainty for newcomers. Create a quick slide to screenshare when everyone joins. These shouldn’t be complicated, just enough detail for the experience of your guests. You don’t want anything as formal as an agenda. You do want to share why you’re hosting the event, how to share items of interest (screen share, text chat), and suggestion to mute if you have background noise. Post this in the calendar invitation, on your website and social channels too. Make it easy…

7. Use breakout rooms sparingly, if at all

Go to any event and spot guests in groups of 3 – 5. But recreating this online is probably the most challenging aspect of virtual parties. Your only real options are separate meetings or virtual breakout rooms. But assigning people to rooms is awkward in an informal group. The thing about self-forming groups at parties is serendipity. The very opposite of being “assigned” to a group in front of everyone. Best to shorten your event and let people organise their own follow ups chats for now, until we can allow online guests to self-organise.

8. Have Fun!!

For many over the last two weeks, work has become a series of online conferences. There is a real danger that you gathering is seen in the same light. So make it fun. Like any party, as host, it is your role to get conversation flowing, and to ensure everyone is included. Get as creative as you can…

  • Jot a list of questions for when conversation lulls, or someone is left out
  • Get guests to share their highlights of the week
  • Share music, videos, and jokes or items that have piqued your interest
  • Definitely prepare a couple of topics you can use to “change the subject” when two or three begin boring everyone to tears with regression analysis of coronavirus statistics

Above all, roll with the punches. Make mistakes, laugh about them, and get help. Many of us have been doing this for years with distributed workplaces, friends and families.

What tips do you have that I missed?