If your options for going out are limited, you may be missing social time with friends or happy hours after work to wind down. That’s one reason that virtual happy hours are becoming so popular: These online parties see people gathering on web conferencing apps to toast the day and find time to catch up. If this type of party is exactly what you’ve been needing, Zoom is the app of choice to make it happen — and we have the tips you need to make your happy hour a success.
Not a Zoom fan? Here are some great alternatives.
While you can hold a Zoom happy hour from your phone, it’s more difficult — and one more thing to juggle when your hands may already be full. It’s usually better to choose a laptop, tablet, computer, or smart display to hold your party from. Set up these devices in a part of your house that gets plenty of light and on a surface that’s as elevated as possible. Setting up by a window for natural light is great if your happy hour is in the afternoon, but experiment with various backgrounds around your home to find out what works best.
Zoom is popular because it’s easy: Head to the site and sign up for your own account if you haven’t already done so. Familiarize yourself with the meeting tools before your happy hour so you know how everything works. Make sure not to use a company account for a Zoom party, even if you are inviting your work friends. Keep it on the personal side.
Zoom isn’t always the most secure video service, and party crashers have been known to happen. Take security measures to prevent this. First, make sure as host that you are in full control of the meeting and don’t hand it off to anyone else. Always set your meetings to private, not public, and don’t share meeting details on any public website or public social media page — use private settings for those, too.
Additionally, avoid sharing what Zoom calls a “PDI” or personal meeting ID when possible, as they can allow others to eavesdrop on future meetings that you set up with the same account. For larger parties with some people you may not know, don’t be afraid to use the Waiting Room feature as a buffer for those who are actually accepted into the meeting. When everyone has joined, lock the meeting if necessary. Oh, and in case things get a little crazy, you might want to turn off the annotation settings for the group so people won’t be able to draw on their screens.
Zoom makes it very easy to create a meeting and invite friends, but you will want to schedule a meeting instead of starting one right away. Find a time that works for your group of friends, then choose the Schedule feature in Zoom to fill in the details. There are also schedule extensions for Chrome and Firefox that tie into Google Calendar if this works better for you.
Hosting a video conference at home for lots of people at once may challenge your bandwidth, especially if you have other online services going on at the same time. Make sure your Wi-Fi connection is strong where you set up, and consider doing a trial run so see how your internet handles the load. Using a wired connection may be better if your meeting starts to stutter a lot.
Here are some great Ethernet cables you could use.
Find a good playlist for your happy hour! You have a lot of choices when it comes to running a playlist. The easiest is probably just to play it in the back of your audio and leave the mute function off so everyone can hear it — although you may want to test to make sure that it’s not too loud. You can also create a playlist in something like Spotify, and then share it with the group in your invitation so they have a choice on whether to play it or not.
A Zoom party is a great excuse to get out of your sweatpants and dress up for the first time in ages. The details are up to you, but if you’re interested, you can turn on Zoom’s Touch Up My Appearance setting to help give you a little boost when online.
To help with dressing up, think about creating a theme for your happy hour. This also helps keep your guests on track (which can be a little challenging online) and provides a focus for introductions if necessary. You can change your background on Zoom if you want to get even more inventive and find a digital background that supports your theme of choice.
Zoom supports a variety of video layout options depending on the type of meeting. For your happy hour, it’s probably best to switch to Gallery View, which shows everyone in equal-sized squares on the screen, either vertically or horizontally. On Windows, you also have the option for a Gallery Grid view, which fills the screen with video squares and is better for larger meetings.
Even though you’re meeting digitally while at home, all the normal party rules should apply. Don’t let people feel left out if they don’t know the group, start with general introductions, and have plans for letting people talk in turn in case it gets chaotic. Stick to your preset timetable. Don’t disappear off cam for long periods of time. There’s more responsibility on the host for these issues than at a normal party, so be prepared!
There’s nothing like a good quarantini to go with your Zoom happy hour — or feel free to pick another drink of choice. If you do want to make cocktails a central part of the fun, try to pick options that everyone has easy access to and send out the recipe ahead of time so everyone can feel included. When in doubt, pick a drink style that fits your theme, or just let people pour a glass of whatever they have in the house.
Introductions can only go on so long. Have a trivia game or other easy party game in mind so people have something to do. Focus on games that are audio-only if possible, to avoid confusion. Your voice assistants may have some good ideas about games you can try with a little research beforehand.
On the other hand, your group may prefer to watch a show or movie together. This is also possible: We suggest having everyone download the Netflix Party extension or a similar app, which is designed to allow friends to watch the same show together without anyone falling behind.
Setting an official end time for your happy hour has several advantages. First, it’s less stress on you to already have an end time when you can log off. Second, setting a strict “OK, everyone, let’s say goodbye” limit also keeps people from unknowingly drinking too much, while allowing afterparty-like splits if others want to go on to their own groups. Third, if your time limit and structure work out well, that makes it a lot easier for your happy hour to become a recurring party for the future.
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