Sunday, March 22, 2020

Lessons from throwing Virtual Parties

Last night, Sharon and I tried out our first virtual party.    Anyone that knows us is well aware we like socializing, and we often act as cruise directors for some of our friends.    With our social calendars now entirely cleared and not leaving the house, we decided this wasn't going to work for us long term to just sit around and do nothing, so we decided to get clever and try something from our house online.   If a video producer and podcaster can't work together and create an online event on the fly, we have a problem.

We put together a version one of the event, and it worked out pretty well, and we figured out the key elements that we're going to need to leverage to really make this work in the long haul. 

Information for Hosts

So, we put a video together for Tipsy Treats on how to host an event:

For those who like to read, here's some notes on things we covered from that video.

Before the event

· Send out a note to your guests that if they have not attended a zoom event or meeting before, they should practice with you or a friend before the event. Yes, it’s super easy to use these technologies for those that have done it, but I’m surprised how many people have not been on a group video call before. (I’m hopeful that the more events we do the less we’re all spending time on this)

· Make sure you have turned on “Breakout Rooms” in Zoom. You have to do this on your account BEFORE your event. Go to the zoom website, go into Settings, then Meeting, and you can flip on Breakroom. I also recommend “allow host to assign participants to breakout rooms”, because when or if the party gets too big, you can create smaller groups of people and you, the host, make sure the right groups are together.

· Turn OFF screen sharing. Do not allow people to share their screen. Pranksters are using it in bad ways, but additionally, even well intentioned or funny it takes over the entire view for everyone. If someone wants to share, they can hold up the image or text it to everyone.

Your setup

· I recommend having a stand for your phone. This allows you to point your phone at where you will be sitting and hanging out.

· Have a long power plug for your phone. Your phone will be on and running the entire event, and if it runs out of power, your party is over. Plug it in.

· Because of that, you need a larger screen to see everyone – which is good anyway. That is your TV. It’s positioned behind where your phone is so you can look at the party people.

· I also recommend a Bluetooth speakerphone that you can plug in. Airpods/Bluetooth headphone will do, but remember, you need this to work the entire event, so battery matters. My wife and I tried wired earbuds to some success, but v2 will have a Bluetooth speakerphone.

Event Space

· Just like prepping a regular party, the space matters. Have everything you’ll need around you, because if you have to go get stuff, you’re leaving everyone

· Lighting! Just like good lighting makes a party…. Totally different kinds of lighting make a virtual one. Regrettably, this means bright, not mood. Make sure your space is well lit, and you want the brightest light in the room so it’s at your face.

Starting up your event

· Start the meeting from your computer. This becomes your host station you can move around. Mute audio on this AND turn off video so you do not cause a feedback loop.

· Log into the meeting from your phone. Since it is on your stand, you will be able to switch to the MAIN camera on your phone (the back one) which is a lot higher quality.

· Now, turn on the screen mirroring option on your phone (I use an iPhone, so I use Apple AirPlay to mirror my phone to the TV

· Finally, hit “Gallery Mode” on your phone so you can see everyone, filling your TV with a Brady Bunch style of display.

During the event· Be prepared to explain “Gallery View” multiple times. It is on the top left hand corner for Zoom.

· Somewhere between 12 and 15 seems like the optimal for cross chatter.

· If things get too big, this is where you leverage “Breakout room”. You can create multiple rooms and break guests into groups, and you can select which room you are in too. This allows you to “mingle”. Keep an eye on anyone joining, as they end up “unassigned” and you will need to assign them to a room.

Information for Guests

Additionally, we put together a video you can share with your guests before so they know what to expect and how to get ready, as we found a lot more people than we expected are very new to this technology.

And, those tips written out:

First, if you’ve never done a virtual event, or if you’re not familiar with the platform the host is using, do a test run before. Trust me on this one, because while people are totally willing to help, things go smoother the less times the conversation stops for technical support. We’re all patient , but the longer this goes, the less people will want to do that.

Second, let’s talk about your camera. Think of this as the same as picking your outfit for a party when it’s physical. This is how you look.
  • Ideally, the camera is eye level with you. You want from mid chest to the top of your head to appear, and you want to appear normal.
  • Have the light in front of you. This will be flattering. Behind you is not great.
  • If you have to be at an angle, DOWN is better than UP. UP is up your nose. DOWN makes you look dashing.
  • Ideally, plug your device in, and put it on a stand.
  • Please do not move around the room with your camera. We all get sea-sick when you do this.
Next, let’s talk about the room and the noise. The way these work is that the virtual room will be looking for the noise to decide which microphone to broadcast. So all the stuff going on in your house will transmit.
  • This includes any conversations you have with people around you.
  • THUS, MUTE is your friend. It’s ok – it’s actually quite polite to mute.
  • Ideally, use your earbuds and a microphone. That works best. 
  • Be aware that two people in the same room on the same event will cause feedback unless each of you are apart from each other.
Finally, I’m going to give you a tip. What’s weird about a virtual event, particularly a social one, is that there is ultimately only one conversation going on. While normally different people can break off, or different conversations happen in small clusters, online there’s only one. This is important to know because you want to be inclusive of everyone on the call that wants to talk, and give everyone a chance. It’s a new social dynamic, so I’m giving you the heads up about it.

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