Parties are at the heart of most of what is good in human life: love, friendship, fun, escape, spiritual exploration. It’s obviously therefore of great importance that we continue partying despite any physical distancing. But how to host decent parties online?
It’s not like anyone was attending online parties before the lockdown.
Last week, I gathered with a few friends to form an experimental collective devoted to exploring how to make online parties actually good, actually real. We decided to call ourselves the Co-reality Collective, in line with our purpose.
And so last weekend we threw a party. It took us about two days to organise. And it was certainly a learning experience. Here are twenty-one of those learnings…
1) The party begins with the invite
If your online party is real, behave accordingly, beginning with a proper invitation! Credit to Eszter Balogh for the great visuals.
We chose to theme three things heavily with our first invitation, in order to begin to structure party-goer expectation in profitable fashion. We emphasized that the party was real; that it would be a network of spaces, not one boring Zoom call; and that a quest would be involved. Double down on this early impression of reality with Eventbrite ticket purchases and other ‘real world’ elements of party experience.
2. Party appetite is international- so time your party accordingly
We had significant contingents wanting to come from the UK, Sweden. France, Germany, UK, East-Coast US, West-Coast US. The timing that just about worked for all these fine party people was noon-8 p.m. PST, which was 8 p.m-4 a.m. UK time, 9 p.m-5 a.m. in most of Europe.
I liked that people joined from all over the world!
Loved the breakout rooms where you put with strangers for a random amount of time, loved dancing with people around the world, loved the shows/performances. Sounds quality was much better than I was expecting
3. People are grateful for instructions
Very few of our guests had been to an online party before, so it was necessary to provide a helping hand with quick tips on the tech and the technique to ensure everyone was comfortable and set up to succeed.
4. Queuing is part of the fun
Parties are journeys, and to have a truly good time, you need to win the right to have that truly good time by putting your time in in the queue like everyone else.
We staffed our queue with bouncers (Maz in La, Frederick in Sweden) who vetted guests for costumes, party-commitment, etc to make sure that everyone who made it into the party deserved to be there.
5. Greet every guest, and introduce them to someone fun
Everyone deserves a warm greeting, and to have a glass of virtual Prosecco. And then they need to be able to start making friends.
Here we used Zoom’s breakout room functionality to establish little conversational pockets for people to connect in smaller groups. It works surprisingly well,. and even extreme introverts were able to begin enjoying the party from the get go.
6. It’s the people who make the party
At every party, but especially at online parties, you rely on the people who attend to invent the fun. We found that making the event invite-only added enthusiasm, safety, and commitment.
7. Your partygoers need a map
If your online party is real, people are going to need to be able to find the fun. A visual map of the party excites imagination before the party, and provides a guide during the party. Our guests loved seeking out where the fun was at, and for that a map was key.
We soon learned a digital map is also key so people can find their way back to rooms they’ve left. Eventually, simply sharing access to Google doc with all the live rooms proved a neat way to give people a sense of orientation and control over where they wanted to go.
8. Don’t forget the toilets
We’d provided toilets as a joke, but they ended up proving a really popular location: a neutral zones with no background music or strong demands on expected party behaviour where people can chat with each other unsupervised, back-channel and gossip and understand what is going on, and do things like make out or take illegal drugs (which we do not endorse).
“That familiar FOMO you get at parties when you realise you’ve been chatting in the toilets for 2 hrs and everyone else might be having a better time, or might have just left”Party Toilet Enthusiast Feedback
9. Use Snapchat for your virtual costumes
People dressing up is critical; and partygoers who went to the effort of preparing (sometimes several) real-world outfits acclaimed the benefits. It got them in the mood!
But Snapchat filters on desktop provide incredible virtual costumes as back-up/additions, and at we saw all manner of angel, cow-boy, child, old man, animal. egg, potato and cross-dresser.
We can’t recommend the desktop Snap camera highly enough.
10. People really, really like to dance
We knew people might want to dance. We didn’t know they’d love dancing so much that the dancefloors would be open for ten hours, almost always packed
One of our DJs in fact spent the entire party manning the Golden Gate Dance-floor. Sorry about that Jonathan! In any case, people love to dance – especially perhaps during the lockdown- so prepare accordingly.
11. Use Twitch for higher quality audio
For background music, you can use Zoom audio. Go to “share” then click “share audio” then go to advanced and click “just computer audio” so you can play e.g. Spotify on your computer so everyone else can hear it decently.
But for high quality danceable audio, mute the Zoom room and pipe in some Twitch audio (which you need to remember to regularly link to in the dance-floor chat / and/or share with the map)
12. It never gets realer than when you bring everyone together
In the middle of the party, we closed down all but one of the rooms- the cabaret- to bring everyone together.
We then held a ritual, where people brought their hands to the screen if they’d been personally affected by the pandemic, and then everyone joined those who had been as we all did so. And then people were free to speak to their experience from all round the world as a group, and many did with amazing, emotive stories.
It was a very striking moment amid all the fun and silliness to have the reality of the pandemic made personal and visible, a moment of international solidarity and sharing. And then we danced it all out to Bohemian Rhapsody.
” my hairs were standing on end and I felt electricity in my body when we all put our hands up together. It was important to have us all come together at this moment and have a ritual, amongst the general partying and chatting other times. Followed by Bohemian Rhapsody – perfection.”
“I thought it was wonderful!! It was really really touching to put our hands to the screen, and to talk about how this was “real”. I actually shed a tear at that point. The continual repetition of “this is real” was important – it is real. It is sad this is all the connection we will have for months, but you made it *real*, it’s true.”
13. Your best performers are your guests
Performances are great, but when they are shared in full vulnerability by your partgoers, and witnessed as such, they become magic. Poems, songs, and even a strip-tease added a great deal to people’s memories of the party.
14. Deep and meaningfuls call for Yurt spaces
At normal parties, people often wind up sharing their deepest feelings in a drunken early-hours-in-the-morning corner somewhere. We found that small, yurt-like conversational spaces where a few people could chat intimacy and openness made for great deep-and-meaningful territory, without need for excessive inebriation.
15. A bit of confusion is your friend
We didn’t mean it this way, but things got pretty disorganised in the party. This actually ended up adding to the allure and as it turned navigating the party space into an adventure game with cluies spread across multiple social media channels.
16. Nonetheless, you’re going to need to up your Gant chart game
As hosts, you need to have your rooms prepped in advance, a clear rota, a comms channel (Whatsapp group) back-channelling between hosts. And a high level of coordination between everyone.
Even with this in place, it takes a lot of proactive improvised behind-the-scenes management from a spontaneously appointed chief operating officer to mange things. And various mistakes were made with Zoom room configuration, leading to, for example, people being stuck in unnecessary waiting rooms, rooms lacking hosts, one person having to manage a room all by himself for 8 hours.
So from an organisational point of view, get your A game on!
17. Having a shared fiction adds to the fun
Turns out that having a mysterious theme considerably adds to the fun. Our party was inspired by Tarkovsky’s The Stalker a weird twigh-lit film where some men try to find “The Zone”- a place where their deepest desires will come true. But they’re not quite sure they want to get there.
Similarly, it was never quite clear to our party-goers whether The Zone was a room, an attitude, or an experience… but the mere possibility of it was enough to add a certain zing to proceedings.
My deepest desires did not come true. But some of my desires did come true including having authentic vulnerable connections with people, having fun, dancing, watching a super sexy strip show, hosting something edgy, and going with the flow. And I met a sexy being who we had a nice FaceTime date with the next day so that was an unexpected bonus. 🙂
Wow, what a party!! Epic!! My favorite was the Zone. I didn’t know if it really existed but once I got there… whoa!!!!
18. Mixed reality hot-tubs ftw
Throughout the party, people are in real space and in virtual space. We fused the two further in the Hot-tub room, where you had to actually get into your bath and run it, and then do the Zoom call. So that everyone was in a virtual hot tub while sitting in their pretend hot tub at home.
This worked incredibly well, and we will seek to do more mixed reality stuff at the next party.
I felt that the hot tub experience was a fucking joy to participate in. Never saw an explicit sign saying it was the zone, so who knows, but a safe, sensual, Intimate place to see and be seen and share the joys of serendipitous loving play was powerful medicine that I am grateful to have been part of.
“I made it to the hottub! Glorious and delightful”
Hot Tub. Activated my divine female <3
19. Donations can add up!
We added an option to donate on our Eventbrite. And of our 200-odd guests, about 30 donated nearly a $1000 for the artists and DJs many of whom don’t have any secure source of income anymore.
20. Puppets can be first class party guests
Some of the most popular and entertaining party guests were actually two puppets who danced pretty much non-stop for 8 hours.
THE PUPPETS!!!!!!! Mesmerising… I am in love. I want to go party with them!
21. Reality is in the eye of the beholder
This was a real party. How do I know for myself this party was real? Because everyone I met there was real — I could really feel your presence even across our physical distance. I know too because the experience challenged me sometimes to be more real, which only happens when I feel myself being seen. And because the next day I woke up with that precious afterglow that follows all the best parties, remembering snippets of conversation, emotions and ideas and perspectives taking root inside of me.
This was not just a virtual ‘internet’ experience any more than a bus ride or a laundromat visit when shared with friends is ever just a ‘train’ or a ‘laundromat’ experience. The backgrounds change, but it’s the people in the foreground that see us through our lives. We are real for each other. And I know that this matters to me, because the whole night/day experience had me captivated for five hours, even after I’d just that day driven 700kms straight before arriving at our new house to discover that our digital key cards did not work (now solved, thankfully). Even though I was tired and wired, and in this state would never have sought out mere entertainment, I simply could not miss this moment of reality, because PARTIES ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE.
Next party, next weekend
This was our first attempt at throwing a party as a collective. We’ll be giving it another go next weekend, April 18th 2020, when we’ll look to learn from this first experiment and take things up a few levels.
If you’d like to help out or attend, fill in the form here telling us what you’d be up for, and how you can help.
Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!