Ten tips for a great online party that feels real

New Year's Eve Party Invitations

For New Year’s Eve, all guests received an invitation and a party cracker in the mail.

We’re entering another year of this pandemic, and while things are looking up, it’s still going to take time. While we all have Virtual Fatigue and a good lot of us are vaccinated, there’s still a need for some virtual activities, and it’s still one of the few ways we can stay in touch.

In 2020, COVID forced me into hosting the two parties I’d planned—34 Orchard Dark Literary Magazine’s launch in April and New Year’s Eve—into virtual rooms. What surprised me? I’d felt like I’d actually had a house full of guests, and my guests—especially for New Year’s Eve—said it was almost as though we’d all been together in person. It was so successful, I did it for my 50th Birthday Party in February of 2021, and I’m hosting New Year’s Eve online again this year (my guests are from all over the country, and sometimes, people come and stay for a few days. Even with all of us being vaccinated, that’s still not really possible this year–we don’t feel it’s worth the risk).

Wanna pull that off? Here’s how:

1 Choose a theme. A party is a party, right? Yes. But a theme creates a cohesion that changes it from a party to an EVENT.

Tropical party decorations

My 50th birthday was themed for my favorite childhood book, THE PENGUIN THAT HATED THE COLD. So the decor was sort of a winter/tropical mix.

2 Set up your chat room/Meet-up/whatever early. Then call your party something and use a website like bitly.com to create a custom link, which will look something like bit.ly/Kristi’s50thSnowedInBBQ. This makes it feel like a special event rather than “just another virtual call.”

3 Decide what activities you’d like to do at this party. It’s a special occasion, so have something to make it feel special and different from every other online thing people have been staring at. For New Year’s Eve, we had a food and beverage show and tell (what was everyone eating and drinking?), a champagne toast, the opening of Christmas crackers which contain New Year’s Wishes, and a game of Cards Against Humanity.

Cards Against Humanity

Our tradition is to play Cards Against Humanity on New Year’s Eve. With a slight adjustment to the “you don’t know whose card is whose” rule, you can still play. That’s really the only thing you have to change if you want an interactive game online. It almost makes it more fun.

4 Write down a list of things guests will need to participate: their own liquor? A particular board or card game? Snacks? You’ll put this on your invitation. If guests have to “bring” something to the party, they automatically feel more involved, and like it’s more in the real world rather than just on their couches.

5 Get clever favors as keepsakes for your event. You can certainly make something out of paper, but if you’d rather buy something, Oriental Trading, which is online, has lots of silly fun stuff that’s very inexpensive. Keep in mind if you order from there, though, you should do it six weeks before you plan to mail out your invitations so that you get the items in time. You could always look on Amazon if you have Prime, and you can always pick up something the next time you’re out at the grocery store.

Birthday Favor Bags

For my 50th, each guest received a bag of candy in the mail–yes, just like when we were kids. I must confess I mailed them early and most of the guests ate their treats the second they received them!! LOL!!

6 Design a real snail-mail (yes, through the post office) invitation. This puts it solidly in the real world—it’s something guests can touch and hold and put on their refrigerators, lending an air of tangibility. While you can also email the link to your room to your guests, the shortened link you created can be put on the paper invitations, and guests can just type it into their browsers easily. Include your favor and drop it in the mail!

7 The night of the event, make sure the space where you’re partying is clean, decorated, and has some ambience (such as lit candles)—just as though people were really coming over.

Computer Set-up

A quarter of my dining room table was reserved space for the Virtual Guests that would appear on my computer during my 50th birthday party in February, 2021.

8 Even if none of your guests dress up? You should. It’ll make you feel like you really went someplace.

Me on NYE into 2021

I chose my favorite red dress and pretty jewelry to wear on New Year’s Eve. The only thing different was that I wore slippers instead of shoes.

9 Spread out your snacks and drinks nearby, just as you would if people were joining you in person. Set out paper plates, cocktail napkins, the whole nine yards.

10 If you have specific activities during the event, stay on schedule. If you say you’re sharing dessert or doing a toast at three, make sure you do it at three. Just like a real party, some guests may only wish to stay through a certain activity and then go (like leaving after the birthday cake).

NYE Toast

My husband Nathan, my housemate Charles and I got SO DRUNK on NYE. Here’s our toast at midnight. When we came down the next morning, it looked like we’d had 15 people over. The place was TRASHED. We didn’t feel like we’d missed anything at all!

I hope you find this helpful, and I hope that your future virtual gatherings will feel a little more in person!

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.

Posted on December 11, 2021, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great idea and tips. An online party would work for the hubster and I who have friends and family scattered from Florida to Alaska!

    • OMG!! I HOPE YOU DO IT AND I HOPE IT’S AWESOME!!! I also went to a baby shower for my friend Melissa–who does parties like I do and honestly is a genius, and she does things on an even grander scale–and wow, it was so nice to be on the other end of the experience. I kept meaning to blog about it, but kept forgetting. Maybe I’ll do that as a follow-up post. Anyway, if you do it, please let me know how it goes!!

      • …I mean, she pulled off an online baby shower with such aplomb that I was bummed when it was over. And I was looking FORWARD to it to begin with because of all the stuff she sent ahead of time. I have honestly never looked forward to a baby shower in my life. I was counting down the days, and I had a BLAST. Which I can also pretty much never say about a baby shower prior to that.

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