This year, your office Christmas parties and family get-togethers might look very different to those of years gone by. But the show must go on, and so must the party!
The great news is that with a bit of creativity, and Zoom, you can still celebrate with co-workers, friends and family, albeit digitally.
Let us show you how…
Who is this Zoom party guide for?
This guide is for anyone who wants to host an engaging party or event on the video conferencing platform, Zoom – specifically, for those who want to host a party with entertainment that involves screen sharing or spotlighting individuals.
So if you’ve been assigned the role of Christmas party organiser, or family Christmas coordinator, this guide is for you.
Firstly, why Zoom?
Whilst there are other conference platforms available, Zoom is currently the most popular, and lots of people are already familiar with it. It’s more user-friendly than many other platforms, and there is a free-to-use version. Hence, this guide is written for Zoom users, but in theory could be applied to any video conferencing platform.
Secondly, what is spotlighting and screen sharing? (and why do I need it?!)
We’ll go into these in more detail later, essentially they are used to show your audience something or someone and to make your party more engaging. Think videos, quiz questions, presentations and entertainers.
If you’re completely new to Zoom, we recommend you read this entire guide from start to finish. If you have some experience you can skip to the relevant section, using the menu below.
- Preparation is key
- How to setup a Zoom party as a host
- The best device to use when hosting your party
- How attendees can access the party (and recommended settings)
- Co-hosts and tips to make things run smoothly
- How to screen share your video and engage with attendees
- A bit of fun in the Zoom ‘Spotlight’
- Breakout rooms — what they are and when / how to use them
- Zoom party games and enhancers
- Zoom party invites
- Zoom ‘Gotchas!’ — don’t get caught out!
- Quick links to other useful posts and resources
Preparation is key
Before we begin, it’s important to note that the better prepared and organised you are, the more enjoyable and carefree your Zoom party will be for everyone — yourself included!
You need to plan and structure your party and entertainment. Don’t try to ‘wing it’. Make sure you prepare by sending out invites and information in advance, just as you would for any other party. We’ve provided you with a free checklist and templates to get you started at the end of this guide.
Your preparation will have two main focuses:
- Technical Understanding: ensuring you understand how to operate Zoom to throw your party successfully, knowing what the platform’s functionality and limitations are.
- Entertainment Value: this is not going to be a meeting or conference – it’s a party! You’ll need to plan your entertainment and interaction for the evening. Think about how long your party will last, and how your attendees will engage.
In this guide, we’ll provide tips for creating an engaging and interactive party, including information about spotlighting, screen sharing and breakout rooms.
- Screen sharing is how the party host can share what’s on their display screen and/or computer audio. It’s an ideal way to engage with attendees through videos, images, games or quizzes — essential for any virtual party!
- Spotlighting is where the host puts one of the videos (attendees) in the spotlight, highlighting them for all attendees to see. This is useful for a party so you can move between attendees and keep everybody engaged. It is also a requirement if you have an entertainer such as a musician playing; you want to make sure the camera is on them, not you!
- A breakout room is a Zoom feature allowing attendees to access a smaller ‘room’ (group of attendees) within a party. It’s much like hanging out in the kitchen at a house party, or at the water fountain at the office! Breakout rooms are also a convenient way to split into ‘teams’ for a virtual party game. Depending on your party, you may or may not want to make use of this feature.
How to setup a Zoom party as a host
First, you need to set up a Zoom account and download the Zoom app. We strongly recommend you do this on a laptop or desktop computer, as the mobile and tablet application has limitations.
For this guide, we will only be covering hosting a party using a laptop/desktop.
The Zoom application you will be using is called Zoom Meetings.
The free version of Zoom allows you to host up to 100 participants on one group call for a maximum of 40 minutes. In theory, you could use this free version and throw your party in 2 or 3 consecutive group calls. However, this is somewhat cumbersome and will be an added headache for the host. We recommend purchasing the “Pro” package (£11.99/month), which allows a group call for up to 30 hours — enough time for even the wildest of parties!
If you have more than 100 attendees, you’ll need to look at the larger package options, which start at £15.99 per month. You can simply purchase one month and cancel your subscription when you’re done if you only need it for this one party.
How to create a basic Zoom meeting (Zoom party)
There are several ways to create a Zoom meeting. We will show you how to set up by logging into your Zoom account in a web browser.
- Login to your account and go to ‘My Account’ (top-right of the screen).
- On the left menu, click on ‘Meetings’.
- Click the ‘Schedule a Meeting’ button.
- Input the details of your event.
We recommend a good descriptive Topic title, and a brief description.
Set Video settings to ‘on’ for hosts and participants, so you can see when attendees have arrived.
For Meeting Options, we generally recommend not checking any boxes.
- Allowing participants to join anytime would enable them to join before the host and could allow an unauthorised person to join, which is not desirable. We generally find it’s more straightforward for the host to control this via the ‘waiting room’ feature which is activated if this box is unchecked.
- Muting participants upon entry might be a good idea if you have a large group, otherwise it’s best to leave it unchecked.
- Recording the party could be fun for a family event, but it’s rarely a good idea to record the Christmas office party! If you do, make sure everybody is fully informed.
Assuming you have not changed any other Zoom Settings, once this is done you should be ready to host a basic Zoom party.
However, if you are considering using Breakout Rooms, you will need to activate them within your Zoom Settings…
Zoom Settings: Activating Breakout Rooms
Assuming you are already logged in, click on ‘Settings’ in the left sidebar, select the ‘Meeting’ tab, and click ‘In Meeting (Advanced)’.
If you check the box that says ‘Allow host to assign participants to breakout rooms when scheduling’, this will also allow you to organise your breakout rooms in advance, and even assign attendees to different ‘rooms’ in advance which could be helpful for large groups.
We’ll discuss breakout rooms further into this guide, as they may not be relevant to some readers.
The best device to use when hosting your party
So you have your Zoom account set up, and have scheduled your first meeting, a.k.a ‘Zoom Party of the Century’! What’s next?
Every party needs a good host, and Zoom parties are no different.
You might have a facilitator (someone to host the party for you), in which case you can skip this section of the guide, and relax. Otherwise, read on.
Making it as easy as possible (for you!)
We strongly recommend hosting your party using a laptop/desktop computer, and installing the Zoom app, rather than opening it in a browser window. Using Zoom in your internet browser (rather than by downloading the application) has severe limitations and will prevent you from accessing all the application features – which is not a problem you want to have, as a host!
It is possible to host a Zoom meeting or party from your tablet or smartphone, but on these devices your Zoom app will not have full functionality. Also, smaller screens have physical limitations and can make meetings (parties!) difficult to manage.
In this guide, we will assume you are using a laptop/desktop computer to host your event.
Ensuring a smooth experience for attendees: headphones & microphone
As the host, you are the person attendees need to listen to from time-to-time. It’s therefore vital that you can be heard clearly.
In most cases, using a headset and microphone will make the experience much more enjoyable for attendees. If you don’t have a computer headset, most earphones designed for mobile phones will do the job.
There are too many different audio devices and settings for us to cover in detail, however Zoom has a great feature for testing your speaker and microphone output. Simply hit ‘Start’ on any meeting and a box will pop up giving you the option to ‘Test Speaker and Microphone’.
Use a laptop or desktop computer. If you do not have a headset or earphones, ensure you are hosting the party from a quiet location.
Create a test meeting and invite a few friends, so you can test your audio and screen sharing skills in advance. This is something we strongly recommend.
How attendees can access the party (and recommended settings)
Although it’s not as important as for the party host, Zoom party attendees will also find that accessing Zoom via the application on a laptop is the optimal set-up. The advantages of this set-up are:
- You can view more attendees/thumbnails at once in ‘Gallery View’ on a laptop than a smartphone. On a smartphone, you can only view 4 people at once – on a computer, you can view up to 49 people, depending on how powerful the computer is.
- Virtual backgrounds are available on a computer. These can be great for adding a bit of dress up fun to your Zoom party. They are not available on all phones.
- Special effects and other features are not available on all mobile devices.
Regardless of the device used, attendees should all download the Zoom app in advance of the party. They should not access via the web browser as some functionality is only possible via the app which can cause confusion and frustration.
Co-hosts and tips to make things run smoothly
Good preparation and providing attendees with advance information are the basis of your Zoom party running smoothly. There are 3 other things that can make your life easier as a host and improve the experience for your attendees.
1. Check in with everyone before kicking off
Check everybody can see and hear OK. Confirm everybody is using the app and best available device. Let them know there may be inconsistencies in the experience if they are using a mobile phone or web browser and give them the opportunity to change
2. Ensure everybody knows how to activate Gallery View
This is the thing that can be most frustrating to new users. Explain how they can switch their view to ‘Gallery View’ to see more attendees (up to 49 on one screen if using a laptop, depending on computer spec).
- Laptop: Use the ‘View’ button on the top-right of the screen.
- iPad: The ‘switch view’ icon should be on the top-left corner and the gallery should allow you to see up to 9 people.
- Phones: Navigation between views involves swiping left and the maximum people you can see is 4.
3. Get a paid plan and a co-host
We’ve already told you that it’s worth paying the extra for the paid plan simply because of the 40min limitation on the free plan, however another big advantage of a Zoom paid plan is that you can have a co-host who can assist you in many areas of the event. They can manage chat, spotlight, admit or remove people from the waiting room, mute and unmute people, launch polls that have already been created (polls are also only available on paid plans), move between breakout rooms. In a nutshell, they can really help you out!
Additionally, a paid plan allows you to customize your waiting room with a title, description and logo (or image). This looks professional and can really help set the scene. Find out more about how to customize your waiting room here.
How to screen share your video and engage with attendees
For the purposes of this guide, we are using our Virtual Gin Tasting experience as an example of video entertainment. The technique for screen/audio sharing is always the same, regardless of the content you wish to share. So if you want to share something else in your Zoom party, such as image, presentations or other videos, the information below still applies.
Remember folks, please drink responsibly!
For those who don’t know, each In House Tasting pack comes with access to a professionally-filmed 4K tasting video, hosted by an industry expert. Our assumption here is that each party attendee has received a tasting pack, and the host will be screen sharing the tasting video for everyone who is following along. The host will control when the video is played and paused.
First, click the green ‘Share Screen’ button at the bottom of your Zoom window.
Zoom will default to share your entire desktop display. This might be good, depending on what you are sharing, for example if you want to share various files.
If you are only showing web-based content, such as a Vimeo or Youtube video, sharing ‘Web Browser’ is usually the best option — it keeps your messy desktop hidden 😉
Make sure you select the ‘Share computer sound’ checkbox and, if you are sharing video, check the ‘Optimize Screen Share for Video Clip’ checkbox.
That’s it — you are now sharing your screen!
Top screen-share tips before you start your Zoom party:
- Close all the applications and windows you won’t be using, to make screen sharing options as straightforward as possible.
- If you do want to share your desktop, tidy it and make sure there’s nothing visible that you want to keep private!
- For your web browser, have the video or content open. Close all other tabs/windows.
- Use a headset. Otherwise any audio coming out of your speakers could feed back into your microphone and cause all sorts of trouble!
How to share background music on Zoom
From the share screen settings, click on the ‘Advanced’ tab and choose ‘Computer Sound Only’. This will transmit whatever audio is coming from your computer and also allow your microphone to work.
Similar to screen share, a notice will display so you know it is working and you are sharing sound.
We recommend testing your music and sharing in advance. Some players are louder than others, so take the time to get it right. This same method can be used later in the party…when you want to turn it up and get everybody dancing!
A bit of fun in the Zoom ‘Spotlight’
Zoom’s ‘Spotlight’ feature allows you to put someone in the spotlight and can be a lot of fun in a party environment. The host, or co-host (available with a paid plan) can ‘spotlight’ someone by right-clicking on their video and turning spotlight on and off. You would use this if you have an entertainer such as a musician, comedian or magician and need to ‘spotlight’ their video.
It can also be great for putting someone in the spotlight for a specific reason eg if they have won a prize, and also to switch the spotlight/camera when people are dancing, getting dressed up or thinking about their quiz answer. Encourage people to say ‘cheers’ or pull a funny face when they hit the big screen.
We definitely recommend having a co-host for the latter as turning spotlight on & off via ‘right-click’ can become rather tedious (hopefully Zoom will change this and make spotliting easier in a future update!).
Breakout rooms — what they are and when / how to use them
The best analogy for a Zoom party with breakout rooms is a standard houseparty: there is the main party area, but groups of people can socialise in other areas such as the kitchen, garden or garage. In Zoom, these other areas are called ‘breakout rooms’, and they can be activated or deactivated by the host before or during the party.
Breakout rooms can be extremely useful for when you have a larger number of people, however even small-ish parties of 6+ people can benefit from breaking out into smaller groups. And if you get creative, they can be used for all sorts of fun party activities! Here are some ideas;
- Host different entertainment in each breakout room; yoga, a 90’s rave, a 70’s disco, cooking, painting, karaoke, a magician, a classic movie, chillout room, poetry, comedy, gin tasting, rum tasting or topic of conversation.
- The kitchen; create a room that people can enter when they go to get some food or drink (and probably never return!).
- Tasks and challenges; ice-breakers are usually easier in small groups. Split everyone into rooms of 2-3 people each and give them a challenge.
Zoom gives you the ability to leave rooms open to anyone, assign people to specific rooms or have them randomly assigned. As a host, you can move everyone into breakout rooms, then remove them to rejoin the main ‘room’, or you can set a timer that closes the breakout rooms after a duration of time.
What you can accomplish with breakout rooms is huge, especially for a party, and detailing everything is beyond the scope of this guide. Find out more about how breakout rooms work here and think how you could use them for your party.
One thing to note is that currently only the host can create and assign users to breakout rooms, the co-host cannot. Breakout rooms can also be open entry, whereby no assignment is required. If you have a co-host, they can move between assigned breakout rooms, however they need to be allocated to and join a breakout room first.
Summary: breakout rooms are great for parties, but probably best suited to people who are comfortable and familiar with Zoom or have time to practice.
Zoom party games and enhancers
Much like a ‘real life’ event, your party should have primary entertainment i.e. ‘the main event’ and supporting entertainment such as mini-games and ice-breakers. Here are a few things you can to do spruce up your party and make it more interactive and fun;
- Have a theme: think ugly Christmas jumpers, mad hatters, black tie formal and movie characters.
- Prepare a scavenger hunt: the host creates a list of physical items and the first attendee to produce them all wins a prize.
- Have a dressing up race: start a timer and attendees race to get dressed up. Increase the difficulty level by having a theme or being more specific.
- Host a quick quiz: Zoom has a baked in poll feature (paid plans only), however why not make it more physical where attendees use fingers or pen and paper to record their answers?
- Secret Santa: if you have a secret santa and the group size is suitable, have everyone open their gift during the party.
- Awards & prizes: these could be fully office superlatives, or prize-giving for the best party outfit, best background, etc. You could even set up a Zoom poll (paid plan only), to cast votes for winners anonymously!
- Ice-breakers: here are 3 opener ideas; (1) ask everyone to send a funny image or gif to the host who can introduce and share as the party opens; (2) send everyone a simple opening question that they will be asked eg their favourite current TV show, where their next trip will be, best thing they have discovered during lockdown; (3) get everyone to join with their ‘first drink’ and explains why they chose it or love it.
Involve others: with many people currently in lockdown, why not get them to invite their partner or housemate to join in the fun? This can help bring people out of their shell and create a more party-like atmosphere.
If you are organising a Christmas party with an In House Tasting experience as the primary entertainment, we will provide you with a list of ideas for themes, mini games and quiz questions related to your tasting.
For a full list of Zoom party ideas with examples, see this post:
10 Zoom party ideas for work and family parties [with examples]
Office party ideas — a few specifics for staff parties
Organising the Christmas party can be challenging at the best of times, never mind 2020!
One thing to consider is that Zoom meetings and conference calls are a big part of some employees’ work routine, and since this is a party, it needs to feel very different! Employees may also have family commitments or personal issues to deal with, so ensure the party duration is clear, and attendees know they can come and go as they please. This can all be communicated in a pre-party invite or information pack.
There are a number of things from the traditional staff Christmas party that you should aim to carry over to your digital Christmas event.
Firstly, try to arrange for your party to start before the workday ends, and for the primary entertainment to only carry on a few hours after the usual end of the workday. This way your employees will see it as more of a gift, than something that happens after and completely outside of a full day of work.
Secondly, if you’re planning on opening with a Powerpoint or speech, keep it concise and informal. Plan it in advance and don’t prolong it. Better still, make it fun and use it to hype the team up. Before you start your opening, ensure you check in with everyone to confirm there are no technical issues, they are comfortable and have a drink etc.
Another way to make a digital party feel more casual is to allow employees to invite their partner, housemate or pet to join them. Having family, friends, and animals on-screen helps differentiate the party from a normal work event, and can be a lot of fun.
Finally, if you have the budget, consider hiring a facilitator — a professional person who hosts or co-hosts the party, taking care of attendee engagement and interaction.
Zoom party invites
If you invite attendees to your scheduled Zoom party by email, they can receive an automated invite from Zoom, which will include the essential information (such as the Meeting ID, and password, if applicable). But it’s bland and corporate. If you want to make sure your invitation gets read, you can draft your own invite, and make it more personal, informative and eye-catching.
By sending your own invitations, you can include extra information like:
- Encouraging everyone to download the latest version of Zoom app and making them aware of the limitations of using the web browser version (it’s bad!).
- A reminder that the party is not (or is!) being recorded, but that anybody can easily take a photo or recording on their device — you might want to warn everyone to be on their best behaviour!
- General tips on Zoom such as how to switch the view between Gallery and Speaker or how to mute yourself.
- A party schedule, outlining rough timings.
You can use our In House Tasting Zoom invitation template, to get started.
Zoom ‘Gotchas!’ — don’t get caught out!
- Time limitations: if you’re hosting a Zoom Party without paying a subscription, the meeting will end automatically after 40 minutes!
- Feature limitations: if you are using the free version you’ll be missing out on a few features such as polls, co-hosts and a customised waiting room.
- Audio interference: People cannot use Zoom on different devices within the same room, or in close proximity to each other, without lots of disruptive audio interference caused by microphone feedback. Either keep both devices muted, or just use one.
- Video lagging, and talking over each other: as a host, you might need to ‘moderate’ your attendees, mute people or encourage everyone to exercise a bit of patience!
- Video quality, wifi and other internet users: When you Zoom, you are simultaneously uploading and downloading video. If several people on the same internet connection are doing the same thing, this can cause lag and poor video quality. If you are the host, it is especially important that you have the best possible connection — ask the rest of your household if they will refrain from streaming or uploading during your party.
- Troubleshooting: Know where your Zoom settings are. Account settings can be found here: https://zoom.us/profile/setting and individual meeting settings within the Zoom app by clicking on the Zoom menu > Preferences (see screenshot below)
So that’s all, folks!
It’s quite a chunky article, but hopefully you found lots of helpful information for hosting your Zoom party.
Quick links to other useful posts and resources
Below are links to a few other articles and guides you may find useful.