It seems everyone is doing Zoom social hours now.  As the Covid-19 lockdowns began, Zoom socializing was a lot of fun for me.  Now, two months into it, I’m hearing that people are Zoomed out.  After spending all day in work-related video meetings, no one wants to do another video call, even if it’s just for fun.

Part of the problem is that we started out thinking we could do a Zoom social call the same way we would meet in a restaurant for happy hour.  But there’s a critical difference between an in-person social gathering and a video gathering; you can’t have verbal side conversations on video. Once two or more people begin to have side conversations, the audio is hijacked for the entire group and no one can hear either the side conversation nor the main conversation.

The trick is to think of your Zoom happy hour the same way you would think of a work-related meeting — have a structure to it, and use a facilitator.  Start out with a round robin; for example, “Let’s go around and each person give an update on how you’re doing with lockdown frustration, or what you’ve been doing for fun, or what your plans are for the summer.”  If your group has been keeping up with each other regularly, make this something a little more entertaining: “Let’s go around and each tell a story about the most annoying thing your spouse or children have done in the last week.”

If people are drinking during the social hour, the interruptions and side conversations will start happening despite your best efforts.  The call will get rowdier and may even degenerate into chaos, and that can be fun or frustrating depending on the personalities in the group.  But don’t forget that if you are the person who set up the call, you have tools at your disposal if you want to try to mitigate the chaos.  You can suggest that people use the chat function for side conversations, and you can also selectively mute people as they get too noisy.

If your group is on the serious side, use some sort of game as your structure for the call:

  • A trivia game on a particular topic, such as local topography for an outdoorsy group or history trivia for history buffs
  • Pictionary, which is easily done using the screen sharing function
  • A coooking show, where participants take turns demonstrating a recipe in their own kitchens

If your group is rowdier, try a classic drinking game:

  • Live stream a Beer Pong game
  • Mostly Likely To: pose different “most likely to” scenarios — for example, “most likely to go skydiving” or “most likely to own a zoo” — and decide which friend would be most likely to do that thing. Whoever it is has to drink.
  • Pysch: participants make up fake answers to real trivia questions, and one player must choose the real answer among the fakes.
  • Charades: split your group into two teams and use a charades idea generator to choose your words and phrases. The person who’s acting out the charade uses the Zoom “spotlight” feature, and their team has one minute to figure out the phrase.

If you have an adventurous or creative group that really wants to get out of the box, here are some far-out suggestions for call activities from the Burning Man journal:

  • Host a virtual Tarot card reading
  • Host a virtual performance art show
  • Host a virtual dance competition
  • Do Wheel of Zoom, which is like an adult version of spin the bottle and great for really getting to know people through radical self-expression (one of Burning Man’s ten principles)

If your group is more intellectual, try a round robin using various discussion topics:

  • What are you reading right now and what are your biggest takeaways?
  • What are the most compelling documentaries you’ve seen on Netflix lately?
  • What Covid-19 research are you following most closely, and what questions do you have about the science?
  • What personal projects are you working on at home right now?

The structures you might choose for your call are endless; the important thing is to chose one.  Don’t just show up the way you would to a restaurant; that might work for one or two calls, but it will quickly descend into a pointless activity which no one remembers afterwards, and some of your friends will start to avoid.

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