It’s graduation season, wedding season – and Father’s Day is coming up. And birthdays keep coming—last week I participated in a birthday “parade” – we all drove past a kid’s house honking our horns. I’m sure the neighbors were thrilled… actually they probably were. Anything to break up the monotony.
Celeb event planner Edward Perotti says you can still have that bachelorette party – and all your other events, and they don’t have to be boring. “You are your biggest hurdle – think creatively!” says Perotti, who made a fast pivot this year from staging grand events in spectacular places like the Palace of Versailles in France and the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul to thinking about ways people can still have fun at a social distance.
“I would first start by not thinking of it as a pandemic celebration – that feels so anti-celebratory!” Perotti, who has put together events for celebs like Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas, told me via socially distant email. “You’re creating a celebration, a gathering, or an event that happens to be during our ‘temporary new normal.’ “
For starters, he advises, for a virtual (Zoom) event, help your guests with on-camera etiquette guidelines, such as attire and when and how to speak. And maybe offer some advice on those virtual backgrounds (more on that below). Read on for more of Perotti’s thoughts and advice.
What are the biggest mistakes people make in crafting a virtual gathering? The biggest mistake people make is thinking that shifting to a virtual gathering is just like a face-to-face gathering. It is not.
For most, the accessible digital platforms they use have limitations. Side bar conversations that naturally evolve during in-person events can’t happen, since most platforms only allow for one speaker at a time. So, connecting with someone outside of the big group is challenging.
You should begin your event planning with the mindset of the WHOLE group. Create fun and interactive games, surveys, etc. that the entire group can take part in – then email digital prizes that can be used during our lockdown (i.e. Doordash, GrubHub and UberEats gift cards).
The trick is to remember that even though the screen and camera grid can feel so close, there is, in fact, no physical connection, which makes the emotional connection tougher – so just have fun!
What is the biggest hurdle to overcome? Your belief in your own creativity. Events are going to be challenging, but not impossible.
As an example, let’s discuss a bride-to-be. Can she have a bachelorette party?? YES!
Look at hiring a well-known DJ and mixologist to throw a virtual dance party and cocktail-making lessons. Create a ‘party in a box’ that will contain everything that’s necessary for the guests to follow along with your mixologist, while the DJ is in the background playing. [See below for some party-in-a-box ideas.]
It’s not a live Las Vegas party, but it’s a creative solution for today’s environment.
Virtual backgrounds — yes or no? For me, virtual backgrounds are a double-edged sword. If you want to use one, use it only at the beginning or if you’re not planning on speaking. [Because] as you speak and move, the background begins to blur and creates odd negative spaces around you that pull focus from what you are saying. So, my recommendation is to use them sparingly.
Keys to success? Make a plan and don’t assume that you can pull together a successful event at the last-minute, just because it’s virtual.
Be creative and don’t let any perceived obstacles in the current situation stop you from finding a unique way to gather or things you can do.
Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to do it.
Acknowledge that this situation is temporary. Let your guests, coworkers, etc. know that you’re planning for post-Covid face-to-face gatherings as soon as it’s feasible – it will give them something to look forward to.
Thoughts on meeting in person? In-person events are going to be a challenge. Each host has had the right intentions, but hasn’t been prepared for the attendees’ mindset around coming together in person.
The biggest lesson has been to put on my ‘therapist’ hat and have a very authentic conversation with the host. They need to realize that the attendance may be much lower than they even anticipate, because their guests might not be prepared to gather in person, after being separated for so long. Lack of attendance is not a personal reflection on them, just a normal human reaction. Perhaps [you could] discuss a hybrid event between live and streaming?
Party in a Box
As Perotti suggests, having a common set of items to use — a party in a box — can make things fun. After about five minutes of chatting over Zoom, I’ve noticed conversations often devolve into just staring at each other. So do an activity together—like cooking and eating. Here are three of my favorite New England options. Each will ship boxes across the country, so people in different locations – across town or across the country – can cook together and eat together.
Picnic on lobster rolls: Much-heralded Luke’s Lobster will ship a party pack with lobster meat, classic New England style split-top buns and seasoning, to your door for $100.
Make classic fried clams: Here’s something you wouldn’t normally try at home, but it’s worth it. Woodman’s is the gold standard for fried clams – they’ve been making them for more than 100 years in Essex, Mass. Starting at $61, the Fried Clam Kit contains their traditional gluten-free fried seafood batter, shucked steamer clams and just about everything else you need to make a Woodman’s fried clam feast. Plus they have a video to watch online – beats a Netflix party any day.
Prepare a pancake brunch: For just $30, plus shipping, you can get pancake mix crafted by Michelle Boland, pastry chef extraordinaire at Boston’s Oak + Rowan, plus a little bottle of prosecco, orange juice, real maple syrup, jam and even chocolate chips.