Sunday, March 15, 2020

Guide to the Virtual Happy Hour

...Or, how to socialize during a pandemic.

This week has been tough on many of us, so I thought I would share the brilliant invention of Lianna Patch (of Punchline Copy fame): the Zoom Happy Hour (ZHH). It's the safest way to stay social when upstart viruses decide to become party poopers. Friday evening, five brave friends of TinySeed tested the first beta VHH. It was awesome. Here is our beta recipe for the perfect virtual happy hour.

First, figure out if you have friends. As my MVP revealed, a one-person Zoom meeting even bores a dog. Also, while you can technically run a solo VHH, the more pedantic nerds will challenge the virtual nature of a lonely happy hour. If you're in a room by yourself and talking to yourself, all the participants are physically present; it's no different than crying into your drink in the lobby bar of a Marriott. Don't fall prey to this common trap!

Once you have a list of friends, you'll want to invite them. I used Zoom to schedule a free 40-minute happy hour for 6 PM on Friday, and then I shared the details on Slack.

Keep in mind that the invite needs to reach those friends. Starting an empty Slack, or joining a random Slack workspace won't work. Not every Slack includes your friends, but if it does, you have my permission to use it. You could also email your friends, message them on Facebook (if you have boomer friends), DM them on Twitter, or use your postal service to deliver a "Save the Date," followed by a formal Invitation. A wax seal currently seems unnecessary on a mailed virtual happy hour invitation, but we'll keep you informed as the etiquette continues to evolve.

Once your friends accept your invitation, you will need to prepare a physical room for the event. This is where many novices stumble: your body continues to occupy physical space even while participating in a virtual meeting.

Also, the other participants will want to see your face, so take that into consideration. I added a video light to my office so I wouldn't look like a grainy creep with sunken eyeballs. You might want to hide your dirty laundry, pick the trash off your floor, and banish dust bunnies with your vacuum. 

Your physical appearance during a pandemic "work-at-home" situation could probably use improvement too. Consider grooming for once. Shave, comb your hair, take a shower. Maybe put on a shirt and brush your teeth. Your friends will ooh and ah at your effort.

A beverage remains a critical part of even virtual happy hours. Virtual drinks are less happy than real ones. Prepare your beverage before the happy hour starts, unless you intend to show off your bartending skills on the call. At a virtual happy hour, I think any concoction will do, except perhaps hemlock and other poisons. Cocktails, beer, wine, coffee, tea, Pamplemousse La Croix, Topo Chico, or even a bottle of scotch will do. Only if you've dressed for a renaissance fair is mead acceptable.

Finally, a few minutes before the scheduled time, you'll need to start your Zoom meeting. Now you await the arrival of your guests. Like any party, promptness expresses personality and ambition. Helpful people will arrive early and offer to help you hide embarrassing clutter. Shy people will show up what they hope is a few moments after the other guests. Folks who fancy themselves as leaders will show up at the end of the scheduled time and force everyone to stay late.

As guests arrive, you must administer the event itself. You can start with this simple script: "Hi ____, cheers!" Then you will hold up your drink to the camera, hold your cocktail to your lips, and take a sip. At this point, you will either naturally or unnaturally fall into conversation with your guest.

As you talk, late guests will arrive to interrupt your conversation, just like your boss showing up twelve minutes late for his own meeting and demanding a recap. At that point, you will repeat the cheers ritual, the (un)natural conversation, and the interruptions until all the guests arrive. 

Obviously, the conversation will devolve into politics or a discussion of the pandemic. In normal circumstances, you're stuck listening to the loudest person in the bar. In a virtual happy hour, you have two secret weapons: you can shout directly into the microphone or distract folks with the cool shit you have at home! The distraction technique seems to work more smoothly.

Someone will share their husband, dog, cat, or pet scorpion. Another guest will ask you to guess the purpose of a piece of secret prototype hardware. And everyone has presumably delicious drinks to show you. These distractions all provide sweet relief from the global apocalypse.

Just like any meeting, things will get out of hand. Somebody will want to show us a funny website or document. As a gracious host, you'll be expected to remain calm while the person asks everyone if we can see their screen. This should only take thirteen or fourteen minutes. Allow a full hour if this person is your boss. The wait will be worth it; the kitten is cute.

The twenty-third kitten video inevitably leads to boredom, and the alpha of the group will make an excuse to leave. "Oh, I have to go. I need to dry my home-made toilet paper." This triggers a flood of similar, but not identical excuses.

"Oops, I forgot to make sanitizer from this rum."

"Well, this Charmin' won't list itself on eBay! I better let you go."

Now your virtual happy hour is officially over. Wash your hands, and remember not to touch your face.