By Wil Merritt, Co-Founder Celebration Stadium
My wife’s birthday was coming up soon, but what to do given the current stay-at-home situation? I wanted to do something upbeat and fun with friends and family. Collaborating with our grown kids we planned a surprise party using Zoom videoconferencing. Turned out the event was one of our most memorable celebrations -- something we had never done before for a birthday! You might be interested in learning how we did the event if you’re thinking of hosting a future Zoom or FaceTime party.
All three of our children are currently working from home. They do Zoom video conference calls every day so they had a lot of experience they were able to share with me. We decided to tell my wife to keep 5:30 p.m. available on her birthday to have a call with the kids. That gave us the perfect cover to set up for the surprise party.
The first step was to come up with an invitation list. We realized that because this was a “virtual” party we could invite as many people as we wanted from anywhere in the world. No constraints to find a venue or worry about menus, seating, or parking! All we needed were email addresses to send out an invitation message and collect the RSVPs to then send a calendar invite with the Zoom link. We started with extended family, then close friends, then went big – book club members, college mates, high school buddies, former work colleagues, childhood friends. We tapped into “ring leaders” in various groups who were sworn to secrecy and would provide email addresses for long lost contacts.
The invitation asked everyone to wear a yellow shirt or top to create a coordinated festive scene, and to have a glass of their favorite beverage ready for a toast. We would plan to sing “Happy Birthday” at 5:35 p.m. Then each person would be asked to share one thought about the birthday gal, could be a funny story or a cherished memory, or just something they liked about her. But to keep it to one minute, short and sweet, since we had so many people we hoped would attend.
On the big day we turned our living room into the celebration “studio” while my wife was out. We set up the large home TV screen to display screen-mirroring from my computer showing the Zoom participants. We aimed the computer’s camera so it would feature the birthday girl with good lighting, centered on the sofa with colorful party balloons suspended behind her. In front of her seat we placed a small table to hold a birthday cake, plates and drink for my wife and I, and, of course, a Celebration Stadium, complete with 61 gold candles.
My wife came into the living room at 5:30 expecting a Zoom call with our kids, something we do on a weekly basis. She was pretty surprised to see the big screen lighting up with faces of people from all around the country and abroad, in some cases friends she hadn’t seen in many, many years. Quite a number of participants had their families gathered around their computers – so the number of people on the call was 75 talking heads. Thirty screens were active at peak of activity. It was really engaging to see people who hadn’t been in touch for many years connect on the call.
Once we had the call up and running and welcomed everyone, I lit the candles on the Celebration Stadium and everyone sang “Happy Birthday”, more or less starting at the same time. Then I asked everyone to raise a glass and toast to my wife.
Next were personal thoughts, I acted as a moderator and called on people to share their comments so that not everyone was talking at the same time. It worked well to control the conversation order and to remind folks to keep remarks short. If you have ever been on a video conference call you know how hard it is when even two people are talking at the same time, much less 75!
In the end it was such a meaningful time. Some callers were on the entire time (around 90 minutes in total) and some just popped in and out. My wife’s comments afterwards were that it was really exciting to see so many people from her past. Under normal circumstances that combination of people would never have been together. The Celebration Stadium made for a festive and beautiful focal point, she loved the look of the gold candles, and the guests were delighted to see the warm glow from all 61 of them lit.
Of course nothing beats getting together in person for celebrations, but these days we have the opportunity to be creative, making the best of the situation. In fact had we not had to improvise we would never have reached out and connected with so many wonderful people from my wife’s life.
We’d love to hear about your experiences with creative-solution celebrations. Best wishes for your party plans!