CHRISTINE LIU: Virtual work parties and happy hours– I mean, look. If I get an invite to another virtual social event, it’s just like– [INTENSE MUSIC] [GLASS SHATTERING] Video chat burnout, Zoom fatigue– whatever you want to call it, it is real. And the last thing I want to do at the end of a workday is to go to another meeting disguised as a social outing. Real talk– come on. How many of you have been to a virtual event, gotten in, really did not have fun, and just faked a bad Wi-Fi connection? Ooh– my– [AUDIO SKIPPING] sorry, I have to miss it. Bye! It was good seeing you! 2020 wasn’t like any other year. It was really, really hard. But a lot of companies around the world are most likely gearing up for some sort of office party right now. The people organizing these virtual events, I give them all my respect it is a tough hill to climb. And I know everyone is trying their absolute best. But seriously, is there any secret sauce or best practice to how to throw a virtual party that doesn’t stink? BRYAN RAFANELLI: Well, OK, you need to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and believe that this can actually work. [LAUGHS] And it’s going to be fun. In fact, it might be the best party you’ve ever thrown in your whole life. CHRISTINE LIU: That’s Bryan Rafanelli. He’s the founder and chief creative officer of Rafanelli Events. He puts on all kinds of events. And his clients are often big names. He’s not new to virtual events, but he had to shift all of his events in 2020 to virtual. BRYAN RAFANELLI: I immediately was like, oh, my god. Because we had probably 25 events in the spring. And what were we going to do? For my nonprofit clients especially, it was like, they still have to raise money. So they were like, OK, what are we going to do? And we were like, oh, we’re going to go virtual. And it was like in the dinosaur era of Zoom, and signals coming in and out, and all that kind of crazy stuff. Today, it is light years ahead. The stuff that we can do virtually is magnificent. CHRISTINE LIU: I’m so excited to be talking to Bryan about this. Because actually, I have to organize one of these parties for my colleagues at HBR. [INTENSE MUSIC] In your opinion, why do so many of just the average garden variety Zoom parties stink? Why is it so unpleasant, most of the time? BRYAN RAFANELLI: I think it’s the unknown. And people don’t like looking at each other. Right? That’s a big deal. I love it. I can see their face. I can see if they’re interested. I can see if they’re bored. I can see if they’re reading their email. But maybe those are all the reasons people don’t like these. There’s an anticipation of, like, this is not going to be good. So that’s what’s so great about it, in so many ways. It’s like, wow. It’s kind of easy to make it good. Because everybody expects it to be bad. CHRISTINE LIU: All right. Let’s get down to it. What are the elements of a successful, fun, eyeroll-free virtual office party? BRYAN RAFANELLI: Look, this is what you have to understand. This is just like, rather, every party. How do you get people to come to your party? You ask them. They respect you. OK, I get that. But you have to believe that this will work. And then you have to encourage a smaller group of the big group that this is really going to be awesome. Why? Because everyone is going to start talking about it. CHRISTINE LIU: So exploit the cool kids. Check. BRYAN RAFANELLI: Yeah, exploit the cool kids. Get them on your side. Tell them it’s going to be awesome. And even right now, because you don’t know what you’re going to do yet, you’ve got to fake it. Right? CHRISTINE LIU: [LAUGHS] BRYAN RAFANELLI: This is going to be awesome! CHRISTINE LIU: For sure. It’s going to be awesome. Can’t miss it. Are you going to be around on Thursday, December 10? SUBJECT 1: Yeah, I have very little going on in my life right now after work. So yes. BRYAN RAFANELLI: It’s not going to be a lot of time, right? So that’s one of the little pro tips. Like, this is not going to be a lot of time. CHRISTINE LIU: How long should it be? BRYAN RAFANELLI: Under 30 minutes. CHRISTINE LIU: Under 30 minutes. OK. OK. BRYAN RAFANELLI: And by the way, if you say “no longer than 30,” and you do 20, you’re a hero. Right? CHRISTINE LIU: Amazing. So sometimes Bryan recommends sending something like party favors or a cocktail kit to guests beforehand so everyone can have a shared experience. But that can be costly. Do I have a budget? SUBJECT 2: No, your budget is zero. BRYAN RAFANELLI: If there is no budget, then have people actually participate with what they have. So that could be signs. That can be funny holiday hats. That could be almost anything that you instruct them to do it. It doesn’t cost you anything. Have some fun and games. Or surprise and delight your friends. Or do both. CHRISTINE LIU: Honestly, I’m so excited after talking to you. I was a little nervous. But the first step, as you said– believe. That’s pretty powerful, I have to say. BRYAN RAFANELLI: I think I’ve convinced you, actually. So this was a good session. CHRISTINE LIU: OK. Now I have my virtual party roadmap. So it’s time to get started. Step one. Ooh. I have to believe this thing is going to get pulled off. Repeat after me. It’s not a meeting. It’s a party. I believe. I want to believe. I am believing. They’re lucky I’m putting on this thing. Because it’s going to be amazing. I believe. OK, so I’m going to send a Save the Date and hopefully add a touch of mystery and clarity. And above all, I just want people to show up. I think I’m getting there. “Cheers. You’re invited to the best HBR web team holiday party.” We’re going to see what happens. OK. I just wanted to know, are you guys coming? SUBJECT 3: Yes. SUBJECT 4: Absolutely. ELAINY MATA: Didn’t even know about it. CHRISTINE LIU: I’m feeling the pressure. ELAINY MATA: What time is it at? CHRISTINE LIU: 3:30 to 4:00. The next part I have to do is figure out what the surprise is that I promised. The bar, again, is low. I can blow everyone’s mind. Bottom line– this party cannot stink. SUBJECT 5: Oh, you have a fun background. I need a fun background. CHRISTINE LIU: You have time! You have time. SUBJECT 5: How do I do a fun background? CHRISTINE LIU: Look, we’re not going to watch the entire party. And plus, were you even invited? So the main plotline of this holiday party was a mystery gift exchange. So instead of buying actual physical gifts for each other, everyone was gifted with a little bit of weirdness from the internet. And it sparked a lot of joy. ELAINY MATA: It’s the most random weather website. But the picture in the middle makes me laugh so much. MATT WAGNER: Thank you. CHRISTINE LIU: OK. So the party just ended. And I’m just reveling in what happened. OK, how did it go? You know, did it stink? I don’t think so. It wasn’t the best party of all time. But it was certainly a party of the time. And it was really great to see everyone. And I think having that energy and holiday magic, just believing it, that’s really the key thing here. And even though I had a budget of $0, and we’re unable to be together– we’re just here virtually– at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. And you really can’t put a price tag on that. If you’re still watching, one, thank you. But two, I’m really curious. What do you want me to explore? What problems do you have at work? I love to solve them. Please leave a comment. I love to hear your thoughts. And if you have any other ideas, throw them my way. All right. Peace out.
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