Happy hour is the social event that many conference and meeting attendees look forward to: a drink or two at the end of a long day, the chance to talk with old friends and new ones, and maybe even sneak in some networking. Just because you’re planning a virtual event doesn’t mean you should ditch the happy hour. A virtual happy hour can offer the same kinds of benefits; it just requires a little organization. Need some inspiration? We’ve put together a list of virtual event social ideas to help you get started planning your own virtual happy hour.
Why Does Your Event Need a Virtual Happy Hour?
At corporate events, happy hour offers a welcome chance to relax after a long day of walking around an exhibit hall, listening to speakers, or attending training sessions. But the time spent at a happy hour represents more than just an excuse to have a drink or two and laugh with friends and strangers.
Happy Hour Has Proven Social Benefits
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh wanted to test this idea, so they enlisted a total of 720 people, split into several groups. Test groups were served alcoholic drinks, while control groups were served non-alcoholic drinks. They examined behavior and body language in each group and found that people who consumed a moderate amount of alcohol:
- Smiled more often, and more authentically.
- Had more “group smiles,” meaning people in the group smiled spontaneously at the same time.
- Participated in the group discussion for longer.
- Had more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions.
- Increased social bonding.
Also of significance is that all the test subjects were strangers. Even though they didn’t know each other, having a moderate amount of alcohol made them feel relaxed enough to enjoy all these social benefits.
A happy hour at the end of a virtual event can help attendees reap some of the same benefits. Whether it’s a group of strangers or a group of co-workers, it helps encourage social bonding and promotes group activity, both of which can boost engagement levels.
Boost Engagement, and End the Day on the Right Note
When it comes to virtual events, engagement is of paramount importance. When attendees are engaged with an event, they’re focused and attentive and ready to absorb the information you’re offering. If their engagement level takes a dive, their attention span does too. They stop focusing and may even switch off and log out of the event.
Keeping people engaged and focused is difficult, especially over the course of a multi-day virtual event. A happy hour can help by giving attendees the chance to relax after a long stretch of absorbing event content, as well as the opportunity to socialize with their peers. A virtual happy hour lets you end the day on a positive note, leaving attendees feeling good as they log out of the event.
What’s Different About a Virtual Happy Hour?
At in-person events, happy hours aren’t necessarily highly organized affairs. The evening happy hour may involve hiring out a local bar or using a hotel space. Getting to the venue is the main activity; from there, attendees are free to entertain themselves.
This concept doesn’t necessarily work for virtual events. At a virtual event, every attendee is one step removed from the action, so your virtual happy hour will benefit from organized activities that bring everyone together. Otherwise, it’s just a group of people, each drinking alone at home! You want the day to end on a high note, and for a digital experience, it’s up to the event planner to make sure it does.
Virtual Happy Hour Games and Ideas
Many happy hour activities are best suited to groups of a particular size. Some work great for both large and small groups. Others, such as The Sentence Game and Charades, are better with smaller groups of people. In some cases, this might mean creating breakout groups. If you’re dealing with a very large gathering of attendees, it may not be feasible to create breakout groups; in this case, it’s better to go for large-group activities, such as cocktail hour or trivia.
Each of the activity ideas below can be completed within 10 to 20 minutes, with the exception of the Sneaky Game, which can run over the entire happy hour. Scheduling two or three for a happy hour is often the best way to fill the time. This ensures activities don’t drag on and become boring. And if some people don’t enjoy a particular activity, they don’t have too long to wait until the next one.
1. Live Entertainment
If you prefer not to organize interactive happy hour games, then live entertainment is a great alternative. And if you have hundreds or thousands of attendees, live entertainment may be the most practical option.
For a more traditional entertainment option, go for a live band or music artist, or perhaps a DJ. Alternatively, you can go for a more interactive and engaging option such as a comedian, magician, or illusionist.
If you choose live entertainment, make sure attendees still have a way to interact with one another. For instance, if they’re watching a live musician or band, they should still able to use text chat to talk at the same time. If they feel cut off from the rest of the audience, it may result in lower engagement levels.
2. Cocktail Hour
With a little advance preparation, a group cocktail session is a great way to start off a virtual happy hour. To prepare for this, pick one or more cocktails, and create an ingredients and instructions list for making each one. One to two weeks before the event, send out an attendee email with this information. This gives everyone who wants to participate some time to gather the ingredients. Alternatively, if your group is of a reasonable size, you could buy the ingredients for everyone and have them shipped to their locations. Consider it part of your virtual event swag!
When happy hour starts, attendees make their chosen drinks and can share photos or video clips of what they’ve made, either within the event platform or on social media.
Take this idea up a notch by hiring a mixologist to demonstrate the cocktails, and let everyone at home follow along. This can help boost happy hour engagement, as it means attendees continue to interact with the event while they’re making the drink and then enjoying virtual cocktail hour.
3. Icebreaker Questions
Use these questions at the start of happy hour to help people unwind and feel more at ease. Questions that are funny or a little weird are perfect for piquing interest. Some sample questions include:
- What fashion trend do you think should make a comeback?
- What book, movie, and album would you take to a desert island?
- What’s the most pointless superpower you can think of?
- Choose one famous person, living or dead, to have on your side during the zombie apocalypse. Why would they make a good teammate?
- What is the strangest food you’ve ever tried? Would you eat it again?
- Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?
- If you could instantly teleport anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- What’s the last “fun fact” you learned?
4. The Sneaky Game
This one is most effective for small and medium-sized groups, divided into teams. Each team is privately given a keyword, which they have to work into the happy hour conversation as much as possible. At the same time, each group must also try and work out what the other groups’ words are.
This game is most effective with words that aren’t unusual but that aren’t necessarily used a lot in conversation. For instance, the word “tower” isn’t obscure at all, but how many times can you say it in normal conversation before everyone gets suspicious?
5. Something in Common
For this one, break off into groups of four to six. Each group gets five minutes to chat and get to know each other. In this game, the objective is to find out what unusual things everyone in the group has in common. No mundane commonalities such as, “We’re all human” or “We’re all breathing” are allowed. On the other hand, “We all ate blueberry pancakes for breakfast this morning” is an unusual thing for several random strangers or even co-workers to have in common!
6. The Sentence Game
To play this one, one person starts off with a statement sentence. It can be anything they like—serious, funny, or silly, as they please. Then each player takes turns to keep the conversation going by adding a new sentence. The only requirements are:
- Each player has only five seconds to add a new sentence.
- Each new sentence must be a logical follow-up to the one before it
The objective is to keep going for as long as possible, and the game is over when the current player can’t add a new sentence within five seconds.
7. Virtual Trivia
Trivia is a familiar kind of game that everyone can play and that helps keep people engaged during a virtual happy hour. It’s suitable for most group sizes but can become more difficult to run as the size of your attendee group increases.
For a happy hour trivia game, all you need is a host to ask questions, along with the questions themselves. You can choose your own themed questions or find online question lists such as these from QuizBreaker and Opinion Stage.
8. Backwards Charades
In the traditional charades game, players mime an action, movie, book, or song title. In backwards charades, it’s flipped: Players use words to describe an action. The catch is that they can’t use the assigned words in their description.
For instance, if the action is “throwing a football,” they can’t use the words “throw” or “football.” You can also up the challenge factor by banning other words; for instance, the words “game,” “team,” and “sport” might be banned from the football example. This game is deceptively challenging, especially when people are enjoying their adult beverages as they play!
9. Lightning Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are great team-building exercises, but with a little tweaking they can work during happy hour too. Make this one a lightning scavenger hunt by giving participants just 30 seconds to find each item in their homes:
- The book you’re currently reading
- The item immediately to your left. (Make sure to exclude computer accessories!)
- Your favorite coffee mug.
10. The Most Useless Talent Show
Many people have a particular ability or talent that’s not very useful but may provide a few moments of entertainment if they’re willing to share it! The only requirement is that special abilities should have no practical use; for instance:
- Having double-jointed thumbs
- Being able to balance a spoon on the end of your nose
A Great Virtual Happy Hour Makes for Happy Event Attendees
Whether it’s a corporate training session or an industry trade show, attending a virtual event can be deceptively exhausting. Spending several hours focusing on learning via computer may leave attendees’ attention and energy level flagging by the end of the day. Organizing a virtual happy hour as the last session can be a perfect antidote to this problem. With some entertaining and engaging virtual happy hour activities, attendees can log off feeling entertained and positive about their virtual event experience.