Human connection is at the core of our business. We design purposeful experiences to create and deepen those connections, and we understand how experiences need to be customized for what’s happening in the moment.
In years past, the holiday season has brought something that most of us probably took for granted: a reset. Yes, the holidays meant running around to school events, parties, services, shopping, and family gatherings, but they also meant a break from the normal routine. In 2020, though, the daily routine changed, and for many people that meant it had some of the “look” of a reset (Stay at home! Wear pajamas!) but with the same – or more- responsibilities. This leaves us thinking that we’ve had a reset when in fact we’re doing the opposite.
We know how important a reset is to our mental health, physical health, and relationships with others (both personal and professional). Without the external factors that normally create that reset for us, we need to create the reset ourselves. In other words, we need to fill our own buckets instead of waiting for something or someone to do it for us. And for those we care about, including our family, friends, and co-workers, we can help fill their buckets, too.
How do we do that? By thinking about the feelings and experiences we look forward to having during the holiday season, and designing virtual alternatives to help generate that same joy. These can be wonderful opportunities for creating and nurturing our personal and professional communities.
We know you’re busy, so we’ve created a list of ideas for ways to reset this holiday season and into the New Year that work for the current moment.
General Tips for Virtual Experiences
Whether you’re doing a 15-person Zoom call or something more involved, it’s really important to give everyone an active role. Without that, you will inevitably end up with periods of time where everyone’s talking or no one is. Shyer people may say nothing or “hide” in a virtual corner, and more extroverted people may inadvertently dominate. Roles don’t have to be serious – go with what fits the personalities of your group best.
You may also want to select a leader or “host” for group gatherings. It should be someone who’s comfortable with the role and will help encourage other people to talk. The leader’s main function is to make sure everyone is able to relax into the experience and participate.
An ice breaker topic can do wonders for putting people at ease. This should be something that is not at all controversial and something that makes sense to everyone.
“What’s the last movie you watched?”
“What’s your favorite holiday food?”
“Where’s your favorite place to travel to?”
To keep everyone engaged, you can also randomly call on people to answer personal (but not uncomfortable) questions.
“What’s your favorite family tradition?”
“What do you admire about ______ (a coworker, family member, or friend)?”
“What’s something you loved doing this year?”
You can also ask people to bring something to share: a recipe, a joke, or a photo are all good options. For larger groups, make sure you have several “plants” you can count on who will definitely bring something and be willing to go first.
Slideshows and Videos
With basic software, you can create a slideshow or video that people can rewatch after the experience. You can ask people to submit photos or drawings and mix them with a few transition slides. You can even create a soundtrack that can be circulated to everyone as a playlist. Your slideshows can be funny (pets, unfortunate family photos) or more serious.
Toys for Our Younger Selves
Draw names and each person has to purchase a gift they think the person they picked would have liked as a child. After you share your purchases (and you find out if you were right!), donate the toys to an organization that serves children in need.
Mentalists, magicians, artists, singers, comedians and even dancers now are available for hire over Zoom. Go for the full cabaret experience by asking attendees to dress up and send out a recipe for a signature drink ahead of time (preferably one using ingredients they’re likely to have on hand).
One of the most fun things about camp is learning new things together. Recreate that spirit with online mixology classes, cooking classes, dance classes, and even improv classes. You can also follow the lead of crafting maven Amy Sedaris and have a crafting and cocktails night.
Lifetime Achievement So Far Awards
A great way to boost spirits is to give people a tribute to what they’ve accomplished and who they are no matter where they are in life. Trade names so guests make a short video, slideshow, collage, or even a toast about how great someone else is.
Family Holiday Night
Go all-in with games, hot cocoa, holiday music, and ornament painting (there are great kits available online or you can make your own with a basic salt dough).
Progressive Holiday Party
In real life, a progressive party moves guests from room to room or venue to venue as the event unfolds. Recreate that in the virtual space by creating different themed virtual rooms that host a different course or a different activity in each room
Contests can be great team-building exercises. For larger groups, you can put people into teams.
Challenge guests in real time to create a Zoom background. The criteria can be “most creative,” “most intense holiday decorations,” “worst vacation destination” – there’s no wrong answer.
Gingerbread House Contest
You can send pre-made house kits to guests ahead of time, make the baking of the gingerbread part of the challenge, or have people draw their houses. Prizes can be given for best, worst, weirdest, etc.
Holiday Ornament Challenge
Ask guests to design a holiday ornament out of a list of common household items, or send them a template so they have a base to start with.
Baking has become the nation’s unofficial pastime. Put your own spin on it by sending out a recipe that you all make together in real time, asking everyone to make the “ultimate” version of an item (like a breakfast sandwich) or do your own Great British Baking Show technical challenge: give everyone exactly the same recipe and same ingredients and compare the end products.
Take advantage of the many online versions of retro games that can be played by multiple people over Zoom and other platforms: trivia, Connect 4, bingo, and even Cards Against Humanity (depending on your audience).
Awkward Zoom Calls Are This Year’s Tacky Christmas Sweater
Invite guests to share their most awkward Zoom calls – because everyone has at least one. For groups with people who like to draw, someone can sketch out a cartoon version of each story, turned into a book commemorating the Year of Awkward Calls.
Office Variation: Personal Message from the C-Suite
Ask each C-level company member to record a short personalized message to each employee in the group they’re assigned to. Company-wide holiday messages are great, but that level of personalization is incredibly impactful.
Office Variation: Zoom Surprise
Send guests a link to what appears to be a Zoom meeting, but turns out to be a visit with Santa, a cocktail party, or a gifting experience. (To anyone reading this who is disappointed their scheduled meeting is, in fact, a meeting, we apologize.)
Holiday Spirit Week
Don’t limit yourself to one thing. Consider a holiday spirit week, where each day brings something different: wear a Santa hat, listen to a playlist, bake a holiday cookie.
In Person (Sort of)
We’ve culled our list of in-person experiences to ones with low risk as defined by the Center for Disease Control. It takes some creativity, but that’s what we do.
Parking Lot or Driveway Drive-In
With a projector and a solid wall or a screen, you can turn your parking lot into a drive-in. (You can do the same thing on a smaller scale in your own driveway or backyard). Pick a holiday-themed comedy and pass out individually wrapped snacks to guests when they arrive.
Christmas Light Caravan
Take in one of the amazing Christmas light displays or create a map of residential neighborhoods that have a lot of lights. Coordinate with other cars – you can even have passengers use their phones as speakers or walkie talkies to talk to each other while you view the lights.
Secret Secret Santa
A traditional Secret Santa, except gifts are dropped off on the person’s porch. You get the joy of giving a gift and the joy of receiving one. For bonus points, leave the gift at night – just like Santa!
The Gift of Choice
This year has left many people feeling powerless. Giving the gift of choice helps people feel empowered and seen. Consider assembling options for people to select from or even creating a virtual gifting suite.
Consider gifting in January instead of for the holidays, The unexpected surprise in a month that is traditionally difficult for both weather and mental health is a wonderful way to show people that you care about their well-being. To avoid holiday disappointments, consider a very small token or card with a note that 2021 will carry a delightful surprise (or some other way of letting them know that they haven’t been forgotten).
No matter what experiences you decide to do, here are some tips to help:
Not sure what everyone will want to do? Give your group up to four options that they can vote on. This helps create a sense of community before the event even starts – and you never know who may be inspired to offer to help!
Plan around the personalities and skill sets of the people in your group. This might mean choosing activities that they a wider group will enjoy, or specifically (non-randomly) grouping people into teams based non-randomly. This helps ensure that everyone feels comfortable (for example, Game of Thrones-themed trivia won’t be much fun for people who haven’t watched the show).
If you’re working with a large group, find ways to break out into one or more smaller groups. We’ve all been on the 15-person video call where no one knows whose turn it is to speak. Small groups are where the magic of connection tends to happen, so create those opportunities.
Ask questions, because questions build community. Asking people what they miss, what they need, or what they would enjoy means you don’t have to guess. It also helps people feel cared for and valued. Carry this curiosity through your experience with ice breakers. These can be lighthearted, like “Fruitcake: good idea or bad idea?” or more serious, like “What do you most wish for in the New Year?”
Looking for specific resources? Just reach out to us and we can help you out!