How to Plan an Actually-Fun Virtual New Year's Eve Party

Who says you have to go out to have a good time on New Year’s Eve? This year, host a virtual party with friends to end 2020 on a high note.

How to Plan a Virtual New Year's Eve Party
Photo: Kat Slootsky

While we're all eager to bid 2020 a final farewell, New Year's Eve this year will still look much different from years before. Big dance parties, bar bashes, and other large gatherings may be off the table for the foreseeable future, but — believe it or not — it is absolutely possible to throw a virtual celebration that's just as fun and memorable as any IRL fête.

Forget what you think you know about awkward Zoom happy hours — with the right planning, a virtual New Year's Eve party can exceed your expectations, and help you and your friends kick-off 2021 feeling just as close and connected as ever. We turned to the experts (who, in the age of COVID now have plenty of digital parties under their belt), to get their best advice for hosting an online celebration to ring in the new year.

1. Pick an activity.

The major factor that sets a virtual get-together apart from an IRL one: "You can't recreate the cocktail party," says Laura Reitsma, owner of event planning company Fierce Productions. No matter how big or how small your invite list (more on that later), you need to plan a group activity. Your options for said activity are wide, and the best one will depend on the sort of crowd you're hosting. You can do trivia, karaoke, tarot readings, bingo, or even hire an entertainer to virtually join your party: a DJ, comedian, drag performer, singer, etc.

The New Year is also a great opportunity to reflect and foster a sense of community — that's why Jessica Carrillo, founder of LA-based party planning company Art & Soul Events, recommends asking guests to be prepared to share a resolution, something they learned in 2020, or their hope for 2021 as a way to cap off the night. "After everyone is vulnerable with each other, they feel more connected," she says. "I really do think that's a great way to start a new year." Just be sure to give your guests a head's up, either in your invitations or at the beginning of the party, what you'll be asking them to share so no one is put on the spot.

2. Decide your budget.

With a bigger budget, you can send guests goodie bags with crowns and noise-makers ahead of time, send a meal, dessert, or a bottle of champagne to everyone, or hire someone to teach a class (mixology, perhaps?). If you want less planning stress, hiring a production team or party planner can make the virtual celebration feel even more special and polished, says Reitsma. Since planners already have relationships with DJs, catering companies, and other relevant vendors, they can easily secure any extras that can put your celebration over the top.

3. Pick a theme.

"One easy way to help people to connect is to have a dress code," says Reitsma. "It will help everyone feel like they're actually attending a party." For New Year's, there are plenty of fun themes to try. You can go for classic black and white, disco, glitter, or even have a pajama party. Even more niche themes — based on TV characters, puns, or celebrities — are always welcome, too. If you want to up the stakes, Carrillo suggests giving a prize to the best dressed: For example, a gift card to a local small business.

How to Plan a Virtual New Year's Eve Party
Kat Slootsky

4. Send your invitations.

Even if people aren't attending in-person parties this year, New Year's Eve remains a busy night, so you'll want to send your invites early, about three weeks to a month in advance. Sometime after Thanksgiving but before mid-December is the sweet spot, Reitsma says.

As for how many people to invite, that depends on what kind of activity you're planning. If you're going for a general dance party or playing a crowd-friendly game like bingo, or if you're hiring an entertainer, the more the merrier. If you're doing a team-based game like trivia, or a more intimate activity like tarot readings, Carrillo recommends inviting up to 20 people. It all depends on what kind of vibe you want the night to have.

Once you send your invitations, make sure you get your RSVPs in early if you're going for a smaller soirée (a week and a half before the party or so), or later is fine if you're hosting a big bash where the number of people tuning in will have less of an effect on your planning. Then, be sure to send a reminder the day-of with the proper link to tune in.

5. Share your timeline.

When detailing the time of your party in your invitations, be specific. "Set the expectation right up front that there's a start time," Carrillo says. Especially when you have an activity planned, you don't want people joining the Zoom too late. Adding an end time is also a good idea — for a virtual celebration, Carrillo recommends aiming for an hour and a half.

Whether or not you plan your party to lead up to an actual New Year's countdown is up to you and what you think your guests would most enjoy. If you host your party earlier than when the clock strikes twelve, though, you can still end the evening with a toast to the new year.

6. Form a production team.

No one has to do it all — that's why it's a good idea to rope in a friend or two to help you pull off your virtual party, according to Reitsma. Most importantly, you'll need to find a host and a producer. The host should be someone outgoing, who knows how to keep the party going in a crowd — they'll be the one leading everyone through your designated activity, facilitating group conversations, and making sure that everyone feels included, especially the introverts who might not pipe up often on their own. The producer is the person who handles any technological troubleshooting, break-out rooms, and party pacing. If you're planning the party, you can choose to take on either role — just make sure you have another person to support you in the other position.

7. Have a dress rehearsal.

Another major way virtual parties differ from in-person ones? A simple technological snafu can shut it all down in an instant. That's why both Reitsma and Carrillo recommend having a dress rehearsal beforehand. The week of the party or so, set aside 30 minutes to an hour with the host, producer, and maybe one more volunteer to make sure you've got a handle on setting up your Zoom with a waiting room, using break-out groups, and any other more technical aspects of the party (if there's anything you're uncertain about, don't shy away from a good YouTube tutorial). Then, an hour before the party, make sure your WiFi is set and everything is in position to go smoothly. From there, all you have to do is make sure everyone has fun, and the new year will already be off to a great start.

Photographs by Kat Slootsky, assisted by Ricky Jackson. Model: Lee Armoogam for Casting by Margeaux. Styling by Samantha Sutton. Hair and Makeup by Yui Ishibashi. Beauty direction by Kayla Greaves. Production by Kelly Chiello.

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