Whether you organize a virtual trade show, a conference, or a festival, there’s always the right time in your online event to incorporate a virtual happy hour. Online events maximize networking and socializing opportunities, and virtual happy hours are a sure-fire way of lifting your attendees’ spirits. Gathering people who share similar interests in a relaxed setting stimulates knowledge sharing and social bonding, which are harder to occur during set-in-stone event sessions. This article delves into virtual happy hours’ secrets of success, and it’s a source of ideas for fun and engaging times with colleagues, partners, and new professional or personal acquaintances.

Virtual Happy Hour Tips

Keep your happy hour session small in numbers because if too many people gather in one networking session, you risk straying from your original goal and losing control of the session. However, if keeping the happy hour intimate isn’t possible, consider assigning a moderator to oversee communication. The moderator will keep conversations within the event’s theme and purpose while promoting healthy dialogue and interactional humor.

As the virtual happy hour’s organizer set expectations in advance. For example, invite participants to dress up or take screenshots during the virtual happy hour to create a virtual collage. We recommend making virtual happy hour meetings optional and removing the pressure to participate. That way, you will have in the room only those who are eager to attend and inclined to bring their fun and social sides forward.

Pick an Online Event Platform

At Balloon, we advocate for online events that add fun to the agenda as a way for participants to recharge, connect, or relax after consecutive hours of information overload. Besides, we care very much about maximizing participants’ networking opportunities. Virtual happy hours are an excellent way to combine event entertainment, networking, and sponsors’ engagement in one session.

You can create a customized general breakout session, name it Virtual Happy Hour, and invite a sponsor to sponsor, host, or moderate it from their virtual booth. A virtual happy hour on Balloon can be a VIP session for exclusive attendees with a higher-tier ticket, by-invitation-only, or a public session for all ticket types. Balloon is a user-friendly online event platform that strives to accommodate what you have envisioned for your online event.

Virtual Happy Hour Icebreakers

Icebreakers are witty communication techniques to get the conversation started or drive it towards a specific direction in settings where most people don’t know each other, such as a virtual happy hour that is part of a bigger event. Some examples of happy hour icebreakers are: Name something you are grateful for; What endeavor would you like to undertake when you have more time; What’s a hilarious video call incident you have witnessed. Virtual happy hours are supposed to be relaxing and fun. Avoid bringing on the surface topics such as politics, health, finances, etc.

Virtual Happy Hour Activities

The purpose of any virtual happy hour is to have fun, meet new people, and — why not — build long-term relationships in a friendly and casual setting. Here are some ideas to help participants relax, expand their knowledge, or unleash their creativity during a virtual happy hour.

1. Virtual Mixology Class

To lift attendees’ spirits, you may need to mix some ingredients. Book a professional mixologist to bring cocktail-making to your virtual happy hour session to engage attendees creatively and instill some competition among them. Mixologists are keen on personalizing the cocktails’ menu and including non-alcoholic drinks, so no attendee feels excluded. Purchase a package that delivers the mixology kit to participants’ doors or give attendees in advance the list of ingredients they should have in their kitchen to participate in the class. Either way, mixology classes are funny and an all-time favorite virtual happy hour activity.

2. Virtual Wine Tasting

Wine tasting makes us think of rustic wineries, sophisticated winemakers, and scenic vineyards in faraway places. However, thanks to online event platforms like Balloon, wine tasting can come to your home and be part of an outstanding virtual happy hour session. Wine tasting is an excellent excuse to start conversations with strangers around this shared experience while expanding your knowledge on pairing wine and food and the science behind producing good wine. Chilean, South African, French, or Californian, a good wine loosens everyone up and sets the mood for a merry happy hour.

3. Virtual Watch Parties

A favorite virtual happy hour idea among online event organizers is watch parties where participants watch a movie or a show and discuss it afterward. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon offer their watch parties through their services. However, each participant should have an individual account with the provider, which can be tricky. On Balloon, you can use the screen and sound sharing option to make it simple for everyone to participate in the watch party without technical prerequisites. Besides, on Balloon you can set up a stage where you can stream Vimeo/YouTube/Wistia videos, so all attendees are simultaneously watching, commenting, and reacting on the chat.

4. Karaoke

Use Balloon to organize a karaoke happy hour. Entrust a host with creating the playlist by collecting participants’ songs in advance. During the karaoke, the host will be responsible for the flow of the event by shouting out the singers and reminding non-singers to mute their mics. On Balloon’s chat, participants can go crazy on hilarious comments, cheering, and emojis. Karaoke singers should expect that their laptop’s mic won’t produce a rather musical sound, but then, we wouldn’t encourage anyone to invest in a professional mic because it will be unfair to the other karaoke singers. Props such as costumes, wigs, and microphone replacements (e.g., a toothbrush, hairspray bottle, etc.) are highly recommended.

5. Book Club

A book club is a refined way to bring people together in a virtual happy hour. Pick a book in advance (you can run a social media vote contest) and create a live discussion around its characters, plot, and moral of the story. The session’s moderator should have open-ended questions at hand to keep the conversation moving. If this happy hour is part of a major event, select a book that matches the event’s theme and purpose. You can search book titles on Goodreads’ 90-million-members community or America’s greatest, Oprah’s Book Club.

6. Virtual Art Night

Have you ever felt that your insecurity about getting it perfect has stopped you from using art to express yourself? The process of externalizing feelings and experiences through art shouldn’t be intimidating but relaxing, fun, and — why not — social. On Balloon events, you can share a Miro whiteboard directly in sessions and start collaborating on creating a piece of art online. Bring attendees’ imagination and creativity out by organizing a virtual art night as the prime happening of a happy hour. Qualified art teachers will boost confidence with simple instructions and interaction. Attendees can receive a paint kit or purchase the basics such as acrylic paints, a canvas, and paintbrushes to create their very own piece of artwork.

7. Virtual Dance Party

Philosopher Voltaire has said: “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” The reading we already did (#5); now let’s take care of the dancing. To organize a virtual dance party, prepare a playlist with songs that you expect attendees to know, and ideally like because they bring back happy memories from night-long university parties and summer holidays. At the time of the dance party, the host should share their screen and audio to make the music coming out from their device available to the participants. The only secret to success here is to free your mind, and the rest will follow.

8. Meditation Class

Some of the world’s biggest organizations offer meditation breaks to employees to help them let off work stress, improve creativity and decision-making, and boost efficiency. Turn your virtual happy hour into a short meditation practice, guiding attendees through mindfulness and rejuvenation. You will need a professional practitioner who will use their voice to draw everyone’s mental attention in the present moment and induce a relaxing state through breathwork and visualization. Organize a suitable session for all levels and inform attendees in advance about what they will need (e.g., a quiet room, a mat or comfortable seat, blanket, and loose clothes).

9. Yoga Class

Yoga is beneficial for our physical and mental health, and the good news is that it’s not only for those born flexible. If you want to give your event attendees an energy boost or a time of calm and clarity, organize a 30-minute yoga class with a professional teacher who will also introduce beginners to yoga — a discipline that connects the mind and the body. Virtual yoga classes help participants be themselves and adjust the poses to their ability rather than compete with others or worry about what they might think of their performance. When you send out the happy hour invitation, remind attendees to wear their comfy outfits, and have a mat and a water bottle at hand.

10. Music Discussion Night

If you are looking for a way to engage virtual happy hour attendees in a discussion and provoke their critical thinking, but you also want it to be fun and casual, consider a music discussion night. Who doesn’t think of music as relevant to emotions and entertainment and essential for the function of society? Invite participants to share their opinions on the mainstream music industry, music and feminism, or elitist views on classical music. To ensure everyone’s ideas are heard, create a panel of experts, and accept questions from the audience.

11. Virtual Museum Tour

Add art, history, and science education to your virtual happy hour by organizing a virtual museum tour. Since the pandemic, some of the world’s best museums and galleries (e.g., the British Museum, the Louvre, the Van Gogh Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, etc.) have made their collections available online. Transport virtual happy hour attendees to London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York City, and Seoul to enjoy insightful 360-degree museum tours. A plus of virtual museum tours is that audiences can stop in front of a masterpiece for as long as they like, explore the most minor details, and read descriptions without being interrupted or distracted by the crowds.

Virtual Happy Hour Themed Parties

Dedicate your virtual happy hour to a theme inspired by a decade, holiday, or a trend — anything that will incentivize guests to engage on the virtual event platform, use their imagination, and join the fun. Here are some virtual happy hour theme suggestions, but anything goes.

1. The ’80s Party

The era of moonwalking, tall mohawk hairstyles, Madonna, and the Ghost Busters is a guaranteed success for a virtual happy hour-themed party. Create colorful invitations, put together an ’80s playlist (starting with the I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston), announce a break dancing competition, and you are all set. Nevertheless, virtual parties run the risk of plateauing. Maintain engagement with trivia ’80s-themed games and convince guests to put on their shoulder pads and legwarmers by awarding the funkiest outfit at the end of the party. Remember to ask for selfies, and you will have social media content for days to come.

2. The ’90s Party

If you are organizing a virtual happy hour, and the majority of your audience is Millennials, think of Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Salt-N-Pepa, The Fugees. The ’90s is the age of MTV and video clips. Hence, timeless dance hits are essential for this throwback party. And yes, it’s acceptable to replace the audio cassettes and the boombox with YouTube. To make the party interactive, ask guests in advance to bring their favorite ’90s item and present it to the other guests. You will be surprised at how many of these items we keep as memorabilia.

3. Holiday Party

The holiday is around the corner, and you want to create festive memories for your employees, partners, and friends. There are several ways to go about a virtual holiday event. Since most attendees will be joining from home, ask them to wear their holiday-themed PJs. Or, run an ugly holiday sweater contest. The bakers in the house can share holiday baking recipes and the crafters decorating tips, and everyone can join with hot chocolate in hand. Ask guests in advance to prepare a few words to share about what they are grateful for. Holidays are usually the time of the year our sensitivities and kindness shine brighter. So, consider collecting donations for a cause in replacement of presents’ exchange, which isn’t practical at virtual holiday parties.

4. Halloween Party

Who says Halloween is only for kids? Celebrated on October 31, Halloween is yet another excuse to throw a virtual happy hour. Set a spooky online scenery with creepy chat messages, spiders and witches in the background, and a scary wig for camouflage. It’s a virtual party, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot share fun activities with other participants and altogether ward off ghosts (as the tradition goes). For example, ask guests to buy in advance ingredients for orange cocktails, which you will make when you meet live, carve and decorate your pumpkins together while eating candy mixes, or bake cute Halloween-inspired cupcakes. Check out how much fun we had last year at Balloon's Halloween party. Boo!    

5. New Year’s Party

If you have never held a virtual happy hour before, New Year’s Eve is the best excuse to celebrate with family and friends who are on different time zones. To set the mood, prepare some new year’s themed conversation starters (e.g., attendees’ expectations from the upcoming year and never again new year’s resolutions). Encourage engagement by posting social media polls and asking attendees to vote for the best song, book, movie of the year. Throw a guessing game where each resolution (from a list of many) must be matched with an attendee. Last but not least, prepare attendees about the dress code in the invitation you will send out, so no guest feels out of place.

6. Futuristic Space Party

Futurism was an Italian-born art and social movement of the early 1900s, praising technology, speed, and modernity and calling for liberation from the past. A futuristic space party can be about human beings’ settlement on a new planet or fully automated life on earth in the late 4000s. It aims to reproduce a utopian fantasy through extravagant fashion (award the best costume on Instagram using the party’s dedicated hashtag) and extraterrestrial-inspired decorations for your background or screen frame. Not sure how to go about it? Browse through Star Trek episodes or Lady Gaga’s Instagram account for ideas.

7. Around-the-World Party

Want to induce curiosity about places and cultures among your attendees? Or celebrate a specific country and tradition? Then, the around-the-world happy hour idea is the right one for you. Invite everyone to dress up characteristically for the destination (think creatively rather than stereotypically), play local music, and give a destination-influenced menu to your virtual guests to prepare at home in advance. Decorate your background with flags, printed images from the destination (e.g., sights, sports, nature, celebrities), and boarding passes.

8. Virtual Black-Tie Gala

Awards ceremonies, milestone birthday parties, fundraising balls — are all good reasons to plan a black-tie gala. The timeless dress code (i.e., slim-cut suit and long velvet or silk dress) and proper behavior are the most notable characteristics of a black-tie gala. Nevertheless, with virtual black-tie galas, you can unleash your creativity. For example, deliver to guests sparkling wine and ask them to prepare their dinner at home along with an easy-to-make cocktail recipe. To incentivize guests who may try to get away with violating the dress code, offer a prize for anyone who did put on their black-tie best. To boost audiences’ engagement, create multiple small breakout sessions (watch our video tutorial on how to create breakout sessions on Ballon) and encourage guests to move from one virtual table to another. For speeches and live music performances have a main stage, where you will showcase all of the hard work you have put in the virtual gala.

Play Virtual Happy Hour Games

If well-being activities, virtual classes, and themed parties aren’t your thing, we come to your rescue with these fun and interactive virtual happy hour games. Also, virtual games can function as breakout sessions and create a bonding experience among attendees of a bigger event. To this end, include customized games, which highlight your event’s purpose and brand’s value. Let’s play!

1. Bingo

Bingo appeared just before the Renaissance in Italy as a lottery game. It quickly evolved as the world’s favorite party game, and now it dominates online parties too. No matter how many happy hour invitees you have, Bingo is equally fun among small and large groups. To play, generate the numbers through a Bingo app or create homemade bingo cards (traditional numbered cards or with words to fit your party’s theme, occasion, etc). Attendees who don’t have a printer at home can screenshot their card, upload it on a photo editor, and mark the elements with the draw tool. The winner is who ticks off all the numbers/words from their card first. So, memorize your card and listen up for your numbers until you go Bingo!

2. Whisper Challenge

If you are an ’80s kid, you probably remember it as the telephone game. Someone whispered a word into your year, and you had to say it to the next player and so on. The last player said out loud what was whispered to them, which had nothing to do with the original statement (hence it is fun). Whisper challenge is the modernized version where players use headphones and music to cancel noise. A player says a word or phrase, and the next in line reads their lips. Then they transfer what they heard (or think that they heard) to the next player. All players take their headphones off when the word reaches the last person. Prepare for a good laugh as the last player’s version is a long way off from the original.

3. Never Have I Ever

Never have I ever is an excellent virtual happy hour idea because it doesn’t require props, and the rules are simple. Ask participants to hold up their hand and say something they have never done taking turns. Never have I ever attended a virtual happy hour. Since all players are now at a virtual happy hour, they must all put down one finger. The player who has put the least fingers down by the end of the game wins. Never have I ever can be funny, embarrassing, and revealing. So, depending on the type of participants and environment you play in, don’t be overly indiscreet because the last thing you want is to have offended people in tears.

4. Virtual Happy Hour Trivia

If you organize a happy hour as part of a bigger online event, incorporate quiz-like trivia games to spread awareness about your brand, exhibitors, and sponsors. To fuel engagement and return on investment, hire a professional trivia host who will customize the questions to highlight your business. Usually, participants have to download the quizzes on a mobile phone app to join the game. Consider countdown trivia to keep everyone in suspense. Players have a few seconds to answer a question, and the faster they are, the more points they earn. As time is ticking away, points decrease, as well as the player’s position on the leaderboard.

5. Simon Says Game

One person is Simon and tells other players what to do. For example, “Simon says smile,” and everyone must smile. However, if the order doesn’t begin with, “Simon says,” players shouldn’t obey, and if they do, they are out of the game. The game’s objective is to be the last player standing and become the next Simon, who tries to confuse players and make them follow commands they shouldn’t. Other countries use different names (all male) for the leader, but Simon is the American version. You can suggest using a female name instead and using this virtual happy hour game as a means to pass gender transformative messages.

6. Virtual Pictionary

Apart from a tool for workplace collaboration and brainstorming, a digital whiteboard app is a handy virtual pictionary tool. To play, divide happy hour’s participants into teams. Use an online random (or category-based) word generator and ask the drawer of the first team to draw the word on the whiteboard in one minute. The drawer’s team has to guess the word to get the point. Time goes fast, and players can get steamed up about not understanding what the drawer paints or about the player who rushes to guess, and the team loses the turn. Using pen and paper for virtual pictionary is possible, but your team can only see the end result. To avoid arguments, assign a moderator to keep the score and time.

7. Cards Against Humanity

Cards Against Humanity may be a disturbing game for people who are easily offended or overly concerned with saying the right thing. If you are confident that your values and ethics have deep roots, and don’t feel a game will threaten them, then bring this satirical card game to your virtual happy hour. One player picks a black card with a question or statement, and the others submit the most inappropriate, funny, or inside joke-driven white card from the ones they hold to answer or complete it. The person with the black card chooses his favorite pick. The winner is the person whose white cards were picked the most times. There are online versions of the game, but the creators aren’t the original CAH team.  

8. Scattergories

This old-school game will squeeze your brain. Agree with all players on the categories, have a paper and pen, and access to a letter generator online. All players have two minutes to fill the categories with words starting with the generated letter. For example, the letter is ‘B’ and the categories are celebrities, animals, authors, and countries. The winner’s answers would look like this: Bobby Brown, bat, Samuel Beckett, and Bolivia. The idea is to think of the least common answers because you don’t get a point if your answer matches another player’s. Also, you cannot repeat the same answer for two categories (e.g., orange for color and fruit).

9. Sneak It In

Inspired by The Tonight Show starring American comedian Jimmy Fallon, Sneak It in will add improvisation, fun, and vocabulary practice to your virtual happy hour. On Balloon, you can divide attendees into groups with Balloon’s intimate cocktail tables. Each group decides on a word or phrase to sneak into the conversation that will occur when all teams come together — without, however, any of the other teams guessing that this word isn’t a genuine part of the conversation. Each team has to say aloud their word or phrase as many times as possible without being caught by the other teams. The most fun part is to see how the conversation keeps diverting according to the words that teams are trying to sneak in. One moment you may be talking about your work, and the next about a wolf in the forest.

10. Charade

Charade is a speedy guessing game, excellent for anticipation and excitement building, which will make all happy hour participants laugh. Divide attendees into teams and give them one minute to give clues to or mime for their teammates, helping them guess celebrity names, historical leaders, sports, or activities such as walking the dog and attending a virtual event. Assign a charade host to present the words and names (ideally on the virtual event platform’s chat) to the alternating teams. The game ends when all words the host had prepared have been used, and the winning team is the one with the most correct guesses.

11. Virtual Escape Room

Do you want a virtual happy hour that promotes teamwork, observation skills, problem-solving, and time management in a fun, out-of-office environment? Then, look no further than virtual escape rooms. The goal is to escape the room in a limited time by solving puzzles and riddles linked to a mission (e.g., rescue someone, catch a murderer, save the planet, etc.). Virtual escape rooms with many players will require a host and a live camera-equipped guide, who is physically present in the escape room and acts as the players’ eyes and ears. Most escape room providers have gone online, and they sync with online event platforms like Balloon. A great sponsorship idea for high ROI is to customize the game and dedicate it to a sponsor.

Incorporating fun and interactive activities when planning your virtual event is essential in order to keep the attention of your audience throughout the event. Balloon ensures you have all the tools to accommodate your participants' engagement and networking needs. If you need our help, chat with our team on Balloon’s homepage, or contact us via email.