As some people have opted to hold small, socially distant parties, others have chosen to do theirs virtually. Atlanta event planners offered many tips for people who decide to go this route, and emphasized that both planners and party vendors know how to pivot in the fluid environment of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Event planner Melissa Miller of MMEventsAtlanta said people are understandably disappointed about postponing events and family being unable to travel. “Thank G-d for Zoom, but you’ve got to make it as special as possible for these kids and their parents. They have grief for this. It’s a loss they’re entitled to. I think people are just trying to make lemonade out of lemons right now.”
Tara Kornblum of Bluming Creativity said the most important aspect of shifting to a virtual or distant event is figuring out what really matters to whoever’s party it is. “Talk to your child about what really matters to them and create something that works for what they want instead of guessing,” she said of b’nai mitzvahs and other celebrations. “Something different matters to each child and it’s about making that child’s day special.”
Here are some ways to add some excitement and festivity to online events.
If you choose to hold your life cycle event or party over Zoom, vendors have the ability to be flexible. You can hire many companies to do live entertainment virtually, as well as specialists to set up the Zoom or livestream professionally.
“DJs now can do virtual games and trivia and stuff online that’s really cool,” Miller said. “A lot of the vendors — photographers, videographers, DJs — have pivoted their businesses to offer Zoom services. They’ll come and in addition to taking photos — because you should still use your photographer and videographer even if you do a small virtual ceremony — they pivoted, they know how to do Zoom. That’s really advantageous.”
One way to make an isolated day feel more like a celebration is to set up a yard sign to surprise the person of honor. One company that can do this is Sign Greeters. Stacie Francombe launched her business in the middle of the pandemic, and it has been a big hit for people who want to make event days special. To add to the excitement of someone’s birthday, baby naming, b’nai mitzvah, or any other occasion, you can hire Sign Greeters to come set up a fun and elaborate yard sign with bright graphics and festive balloons. “Our tagline is delivering smiles one yard at a time and the truth of the matter is that’s what it does,” Francombe said.
Sign Greeters does the installation at night or early in the morning and then takes it down the next day. “For the most part, they are a surprise, a fun surprise at that,” Francombe said. “It’s a positive thing in an environment that’s not so positive.” www.signgreeters.com/
As a surprise for b’nai mitzvah kids, graduates, and other life cycle events that have needed to go virtual, consider ordering specially made T-shirts to send out to guests before the Zoom call. For her sons’ college graduation, Melissa Miller planned a daylong celebration that included Zooming with family and friends.
Beforehand, she made T-shirts and sent them out so that when her sons joined the call, everyone was wearing the same graduation shirts to honor the boys. “One of my clients sent their logo that they had made to all of their relatives and friends and asked them to print it out in color and pin it to their shirts,” Miller said.
Out-of-town family that is unable to travel can still be included in a bar or bat mitzvah. Kornblum said she’s been putting together b’nai mitzvah boxes with personalized items, similar to what guests would pick up at the in-person event.
“They get a kippah and other little things so they feel like they’re part of the weekend,” Kornblum said. Care packages can also be sent to guests for other types of events. “A really nice curated box that has a personalized mask and hand sanitizer, branded cookie, a bag of monogrammed candies – not chocolate because it will melt,” Miller said. For b’nai mitzvah and birthday parties, “They’re sending all the party favors to the kids who would have come,” she said. A copy of the photo montage can be sent in the gift box, and also can be showed on Zoom.
Another way to make virtual guests feel included in an event is to make it interactive. For a b’nai mitzvah, honors can still be given out to family: “Either an aliyah or to read one of the English prayers or something like that,” Kornblum said. Karen Segal of Your Party by Karen mentioned that any online event that involves guest interaction should be monitored to make sure it’s all done professionally, and that people are muted or unmuted at the right times.
For corporate events, webinars and parties, it could really boost the ambiance to implement a virtual background. Segal said anyone can upload a photo as a Zoom background, but she recommends using professionals like Active Production and Design. “The key is to create a background that’s professional,” she said. “If you’re talking to a group of people, I’d have books in the background, a company logo; keep it simple and not distracting,” Segal said. “If it’s a caterer, you can set up some food.”
Keep it Professional
If you’re running an industry or corporate event, it’s important to stay as professional as possible. Segal, who has been involved in a number of such events, said that even with industry happy hours, there is a way “to be energetic, to be in a party mode, but still be professional. …The host or hostess for the happy hour will ask a question like how’s everybody doing during this pandemic, current problems or solutions since the last happy hour, and they talk about the state of the industry with drinks in hand.” For larger webinars, the host can still keep it interactive by having guests send in questions via chat. “It’s also key that they are professionally dressed, wearing pants and everything because people have been busted without that too!” Segal added.
Splurge a Little
In lieu of a large party, virtual events can allow some wiggle room for splurging on more extravagant decor while still spending far less money. Miller said some families have opted for buying more elaborate decorations and cakes. “Some of the bakers make the most beautiful cakes,” Miller said. “One of those custom cakes can cost $300. A lot of parents might not want to do that when they’re spending thousands and thousands of dollars on a party, but now they can.” Some people who had been planning a large party are repurposing their centerpieces as well. “They’re using them on the bimah when they do their at-home virtual service,” Miller said.
Whether events are done fully online or small celebrations are held in person as well, food can be distributed to local guests. Caterers now have the option for no-contact dinners. “Many caterers are providing Shabbat dinners now for pickup,” Segal said. Guests could pick up their meals and bring them home for a virtual event or eat socially distant from one another at small outdoor gatherings. Another way to make this more fun is to hire a food truck. Miller mentioned Paige Nathan’s Atlanta-based food truck company called Food with Purpose. “Even people who are just doing [a small event with] their family might get a food truck,” Miller said.