Hosting Successful Virtual Mixers: Lessons Learned from the North Carolina Regional Chapter

By Megan Knuth posted 16 days ago


Megan Knuth and Samantha Hall are the authors of this post.

This year has presented many challenges for local, regional, and national societies as we transition our annual meetings to a virtual platform. The North Carolina Regional Chapter (NC SOT) had our own experience with this transition mid-September as we organized and hosted our Annual Meeting over WebEx. Despite the meeting being virtual, our student representatives did not want to cancel our Annual Student/Postdoc Mixer, which traditionally serves as an opportunity for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc members to network over food and games. Instead, we decided to host a virtual mixer over Zoom to facilitate networking and have some fun with a few “Zoom-friendly” games.

Zoom Background Contest

For our mixer, we decided on three games, and the individual who accumulated the most points across all three games was the winner, receiving a $50 Amazon gift card. We started the afternoon off with a Zoom background contest, which allowed attendees to have some fun expressing themselves with the Zoom background feature. If you are not familiar with this feature, you can find it in the control settings, or visit Google for a brief tutorial. We did not select a theme or a set of criteria for judging the contest; rather, we had all attendees vote for their favorite background in the chat box by private messaging the judge of that round. The winner of the background contest received two points for that round.

Tox Trivia

Next, we played a trivia game by presenting a PowerPoint slide for each question followed by the answer. All trivia questions had a toxicology theme and were based on either the fundamentals of toxicology or topics presented during our Annual Meeting. Rather than having teams, each individual was given the opportunity to answer the question in the chat box, and the first individual to answer the question correctly was awarded the point(s). Each question was worth one point, unless it was a two-part question (worth two points) or otherwise stated. There was a possibility of 17 points for this round.

Scavenger Hunt

The final event of the afternoon was a scavenger hunt worth 20 points, with one point per item. The premise of the scavenger hunt was to find the item named or described by the judge and show the item to everyone on Zoom. The first person to hold the correct item up to their camera received a point. Items included things like a business card with your name on it, a scientific poster, hand sanitizer, and a thumb drive. We tried to choose items that could be found either within the lab or at home to make it fair for all contestants. At the end of all three games, total points were tallied, and the winner was announced. We were then able to send the winner their $50 Amazon gift card prize virtually.

Lessons Learned from a Virtual Mixer

For others considering virtual mixers, some advice we must share: Consider how your attendees will participate! We had attendees participate in a variety of ways: from laptop or phone, from home or lab, with video and without. Some of your attendees might not be able to use virtual backgrounds, and some may not be able to use video at all.

We tried to incorporate a variety of activities so that everyone would be able to participate in some way—like voting for their favorite Zoom background. For trivia, we had everyone use the “chat” feature to submit their answers, making it a contest of accuracy and speed. Our trivia questions were displayed by simply sharing PowerPoint slides, but there are other virtual trivia options to consider trying, like Kahoot! Our virtual scavenger hunt was a lot of fun, but be sure to remind your guests to turn off their virtual background or their items may not show up on the video. We would suggest setting a time limit, maybe 20–30 seconds, for people to find each item. It might also be better to give points for participation rather than speed because with too many people, it can be harder to judge who was the first to find an item. Be sure to include items you could find at home or at the lab!

All in all, our first virtual mixer was a great time, and we thank all the organizers and trainees who made it a success!

Thank you to the NC SOT officers who made the 2020 Student/Postdoc Mixer a huge success!
Left to right: Daniel Luo (Postdoc Rep-Elect),
Megan Knuth (Graduate Student Rep), Sam Hall
(Graduate Student Rep-Elect), Anjali Kumari (Undergraduate Rep), Dantae King (Undergraduate Rep).