My Learnings hosting a Zoom Birthday Party

Radhika Mohta
6 min readSep 16, 2020


Every year, on my partner’s birthday, we travel somewhere — either to explore something new or spend time with our loved ones in their environment. This year is obviously different. So, I hosted a Zoom birthday party for cyber celebrations. Here’s what I learned:

Surprises heighten attention: I shipped out a packet of eggless cake mix via Amazon, a week before the digital gathering to each one of the invitees. While asking for postal addresses, people were intrigued on what might show up in their mailbox. This built excitement and added an element of surprise in everyone’s lives. (Despite that, we only had a 50% turnout on the Zoom call.)

Logistics ain’t easy: After placing 26 orders of the same product on Amazon, I was denied the power of placing an order for the same product. If only I could tell them that I wasn’t a hoarder and each one of these had a different shipping address! It was still easier to trust Amazon and let them manage the logistics while I sit back and track orders. Oh and that upper limit led to me confiding in the birthday boy that I needed his account details to invite people to his birthday party! Did I say there were friends who are September-born and thought I was sending them a birthday surprise?!

Shared experiences matter: Hours before the Zoom party, our loved ones started baking with the cake mix. My WhatsApp inbox was greeted with pictures of beautifully decorated cakes. While the base was the same for everyone, some chose Gems while others came up with chocolate sauce and other yummylicious items to top their cake. Physical distancing, Social solidarity!

Murphy’s law on D-day: We had a power outage for over eight hours. While we have an inverter in place now, there was a brief period before the call when Wifi stopped working and I was concerned we’ll have to ush our limits with mobile data for a Zoom call. When it was time to bake for the birthday boy, our food processor could not run on power backup! So I tried a hassle-free Parle-G cake by mixing a lot of biscuits in warm milk, added some malai, milk, baking powder, baking soda, oil and nuts. After 40 minutes in the gas oven on sim, “this smelled heavenly and tasted delicious”, said the boy.

Technical difficulty level varies: We invited family and friends ranging from four-year olds to 85-year olds. While our four-year old niece is now getting comfortable with Zoom, thanks to her online classes, my grandparents had a tough time logging into Zoom while using mobile data. I fielded last-minute calls to address all such queries.

Embracing digital togetherness: As we logged in to the Zoom call using the same laptop, I was focused on handling operations stuff like admitting guests to the call, helping him navigate Zoom better since he uses Google Meet on a regular basis and is fairly unfamiliar with Zoom. It felt like a fish market when it started. I mean it. Nobody could make sense of what was happening. (Yes, I shall log in from a different system the next time so that I can silently manage the backend). So people kept showing up all of a sudden, depending on when they logged in, how great was their Internet connectivity and when they chose to unmute themselves and speak. The birthday boy had a tough time going through the Gallery and Participant list to see who was speaking and where he could focus to respond.

Friends come to rescue: Our extroverted friends who could become your best friends within minutes of having met you — started engaging with people on how was everyone’s baking experience, getting a speech from the birthday boy and coming up with some fictitious world questions like: Given Radhika and her WowSurprises, she could surprise you with anything. So what if she got you a boat one day, what would you name it? His response: Naukasan. (Yes, he has taken to Yoga and Meditation lately)

Drop Offs and retention: There was a sharp decline in the number of attendees, 25 minutes into the session as we decided to enter the breakout rooms. It was overwhelming to be a good host and a digital party facilitator at the same time. I could understand how some people may not feel seen and heard in a large gathering. Some may have felt that their presence won’t matter or get noticed and dropped off. (Starting off at the same time and getting into activities can avoid these issues but with loved ones, it’s difficult to enforce timings)

Brace yourselves for breakout rooms: I’d have ideally liked to manually do this and ensure one round of grouping people from similar backgrounds and another round of introducing new people to each other. Yet we went ahead with automatically assigning people to breakout rooms for a 10-minute conversation. An icebreaker prompt was given to ensure people get talking. We had six rooms and we joined each one of those for about 1–2 minutes to personally say HI and thank our loved ones for joining in.

Cake cutting ceremony: We were nearly 35 minutes into the session when we asked everyone to join in with their cakes. Almost everyone had brought this in the beginning of the call and some even asked when they could start eating! The birthday boy along with all the guests held their cakes up to the screen and cut it as we burst into “Happy Birthday to you… Happy Birthday to you…” I could have cried at that show of support and strength as the two of us looked at each other and fed a piece of cake while our loved ones looked on and had their share.

Introducing our favourite people: Our guests joined from Bhilwara, Tonk, Behrod, Gorakhpur, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Indore, Noida, Mumbai, Bangalore and all parts of India. Some of them had never met each other while a lot of them had only heard about each other through us. So I ran a marathon of introductions to spotlight people, how I know them/ their work/ what they mean to us. Exactly a minute before an hour, we called it a wrap, thanked everyone for joining us and said we’d be around if anybody wanted to stay longer/ hang out. One by one, the thumbnails went off as people waved at us to see us another time. Few more minutes and we ended the Zoom meeting, only to jump on a WhatsApp video call — the comfort that comes from familiarity for elders on WhatsApp is unthinkable.

Standing Out, Blending In: We had a colourful backdrop with planters and puppets and balloons thrown in. The birthday boy wore a balloon hat throughout the call to stand out in the Gallery view! At some point when he took off his hat, people nudged him to wear it again!

One size does not fit all: We had people join in without a cake for varied reasons — health choices, too lazy/ busy to bake, under home isolation for testing positive. And in one case, I shipped them Kaadha with a set of ceramic kulhads since they are an elderly couple. I had also checked with friends who have diabetes if it was acceptable to send them cake mix. One lazy/busy founder friend showed up with a bakery-bought Cheesecake and pastry since he didn’t want to show up empty-handed on the call!

P.S. I am still writing after-party thank you notes to be sent to our guests. These are going out in digital form to save the operational effort of going to a post office/ tracking shipments again.

P.P.S. For those outside India: To sync up on a time that works for you would have been demanding and we decided to save that effort this time. We are definitely looking at multiple Zoom parties/ different time slots in the same Zoom meeting that suit different time zones in the coming celebrations.

The writer hosts Remote Games — virtual employee engagement activities for companies. Referrals welcomed.



Radhika Mohta

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