Organizing a Virtual Baby Shower

My brother and his wife have lived in many places, but have not lived close by in years.  He’s often said he’s not coming back to Massachusetts, which has never really bothered me.  But, when they announced last year that they were having twins, I really started to feel the distance. I wanted to celebrate with them and our family, but this was going to be near impossible without traveling to see them.  If they lived close by, then throwing a baby shower would have been a no-brainer, but this was not going to be case.

So I started to look around to see how we could celebrate with them, and use web 2.0 technology as a tool to do that.  I’ve been a big SKYPE user for a couple of years now, and began to wonder if there was a way to use that as a mechanism to gather our family virtually.  I also investigated using streaming video software on a free platform like DimDim or LiveStream, but upon a closer look this required more logistical coordination with my brother’s computer and with him being in Portland, OR, that would have been tough.

Based on that research, I decided to use SKYPE as the tool for our communication.  It’s a free computer- to-computer communication tool, and uses the Internet as the “phone line”.  It has video capabilities too, and if your computer has a microphone and video camera, then it’s a snap to use.  Even if a computer does not have video or a microphone, it’s relatively cheap to pick up a web cam and mike (under $100 for a Windows PC).  I have a Mac and everything is built right in.  I did decide to purchase a separate web cam though, because the field of view in my built-in camera is limited and my vision for orchestrating this was on a grander scheme :-).  Keep in mind that Mac peripherals like web cams cost more than a Windows system and it’s important to make sure the technology purchased is compatible with Macs.  Not every web cam out there works with a Mac.

So here’s how everything went, the good, bad and the ugly:

1.  I had my brother purchase a web cam so we could “see” them for the shower call.  We tested out our SKYPE video a few times leading up to the shower date to make sure they were set and ready.

2.  I sent out an email invitation to everyone on our “list”. This work is no different than planning other showers, except that everything is done electronically and you need working email addresses.  The invitation outlined the date/time, and informed everyone we were using SKYPE and required setting up a free account.  On the invitations, I intially set it up on Evite.com, which lets you manage RSVPs online.  But I found it that folks needed a registered account to make it work, and that created confusion.  I heard from several people with problems.  I followed up with a regular email to everyone and ended up sticking with that vs. using the Evite system.

For the gift coordination, I shared all baby shower registry information, and set a deadline to mail gifts to my sister-in-law by a certain date.  The goal here was to have her open the gifts using the video feature on SKYPE and share with us the goodies.

3.  I requested an RSVP with their SKYPE user name.

4.  I encouraged people to gather together in groups to minimize confusion and encourage a family celebration.  I held a small gathering at my house for my local family, had appetizers and such just like a regular shower.  This worked well, and we had 4 groups in different states gathered which made the coordination much easier.  You can have up to 20 people on a SKYPE call at once, but it can get overwhelming trying to sort through that many contacts.

5.  I sent out email reminders before the gift deadline and a couple of days before the shower, and reminded folks to sign up for SKYPE if they had not done so.

6.  I wanted to kick things up a notch and broadcast this gala event on my TV and not use my computer as the main screen.  I have a 50″ widescreen TV, and it would make viewing for our guests much easier and more exciting.  Plus, I wanted my brother and sister-in law to see everyone at our house too, hence the external web cam made it easier to set up and place in a strategic location near my laptop.  I had to buy a special cable to make the Laptop to TV connection – I did a few Internet searches, found an online cable company, called their tech support line because I had no clue what I needed…. and thankfully they were helpful and ordered me a cable!  Make sure to test things out before hand to make sure it works!  Do this at least 2 weeks in advance to give you time to return something if it doesn’t work the first time.  The cable I purchased was for video only. I found out after I could have done an audio/video connection but my laptop sufficed with its speakers for the audio portion.

7.  On the day of the party, I connected with everyone on SKYPE and set a specific “call” time.

8.  At the call time, I used SKYPE’s “start a conference call”.  I found out that this is not the same as a “Video conference call”.  To do a video conference call, everyone needed the latest version of SKYPE loaded on their computer.  Since there were four computers connecting, this was not a huge hassle, but it did set us back about 30 minutes.  Lesson learned here is make sure that everyone has the very latest software loaded.  You’d think that if folks set up a new account they would have the latest software, but this was not the case.  Because we were trying to access the video feature, SKYPE prompted us to what we needed to download.

Once we had everything right, the video call worked!  We had 4 locations with about 20 people total participating. SKYPE let’s you toggle between different video screens for those who were participating so we could see everyone and everyone could see us.  It was a blast, and watching everything on the big TV was a huge hit!  We could see my sister-in-law’s BIG belly, which was just hilarious because she was tiny to begin with and she was having twins.  We watched her open her gifts and share them with us, which was great.

We did not organize any games, it would have been challenging to coordinate.  We were just happy to pull the whole thing off.  After the call, we ended up calling back our relatives in Florida (who participated) and video chatted with them for awhile on the big screen.

While it wasn’t the same pomp and circumstance as a regular baby shower, we certainly had fun and shared in the joy and excitement with our family. Now we have everyone using SKYPE as a regular communication tool, and now that the babies are here, we can see them on the screen anytime we want.

SKYPE is truly a blessing and brings people together!

Don’t be afraid to give it a try…good luck!

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