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When Travel Stopped, This Agency Went From Planning Corporate Retreats to Virtual Whodunnits via Zoom

When Travel Stopped, This Agency Went From Planning Corporate Retreats to Virtual Whodunnits via Zoom

COVID-19 dealt a devastating blow to the travel industry in the early months of 2020, forcing companies like Moniker, a corporate retreat planning agency, to cancel a full calendar of events. Founder and managing partner, Sean Hoff, faced a difficult choice: reinvent the business, or accept a huge revenue loss.

Hoff decided to rebrand Moniker not just as a travel agency, but as a culture-building company that helps teams develop camaraderie, practice collaboration, and improve engagement. Virtual experiences allowed the agency to continue working with corporate teams toward those goals — just in a different way.

Immersive virtual experiences, entirely on Zoom

“We were hesitant to pivot to virtual at first,” Hoff said. “There’s a lot of mediocre virtual events out there, and we didn’t want to be seen as jumping on the bandwagon.” 

Hoff and his team went through rigorous rounds of research and development before debuting their first experience, a virtual murder mystery custom-built for the Zoom platform, two months after travel lockdowns began. 

“We tested Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Google Meet, and we decided Zoom was going to be our de facto platform,” Hoff said. “Then, we started stretching Zoom to its limits, testing and getting to know every possible feature and then incorporating those features into our games.”

Along with its flagship virtual murder mystery, which has hosted up to 140 participants at a time, Moniker’s experiences include a “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition, a lunar disaster survival scenario (which has attracted clients like NASA), and a virtual escape room in an immersive 3D-rendered environment. 

Top 5 Zoom features for Moniker’s virtual experiences

According to Sydney Penman, Moniker’s operations manager who led extensive testing to adapt the agency’s concepts into the virtual world, Zoom was the only platform that had all the features needed to create immersive experiences from start to finish. Moniker’s virtual murder mystery was built around the following key features:

Renaming

“On platforms like WebEx you can’t rename other people, but with Zoom, you can. When our guests enter the meeting, our backend facilitators are busy renaming everyone with their assigned team numbers while the host and actors deliver the intro. Then the host says, ‘If you look at your Participants panel, you can see what team you’re assigned to.’ It’s so smooth, our guests often say, ‘Wow, when did that happen?’” 

Breakout Rooms

“We break people up into groups with pre-assigned Breakout Rooms. Each room has a character in it, all played by trained professional actors from a Canadian production company called 6AM. We label our Breakout Rooms as different places around this virtual mansion where the murder mystery is taking place, and guests get to move in between rooms to question different characters, so someone will interview the father of the groom in the basement or the bridesmaid in the bar.” 

80's Virtual Murder Mystery Promo

Virtual Backgrounds

“In our Breakout Rooms, our actors use Virtual Backgrounds to put them in the setting and create a more immersive audience experience — so you have the attic, the library, the cigar lounge, the study, and so on.”

Spotlight video

“When our actors get on stage to deliver their alibis, we mute everyone and have our staff spotlight the characters as they come up so it truly looks and feels like an actor taking center stage. It flows really well.”

Screen sharing

“We create a Google Doc that serves as each team’s respective players’ manual with a floor plan and character profiles. The team captain shares their screen and everyone can collaborate and add their notes from their interrogation. Pre-recorded videos are a big part of some of our games, and Microsoft Teams just didn’t do a good enough job of sharing videos with audio in sync, but you can do it easily with Zoom.”

Hoff said that it’s common for people to come into the room a skeptic and leave a convert. “People can’t imagine how the whole thing could be run on Zoom, but afterward they’re impressed with their experience and how smoothly everything ran.”

Explore all of Zoom’s features that can help your small- to medium-sized business stay agile with our Pro and Business plans. Looking for more creative ideas? Check out our blog post on improving customer experience in the digital age.

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