America’s favorite holiday season of food, family, and fun has to take a pause this year. And while we’re all really, really needing a hug right now (and a big piece of pumpkin pie slathered in whipped cream), we don’t have to give up on the being “together” part of Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners.
Try these ten tips for hosting (or joining) a virtual family gathering and you can still make some fun memories.
- Splurge (a little) on technology! Someone in the family needs to spring for the pro-level Zoom so you won’t have time limits or attendance limits. The monthly fee is low and totally worth it to spend as much time as you need to catch up. If someone in the family doesn’t have ready computer access, consider getting them a tablet or inexpensive laptop.
- Get the kids involved. Let the kids help plan activities! And because they’re digital natives, enlist them to help older folks and the non-technological family members set up or practice for the virtual meeting. Have them record a mini-tutorial on how to use your chosen platform, explain the mute (sound and video), and describe how to get onto the meeting with the link. Send this through email with your meeting invite
- Schedule it now. Choose a time convenient to all time zones and send the invitation out as soon as possible so everyone can plan ahead. Include a little agenda or invitation list so everyone knows what to expect.
- Have a pre-holiday get together! For many, Thanksgiving dinner is just the topper in a day or two of family fun while you all cook together and prepare. Schedule a “cooking night” meeting so Grandma or Mom can teach everyone how to make her secret stuffing or famous pecan pie.
- Be the hostess with the mostest. Engage everyone and give all your guests a chance to talk and participate. Some may be intimidated by the technology so help them along if you’re able. Make sure at the beginning to explain the audio mute . . . a good phrasing is: “Hey can you all make sure you’re on mute unless you’re speaking? Then we can all hear without being distracted by background noises”.
- Go big. If you have the capability, hook up your laptop to a projector (or cast it to your TV) so you have a bigger screen to see everyone on. Consider the lighting (on you and the screen) and wear a mic, if possible, so there isn’t feedback on your speaker system.
- Protect your security. By now you may have heard of Zoombombing – to avoid this, set up a password protected Zoom, create a waiting room option, and make sure everyone knows not to share the link. Do not post the link in a public forum.
- Create and save moments. Go around the room and ask everyone to share what they’re thankful for. Have everyone wave or smile and screenshot with full grid on so everyone gets a pic. Try recording the event for fun family memories later on.
- Keep up family traditions. Do you normally play a special game or have a favorite post-dinner activity? You can play most any game virtually – just pick games that don’t require a shared board such as dice games like Farkle or Yahtzee or drawing games like Pictionary. For the more adventurous, try the online versions of Cards Against Humanity, Scattergories, or Heads Up.
- Add something new. We’re all getting creative these days so why not adapt your Thanksgiving? Maybe make it a costume party, a karaoke day, or even play a fun game like Home/Desk/Phone Scavenger Hunt. This works for everyone and can be really funny. Make a list of common to rare to weird items that folks can find in their home, desk, or purse or just look for odd ball photos/apps on their phones. Assign points to each item based on oddity. Run down the list – everyone has to share – and have everyone keep score of what they find. Whoever has the most points wins! (Prize ideas here)
After about an hour, people will be ready to sign off. Give a 5-minute warning and go around the room to give everyone a chance to say goodbye and give virtual hugs and kisses. Follow up with a thank you email or handwritten note to each participant and make plans for your next one! We have a few more months to get through and these connections are important.