Tips for a Successful Virtual Family Reunion

Tips for a Successful Virtual Family Reunion

Dede Redfearn

The time of year is upon us when we gather with friends, family and other loved ones to share some cheer in the cold and darkness of winter. Our connections to others get us through the most difficult moments in life, and this is a time to celebrate those connections and celebrate one another. Many families this year are accepting that gathering in person is too risky or impractical, and they are choosing to hold their celebrations over video conferencing technology.

While it may seem as simple as flipping open the laptop, coordinating virtual gatherings with far-flung family members can be more difficult and taxing than that. When we meet in person, sometimes all it takes is one or two loud hollers to bring everyone running to the dining table or family room so our celebration can formally begin. When we congregate online, who knows where people might be, physically, or how many texts or phone calls we’ll need to make to get everyone together. Because of these added difficulties, we’ve put together a few tips to keep things running smoothly for any gatherings you may be hosting virtually this season.

Make Clear Plans

Consult with everyone about their plans and put together a schedule that everyone can agree to. Maybe you’ll have one long video conference, or maybe it will be better for everyone to have two or more shorter ones. Plan not only the beginnings but also the ends of video conferences. Some in your crew may have other families to meet with as well.

Make it clear what will be happening at each video conference. If people need to shift around the house because they weren’t clear on what activities would be happening, this can bog down the festivities with preparations that could have been taken care of beforehand.

It can be helpful to create a printable schedule of events that outlines when to join, what you’ll be doing, and when to sign off. Add some clip art and a festive background to get everyone in the spirit and provide something they can put on the fridge and look forward to!

Test the Technology

While some in your family may be old-hat with video conferencing software and technology, others may have never used it at all. If you can stage a test meeting before the main event, the “pros” can educate everyone else in how to make the most of video conferencing. If anyone is having trouble with their device, internet, or lighting, finding out in advance will give them a chance to work out the problems before the big day.

Maintain Traditions

While it may seem that some of your usual activities need to go out the window this year, you may be able to think of a way to preserve them, with some modification, through video conferencing. Ask your loved ones if there are any traditions they would like to maintain this year, and whether they have any ideas about how.

If your traditions involve a speech from each family member, consider having everyone write these down in advance and supply them via email. Video conferences can get crowded quickly, in terms of sound, so designate one person to read everyone’s piece.

Do you play board games together, or watch movies? There are online versions of most popular games—Zoom’s whiteboard feature is great for Pictionary—or you can try syncing up a movie, and stay on the conference while you all watch.

Consider Everyone’s Communication Needs

Try enabling closed captioning for your loved ones who are hard of hearing. It also helps to make sure everyone is well-lit and has their device sitting stably on a solid surface; jittery videos make lips hard to read, and can even make some people sick. Encourage your loved ones all to use their largest screen available.

Do you have family members with autism, ADHD, or another speech-language disorder? Long video conferences can be overstimulating or tedious for these people. Consider talking to them or their guardians in advance and determining how much of the conference they might attend and when. Try to plan something they’ll especially enjoy for the time they’ll be with you.

Give Communications Gifts Early

You want your loved ones, especially those who can use technology to augment their senses for online video conferencing, to have everything they need for your celebration, so make sure they get their gifts in advance of your scheduled festivities. 

Those with hearing loss might appreciate Bluetooth-enabled phones or amplified phones for when they’re not wearing their hearing aids. TV adapters, that allow the audio from the television to stream directly to a person’s hearing aids, are also a great choice. A webcam lighting kit, a single light that clips to the edge of a laptop screen or mounts on a desktop, would be a welcome gift for most anyone who doesn’t already have one.

However you approach your celebrations this year, have a safe and happy holiday season!