Tips for a Successful Virtual Family Reunion

This holiday season will most likely be different than those of years past. This year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a warning urging Americans to avoid their usual holiday travel plans to limit the spread of COVID-19 to friends, family and others.  

Just because most of us are not traveling this year does not mean that we still can’t celebrate. We can choose instead to hold our annual celebrations virtually. In fact it is estimated that 24 percent of Americans are choosing to meet virtually this holiday season to protect each other and slow the spread of COVID-19. 

In some ways this may provide a chance for distant family members who have not been able to travel due to work or distance in the past, to finally participate in the holiday festivities. If you are new to holding a virtual family reunion, here are few tips to help your celebration go on without a hitch.

Choose Your Platform

A virtual reunion takes planning, just like an in person reunion. However there are a few extra things to consider. It’s a good idea to pick a platform that is accessible to everyone. There are several video conferencing platforms that have become increasingly popular and more accessible due to the pandemic. There are many different features on each so it’s important to find the best one that works for your family. Here are two of the most popular and user friendly options:

Zoom

Zoom is a virtual conference app, allowing up to 100 members at a time for up to 40 minutes for free. You may decide to pay a monthly fee if this app works well for you and your family. This app allows you to screen share, so you can watch family slideshows, videos or play trivia together from a distance. You can also record the entire meeting so you can re-watch it for years to come.

Google Meet

Google Meet is free as long as each person has a free Gmail account. This app has similar features as Zoom including screen sharing and recording capability that can be saved to your Google Drive on the cloud, saving storage space on your computer. 

Making Sure Your Virtual Reunion is Accessible to All

For the many seniors in assisted living and nursing homes this pandemic has been particularly difficult. While it’s important to shelter-in-place to protect those most at risk, socialization helps seniors stay connected, engaged, active and healthy. 

Connecting over video is one way that you can connect to the elders in your family; however hearing impairments can create many challenges in successful calls.  

Make sure whatever video conferencing program you use make sure it has closed captioning features so seniors can be included. Suggest that they use headphones to make it easier for them to hear the audio. Many hearing aids now feature wireless streaming over Bluetooth so the audio can be streamed directly to their ears. 

If this is difficult for the seniors in your family, talk to the people providing care to help them set up their screen and connect to the audio ahead of time.  A clear video will make it easier for the hearing impaired to see. Suggest to all participants ahead of time to make sure that they are well lit so hearing impaired members can also rely on non verbal cues such as lip reading and facial expression to follow conversation.

Schedule a Practice Meeting

It can be frustrating to spend your virtual family gathering working out technical issues. It’s a good idea to hold a practice meeting earlier in the week to test everyone’s microphones and cameras. Many of us have been accustomed to video conferencing for work or socialization this year, so you probably know how to help the people who may be having issues navigate them.

Make a Plan

The holidays can be difficult times to be apart so make sure to have fun at your virtual family gathering. Choose a theme, wear costumes, play games, share family slideshows, sing songs or tell stories. Most of the things that your family has done together in the past can still be enjoyed online. Be creative around the constraints of this year and enjoy the warmth of the holiday celebration. 

Whatever your plans may be, the important thing is that you connect and make time for your loved ones.