Tips for Successful Virtual Family Reunions

Jesse Western
Latest posts by Jesse Western (see all)

What made your family reunions a success in the past? Was it the caliber of the food, the expense of the decorations, or the finery of outfits everyone wore? Upon reflection, you will likely realize that the best family reunions are ones in which everyone feels at ease and has an opportunity to connect with members of the family they seldom see. 

Although this year will make it difficult to incorporate some of the classic aspects of the holiday family reunion, these crucial elements of comfort and connection remain the same. A virtual family gathering will only be enjoyable for all members if they are comfortable and able to connect with others, so let’s take this opportunity to think about some tips to achieve both of those general goals. 

Although you might not be able to share celebratory food and sweets like you did in the past, you will be able to make the most of this unique year in the virtual realm. 

Prepare for Comfort

Making each member of your family comfortable with the videoconferencing platform is an essential element of the family reunion. Some members of the family likely saw their work and school lives transformed into endless virtual meetings, so they will be all too familiar with the affordances and challenges of the medium. 

However, others in your family might not have engaged on these virtual platforms much, if at all, so take proactive steps to make them comfortable with the interface. One of the best things you can do to make these members comfortable is to set up a practice session a few days before the holiday gathering with the whole family.

If you wait until everyone is assembled there, your family members who are newcomers to the platform might feel nervous, concerned that their inability to use it correctly will get in the way of everyone else’s enjoyment. During your practice session, take a moment to help your family member set the scene appropriately. A seat near the Wi-Fi router is often the best place to place the computer, helping to avoid unstable connections.

With the laptop in place, consider if more lighting can be relocated to that position. Fully illuminating faces helps with reading expressions, gestures, and mouth movements, particularly for those who are hard of hearing. You might want to help your family member get a headset with a built-in microphone if there is significant background noise impeding the signal. 

During your practice session, you can also help this person become familiar with the features of the interface, particularly the necessity to mute audio while not speaking.

Prepare for Connection

Connecting with family members through virtual platforms can take a little getting used to. In order to avoid those awkward moments when multiple people begin speaking at once, you might want to establish a subtle practice of gesturing before you join in. 

When two people speak on a videoconference platform at the same time, audio tends to drop out, so establishing a convention for taking turns can help all involved, particularly those with hearing loss. You might want to get in touch with family members prior to the call, setting some expectations for how long it will last and any extra activities you have planned. If you want to play a virtual game after catching up, there are platforms specifically designed for this kind of activity. 

Other games can be played directly on the videoconference platform with some creativity and careful planning. For instance, a game of cards will be difficult to pull off without technological assistance, but charades can work just as easily as in a living room. 

Whatever your plan, keep in mind those family members with hearing loss, and take steps to accommodate their communication needs during the event. In order to maintain connections with the entire family this holiday season and into the winter months, you might want to encourage treatment for hearing loss, as well. 

Although accommodation strategies can help, the only durable solution for in-person social gatherings in the future will be professional diagnosis and treatment. After this year’s virtual family gathering, why not give your loved one the gift of moral support as they seek out a hearing test?