Here are 10 tried and true tips for having meaningful and fun online experiences with your family and friends. Check out these fun and easy tips before your next family or friend online gathering and consider sharing it with those you plan to meet with, so you’re all on the same page.
10 tips for online gatherings with family and friends
When meeting virtually with people who are unfamiliar with the technology, it is best to start small with only two to four people on the call. Let everyone get really comfortable with launching whichever app or platform you have chosen such as Zoom, Google Duo or Facetime. Practice using common tools like muting and unmuting, or turning the camera on and off before moving to larger group meetings.
If you’ve ever met virtually with more than a few people, you know it can be frustrating to constantly talk over each other. We know it can be awkward to have someone ‘facilitate’ your friends or family, but trust us. Embrace the awkwardness and encourage everyone to take a turn to speak, give an update, or share how they are doing and go around the group until everyone has had a chance to share. If the group is large, use interactive features like break-out rooms to get into smaller more intimate groups for at least a portion of the time. There are many tutorials and videos about how to use features like break out rooms in whichever virtual platform you choose.
Since you have to be careful not to talk over someone online, it means it’s all about nonverbal communication. Get expressive. Sometimes a genuine smile or sad face says a million words.
Are you hosting a virtual wedding, baby shower or birthday party? Make sure guests know beforehand that you would like them to use the chat as much as possible. Ask for a volunteer to monitor the chat for questions, shout-outs, etc. You can copy and save the chat as a unique written memento of your virtual event. Using the chat function is the easiest way to keep guests from talking over each other.
When there’s more than three or four users in an online gathering, make sure to set an intention or have a goal for the gathering. This may seem unnecessary or like too much work, but believe us, it makes or breaks the experience you are going to have with your family and friends. If there is no purpose, large online gatherings can feel chaotic and frustrating. So, set an intention and share it ahead of time, so everyone is on the same page. Here are some great intentions for online meetings with family and friends:
- Remember a loved one who died.
- Release the pressure of parenting through COVID and distance learning with friends and family.
- Engage the kiddos and give their caregivers a break for a few minutes.
- Celebrate an achievement of a loved one.
- Eat together and reminisce about the past.
- Share what we are hopeful for in the future.
- Foster meaningful connection through creativity (learn more in Tips 8, 9, 10).
For online gatherings with young children, have realistic expectations. Sometimes 5-10 minutes is all you’ll get out of a toddler or younger kid (or let’s face it, teenagers too). Try to call at meal or bath times and chat while the child is doing something that keeps them seated and occupied. Be flexible, do a lot of little virtual calls instead of one long call.
Children have an attention span of three to five minutes in-person, which means you need to have lots of creative activities to keep them engaged in a virtual environment. Consider the following:
- Read a book. You can share your screen and read from a children’s book on kindle, or simply hold up a storybook to the screen.
- Send children on a scavenger hunt around their house and then do ‘show and tell.’ Learn all about virtual scavenger hunts.
- Place fun items around yourself that are visible in the background and have children play ‘I spy’.
- Sing songs together. Have the children help you make a sing-along playlist, or put together a short ‘concert’ and watch them sign and dance.
- Get them moving their body with fun dances and games (think Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Hokey Pokey or Simon Says).
- Do art together. Here are some favorite art kits to share with the children in your life.
- You could listen to a podcast together and then have a conversation about what they learned. Here’s a list of the 25 best podcasts for children.
- Have a talent show with other children in the family or with friend groups.
- Create a ritual for saying goodbye, maybe blowing a kiss or giving air hugs.
Many adults are on virtual calls day in and day out for work. The last thing they want to do is get on another online call in their spare time even if it is with the people they love. Here are some activities you can use to spice things up and keep even the most online-fatigued adult engaged:
- Start a book club, a podcast club, a documentary club. Simply read, watch, or listen to something and then talk about it on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, etc.).
- Share your favorite picture of the week. This could encourage people to use their creativity throughout the week by honing their photography skills.
- Get a subscription box, open it together and talk about what you got.
- Sometimes planning is the best part of a vacation. You could each plan your dream vacation and then share about it in your online gathering.
- Focus on gratitude and write a gratitude letter, then read it to your family member or friend (Talesnik, 2020). Learn more about this and additional research on happiness from Yale’s Dr. Laurie Santos.
For older children/adults, play games. Many in-person games have been adapted for online play. Role-playing games like a murder mystery party work well or adapt a visual party game like Pictionary or charades. Check out apps that let you watch a movie or video together. Play with funny backgrounds, do side-by-side activities like cooking the same dish, or working on puzzles together. Here are just some of the great ideas and links to get you started:
- Pick a recipe and do a virtual cook along, or maybe make it into a fun competition or game. Learn how to host a family dinner party.
- Play a virtual board game.
- Host a crafting party.
- Learn a new skill. Does someone in the family know how to knit or crochet? Or speak another language?
- Do art together. Hone your painting and drawing skills with friends and family.
- Have a jam session or sing along. If you use Zoom, this is how to get the audio settings to work for you.
- Purchase the same puzzle for the group and do it at the same time.
- Play a party game.
- Host a murder mystery party.
- Have everyone create a playlist and have a dance party.
- Host a karaoke party.
- Share your favorite funny YouTube videos or Gifs.