Zoom Fatigue? Here are Some Ways to Improve Your Next Virtual Get Together

Photo by Rhaúl V. Alva on UnsplashPhoto

I used to love preparing for holiday parties. But with COVID numbers on the rise, there’s no party to plan. Unless, of course, it’s on Zoom.

So to make the most of the Zoom experience, I’ve compiled a few ideas. Priya Parker, in her book The Art of Gathering, shares how to make our gatherings more meaningful. One of the ways is to give the event a theme and a name. Instead of just telling my extended family we should Zoom on Christmas, I can invite them to “Presents, Pets, and Pajamas.” Invite everyone to stay in pajamas, hold up their pets, and then show one gift they received. Nothing changes a party like a puppy. Conversation can revolve around past presents-favorite ones or the weirdest ones.

Or it could be “Masks & Memories.” Everyone can show up wearing their best or worst mask and share a memory of past holidays or of 2020.

Have a Zoom Background Challenge. Enlist the teens to change their family’s background ahead of time, then assign the oldest family members to give awards — Funniest? Most beautiful? Most festive? Most exotic location?

Another tip: Have a dress code: wear your favorite hat, or hoodie, or dressiest top. Keep it simple so people are more likely to participate. It can give a feeling that your gathering is different from other Zoom sessions.

The point is, give the gathering a sense of purpose. Sure, some may scoff at the cheesy ideas, but at least the family knows what to expect. Having a set time limit helps too.

On her New York Times podcast, “Together Apart,” Priya Parker suggested assigning jobs to different people on the Zoom. This way, people feel more involved. For example, a quiet teenager could be the Mute Master, controlling the button so one person can be heard at a time. Another person can be the Time Keeper and a small child could be a Featured Performer, sharing their best dance moves.

Another idea is to use Breakout Rooms. If the teenagers log on from different computers than the parents, they can gather with their cousins in a breakout room. It’s like a virtual “kids’ table.” To keep things active, maybe we’ll take inspiration from a favorite TV show my family watched this year. The Great British Baking Show may inspire a cookie bake off. We can bake while the Zoom camera is on and keep it casual, or send an email with the rules and gather to share the final results.

Want more ideas? Have a young family member who’s learned to read, share a poem or have a grandparent read a short story to the family. It will give them something to anticipate ahead of time.

Decide ahead of time why you’re really gathering. “Because we’re family and we should see family” might not be enough reason to make it meaningful. By now, I’ve been on too many Zoom gatherings where everyone’s talking over one another and no one had anything interesting to say. Or worse, no one talked. Priya Parker suggests having a question planned in advance.

Here are some ideas:

What was the worst show you watched in 2020?

What was your favorite song of this year? Best book?

What’s the weirdest gift you’ve ever received? Show us a picture, if you have one.

What was your favorite 2020 meme?

Where did you find your favorite mask?

Did you learn anything new about yourself?

Did you take up a new hobby or learn a new skill?

What did you miss most in 2020?

Share the most awkward holiday photo you’ve taken or received.

Share a favorite ornament and what it reminds you of. Or show us what you’re drinking. Having a physical object to share adds interest to a screen of faces.

Here’s the most important thing — decide what matters to you and the people you love. Don’t assume. Ask. This has been a tough year, but it’s also been an opportunity to re-imagine the ways we connect with one another. Maybe some traditions don’t need to be repeated, and for that we can be grateful.

And if all you can muster by the end of this year is a grumpy family Zoom, then let that be enough. Raise a glass and have a laugh. We’ve made it through 2020!

Teacher. Coach. Founder of Your Next Chapter, helping women take small steps toward big dreams. www.your-next-chapter.com

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