Coping with Covid-19: Tips for Hosting a Virtual Family Reunion

Social distancing and shelter in place orders means our bonds with each other are being tested like never before. To combat isolation and to reassert our connections, my family and I recently held a 2020 Virtual Family Reunion. Simply stated, our time together was amazing. If you are considering hosting a Virtual Family Reunion, I have compiled a few tips that I learned from organizing ours.

There a lot of really good connection tools available. Shop around for the tool that works best for your budget, the number of people that will be attending your event, and the types of devices your attendees will be using. Below are some popular web meeting tools. Looking for the best tool for web conferencing (and webinars) can be a winding path to follow. I am happy to answer any questions you have if you’d like to contact me.

Give people clear instructions about the tool you will be using for your reunion. Many of your attendees will have to install the meeting app and each app has its own interface with tips and tricks. I created a web page to help our reunion attendees get ready for the meeting. I sent out updates via text and Facebook every day leading up to our reunion.

Our Virtual Reunion Itinerary page contained information attendees needed to connect and participate.

People will be joining with using a variety of connections – and all of your attendees will not be tech savvy. Open your meeting room early to give folks who have questions about connecting or people who have to install the meeting app ample time to do so. As host, you should be ready to patiently answer how-to questions. I received a call 20 minutes before our reunion from a relative in California who had no idea how to get started. She made it to the reunion and we were all ecstatic to see her.

PRO TIP: Engage the younger, more tech savvy members of your family to help the more senior members get connected. We had a lot of awesome tech support going on between family members before the reunion started.

Take the time to create an organized program for your meeting. I created a Powerpoint deck and did a screen share at key points during our reunion. Having an agenda eliminated dead space and gave our reunion structure and purpose. Our agenda helped program participants know their turn was coming up and it helped reunion attendees understand what they were supposed to be doing (even if it was just listening) at any given time. An agenda also did wonders for my sanity as the meeting host. I was always aware of what I was supposed to be doing.

There will be several people in your meeting room and just like in real life, not everyone can talk at once. You will need to mute and unmute people to keep you reunion distractions low. It is very helpful to have a co-host to help you manage the meeting and keep everything organized. My wife sat beside me and watched for open mics and helped me keep track of everything going on around me.

Just like in real life, a lot of people in a room can get noisy. Mute everyone but the speaker as you proceed through your program.

Your reunion will be a lot more engaging and entertaining if you get other people involved with your meeting. In addition to the people who were part of the actual program, we had a time for everyone to introduce themselves and say how the were connected to the family. Having everyone involved was one of the best parts of the day. My sister-in-law Kozetta sang a soul-stirring a cappella song at the start of our reunion.

“My Help Cometh From the Lord” (Psalm 121)
Original Jackie Gouche Farris | Sang By Kozetta Tyson for our Virtual Family Reunion

Family ancestry are the roots that we spring from. Find an interesting and engaging way to honor the members of your family that are no longer here. My nephew Timothy held a beautiful memoriam where he poured out water as people in the meeting called the names of family members who have passed on.

Timothy Welbeck led the memoriam during our Virtual Family Reunion.
Timothy Welbeck led the memoriam during our Virtual Family Reunion.

My home internet is fast, but I hit the occasional speed bump. About 2/3 into our reunion, my internet connection dropped. I was already pretty amped up about hosting the reunion, and my connection dropping sent my anxiety level through the roof. My connection relinked on its own in seconds, but I could still feel my heart beating when I got back online. Enter your reunion with the realization that internet bandwidth and meeting connections may go up and down. As host, set this expectation for your attendees as well. Keep your spirits up and calmly work through any connection issues for you or someone who maybe trying to speak.

Just like at an actual reunion, take plenty of pictures of your event. Encourage reunion attendees to grab screenshots and even use a separate camera to take pictures of their screen. You are making priceless memories here, and you will want to preserve and share them.

Take lot of pictures – even if it’s of your screens. My sister, Casandra took this one.

Pulling together a fun and productive Virtual Family Reunion requires some planning, a bit of creativity, and a good amount of technical skill. Give yourself time to properly plan and execute your event, and don’t hesitate you contact me if you need help making your event a success.