Tis the season! With many major holidays coming up, it’s time to get in gear and make some plans to celebrate. With social distancing still happening and with the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, some or all of those events will probably happen virtually. But with the prolific Zooming that’s been going on since March, your family and friends (and you) are likely experiencing some serious Zoom fatigue now. 

So the question becomes, How do you make virtual holiday celebrations enjoyable without experiencing further burnout? And perhaps a bigger question is, How do I even DO this?

The key is to have a plan. This may sound like the last thing you want to do, but it’s important in making your virtual holiday celebration fun if you’re planning on doing more than a catch-up or well-wishes call.

In the words of a friend, who has participated in some truly fun Zoom events:

“The most successful, fun Zoom meetings I’ve been part of are (1) SHORT, (2) have a hands-on component, and (3) have enough going on that it’s okay if some people don’t actively participate and just want to ‘be there’.”

Here’s how to plan for a successful virtual holiday celebration:

  1. Decide what you want to do and how long it will take. Remember that Zoom meetings often take longer than in-person meetings would due to setup, potential technical difficulties, lag between speaking and sharing a screen, etc. But at the same time, long meetings are typically not as enjoyable (remember that people are already experiencing Zoom fatigue from having to participate in virtual work meetings every day). (We recommend keeping your meetings — including social gatherings — to under 60 minutes, and even shorter if possible.)

So if you don’t have a lot of time to hold your event, but meetings also take longer than they typically would, it can feel like a real Catch-22 situation. The solution? Pick ONE thing to do during the event and stick to that. 

Some ideas for your “one thing”:

  • Trivia time! Quiz your friends and family members with questions about them. For example, “Where did Uncle John and Aunt Debbie go on vacation last year?” If your group has a good sense of humor, you can inject some jokes or gentle jabs at the participants for some lighthearted fun.
    To make it this more competitive, have participants respond using the Chat feature (available in all plans). Plug the questions in advance into a presentation tool like PowerPoint, with multiple choice answers and corresponding letters (A-D, for example). Share your screen using Zoom’s Share Screen feature, and use the Chat feature for participants to respond with their answers. Whoever responds most quickly and correctly gets a point, which you can mark down on a sheet of paper. You might opt to offer up a small prize for the winner, like a digital gift card. 
  • Cook or prepare a side dish together. Make it something easy and short, and share the instructions with everyone several days in advance to give them time to shop for the necessary ingredients. As the leader or host, try to set up your camera (phone or tablet) in a way where all your participants can see what you are doing in the kitchen. Try to get it at eye level or higher and with a wide enough view to see everything you’re using on the counter. 
  • Share a slideshow of pictures gathered from your participants. Have family or friends send their pictures to you several days to a week in advance and prepare them in a presentation. Share using the Share Screen feature in Zoom. When designing the presentation, decide if you want to provide some commentary or allow for a little chat time in between pictures, and factor this into your “meeting” duration to get an idea of how long it might take. 

If you have lots of ideas for holiday events with your friends and family, you can create a series of celebrations over the course of a few days. Not only will having shorter, bite-size celebrations help fight Zoom fatigue, but it can benefit people in different time zones or on very different schedules by giving them a few options to participate.

  1. Ask your invitees about their setup and equipment. A little courtesy will go a long way in making sure that your participants can see and hear you and have what they need to participate. If Grandma doesn’t have a video camera or microphone, for example, make sure she knows how to participate via telephone (and that she knows how to mute and unmute herself if she’s watching the meeting stream in her browser). 
  2. Make it festive! Set up your camera or background so that participants get a glimpse of holiday decor. Or, search the web for free virtual backgrounds with holiday themes. Use the video settings in Zoom to upload your background and test it out in advance. 
  3. Record the meeting. As long as everyone’s cool with being recorded, you can use Zoom’s recording feature so your celebration lives on forever. Plus, for the family or friends who could not participate, they can watch it later. Just upload the video to a shared space (like Dropbox), set the appropriate access, and share the link.

It IS possible to celebrate virtually this year with your family and friends. No, it’s not the same as being in person and yes, missing out on hugs can be hard. But with a little planning and creativity, you can create a meaningfully, fun holiday celebration like none you’ve ever experienced.