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January 16, 2021

Tips for Successful Virtual Family Reunions

Only a year ago, I would not have predicted spending a large part of my days in videoconferencing. Although I might have used the technology to talk to a friend overseas or to have a quick meeting now and again, I almost never used these platforms. This year has changed a lot about the way some of us interact with family, friends, coworkers, and associates. 

We now spend a good portion of each day in a video conference meeting and have become all too familiar with the features, limitations, and challenges of the medium. When it comes time for a virtual family reunion this year, some people may be accustomed to online video chats while many others have not experienced this shift to virtual interaction. 

Most likely, your family has a few members who are at least a little uncomfortable with the prospect of a virtual family reunion. Let’s take a moment to think about the ways you can incorporate those family members in a way that will make them feel comfortable, included, and fully at ease. 

Collaborative Planning

When you are making your plans for this virtual family reunion, try to gather input from as many as possible who will be involved. Perhaps some people would rather have a brief meeting to say hello and then to go about their business. Others might be ready for a marathon conversation, catching up on all the family news as you might have done in person at a party one-by-one. Still others would rather set up the videoconference platform and proceed to do other activities, such as a game or preparing and eating a holiday meal at the same time. With this range of ideas and expectations in mind, you can make a plan that suits as many members of the family as possible, and everyone will know what to expect. There is no one right way to have a virtual family reunion, so get creative! 

Learning the Interface

Some of us will be quite used to videoconferencing, while others might not have used it comfortably at this point. Check in with your family members who are less likely to be comfortable with the platform and see if they would like to give it a trial run before the big event. 

You can have a casual one-on-one conversation to help this family member set up the best situation for success. Be sure to help this person choose the right location for the computer, often close to the Wi-Fi router, and encourage ample lighting. Some people find it easier to understand what others are saying with headphones, while others prefer a devoted speaker or the internal sound on the laptop. A little practice with the interface will help your family member understand the different features and the necessity to mute the audio when they are not talking in a big group. 

Consider Hearing Needs

If you have people in your family with hearing loss, there are steps you can take to make it easier to have a virtual family reunion that they will be able to understand. In the first place, it is a good idea to set up an expectation that participants will gesture in some way before joining in the conversation. 

Audio tends to drop out when multiple members begin speaking at once, and this can be particularly confusing for someone with hearing loss. You might be able to help family members with hearing loss get access to real-time captioning, either built into the interface or through a third party. This service will make text appear on the screen as a person is talking. Although the text is not completely accurate, it can be a much better alternative to trying to watch mouths move and guessing at words that are unclear. 

Encouraging each member to use good lighting is important, highlighting facial expressions and mouth movements to make it easier to decipher meaning. 

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

Despite the best accommodations online or in real life, hearing loss treatment is the best path forward if you have been struggling to hear. With hearing aids in use, these gaps in conversational understanding can be filled in with sound, making your holiday gatherings easy-going whether virtual or in person. 

Jon Suarez, MS, F/AAA
Jon Suarez, MS, F/AAA
Received his Masters in Audiology from Central Missouri State. He also holds a BS in Communication Disorders and Sciences, and a BA in Philosophy, both from SUNY Plattsburgh. Jon has been a licensed Audiologist since 2004, was certified as a Professional Supervisor for Audiometric Testing, and as an Occupational Hearing Conservationist. Aside from his work in our area, Jon is also associated with, and donates equipment to, All Ears International.
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