Hosting an online Thanksgiving Dinner takes longer to explain than it does to set up. Here are a few tips that will ensure your success.
1. The Basic Tech
The tech is easy. You can use Zoom, Google Hangouts, or any one of a dozen video conferencing tools. Choose one you like. I am using Zoom for our Streaming Thanksgiving because almost everyone attending is already very familiar with Zoom. But, again, there are dozens of easy-to-use solutions out there.
Gather the email addresses of your participants and send a calendar invite with the video conferencing login codes. You can do this from inside any video conferencing app. If you don’t use an online calendar, simply copy and paste the event details and send them using your normal email account.
3. The Easy Part
For all practical purposes, a Streaming Thanksgiving and an average online meeting are technically identical. You just point your camera at yourself, your guests point their cameras at themselves and you run the meeting (err… dinner).
4. A More Advanced Approach
If you want to get creative, you can have some fun with a wide shot and some closeups to make the event feel like gathering around the table. Take a computer with a built-in webcam or a smartphone on a tripod and take a wide-shot of the table. Best to seat your physical guests in a “U” configuration so the camera is not seeing the back of someone’s head.
In the setup I used for a previous streaming holiday gathering (you can see the tech rehearsal pic and the final table shot above), I put a smartphone above a large monitor so everyone at the table could see everyone who was joining on Zoom. You can accomplish this with a laptop, I just took it up a notch.
The “monitor” computer should be a “separate guest,” meaning you should log in with a different account, so that you can control the screen without impacting anyone else’s view. Pro Tip: Don’t just stick your laptop or camera in the corner so that everyone is “always on” screen. It’s hard for the people joining remotely to see anything!
5. Audio Issues
To make your life extremely easy, use one location, one connection. In other words, only one device per physical space should be connected to your Streaming Thanksgiving. Why? Audio feedback. To have more than one device logged in to the same meeting, all but one must have both their speakers and their microphones muted. This means muting the microphone (very easy) AND turning off the speakers on the devices.
You can do this easily, but telling non-technical people how to get this done comes with its own brand of stress. “Dad, just press the volume down button… no… not on your laptop, on Aunt Edna’s phone.” “But then how will Aunt Edna hear?” “She’ll hear on the speakers from your laptop.” “My laptop? What about her phone? She wants to hear it on her phone.” Multiply this by several non-tech-savvy relatives or friends, and you can see how this can quickly devolve into chaos. So follow this simple rule: One location, one connection. Problem solved.
It’s Really Just a Video Conference Call with a Twist
A Streaming Thanksgiving is really just a video conference call – with a twist. You may have couples and families gathering instead of just a group of singular talking heads. As everyone has become more familiar and more comfortable with video conferencing (for obvious reasons), this should be relatively easy. That said, do not let the “tech-y” part of this scare you at all. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. The holiday season is a beautiful time to gather family and friends and to count our blessings. A Streaming Thanksgiving or any streaming meal, social gathering, or just a one-on-one check-in is the very best way to stay connected to the things that make us most human. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.