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The best way to host a virtual Thanksgiving

Families across the world are figuring out how to spend the holidays together amid the pandemic safely. A Consumer Reports poll showed just 36% of Americans surveyed planned to host or attend a get-together outside their household.

That means many of us will be turning to technology to celebrate virtually. You may not be able to smell the food, but you’ll be able to speak with everyone as if you were at the table together.

Setting up a virtual Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be daunting. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps you need to create a memorable gathering you and your family can enjoy together online.

1. Choose your host

Designate a host that can virtually wrangle the family together. This person can gather everyone’s email addresses and help the less tech-savvy relatives set up and test their video call connection. We’ll go over choosing and testing a platform in the next section.

The host should give everyone attending the details they need well in advance. Send along the video meeting link and password, and include the start and end times of your get-together. It’s OK if the celebration continues later, but a solid end time gives people an out when they’re feeling tired and stuffed.

If you don’t plan on being the host yourself, share this article with the family member who’s up to the task!

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2. Pick a platform

You have several options to choose from for your Thanksgiving call, but we’ve narrowed it down to the three that are the simplest to set up and use: Zoom, Google Meet and Facebook Messenger Rooms.

Each platform has its own benefits and drawbacks. Pick one that has the features you want and will be easiest for your family members to use.

  • Zoom: It’s free to use, supports calls of up to 100 people and your family members won’t need to set up accounts to use it. Calls are usually limited to 40 minutes per meeting for free users, but Zoom is lifting that restriction from Nov. 26 at midnight to Nov. 27 at 6 a.m (Eastern Time). All Zoom calls feature end-to-end encryption for security and privacy, too.
  • Google Meet: Google’s option is free to use for up to 250 people. You’ll need a Google account to set up the call. Free accounts usually have a time limit of 60 minutes per meeting, but the limit has been removed until March 2021.
  • Facebook Messenger Rooms: Messenger Rooms are free to use and can host up to 50 people with no time limit. The meeting host needs a Facebook account to set up the call. Participants don’t need accounts, but it does make sharing simple. Any contacts you have on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp can easily be added. You can also start a Messenger Room call inside any Facebook Group page.

All three of these programs work in a web browser or as a phone app. Encourage your guests to find their preferred mode before the big day.

Here’s how to set up a call and share the code with your guests:

Zoom:

  1. If you will be hosting the meeting, visit zoom.us and create an account.
  2. Sign in, click My Account, then click Schedule a Meeting.
  3. Fill in the details about your meeting and click Save when you’re finished. You can choose to add your meeting to your Google or Outlook Calendar here.
  4. Click Copy Invitation, then click Copy meeting invitation to copy it. Email your guests with this information and the meeting time.

Google Meet:

  1. Open Google Calendar and sign in with your Google Account. Then, create an event by clicking Create in the upper-right corner.
  2. Click Add guests and enter the names or email of the people you want to invite.
  3. Click Add Google Meet video conferencing, then click Save.
  4. Click Send to notify guests via email.

Facebook Messenger Rooms:

  1. Visit messenger.com and sign in with your Facebook account.
  2. Click the camera icon in the upper-left corner to start a meeting.
  3. Click Copy next to the link that appears to get the link. Send this to your guests via email or Messenger.

To create a room in a Facebook Group:

  1. Click Groups from your News Feed in the left menu and select the group you want to create a room in.
  2. Click Room at the top of the group.
  3. Enter a room activity, choose an emoji and click Save.
  4. Click Next.
  5. Write something about the room and click Post. Anyone who clicks the post can join the room. The host must be present for the call to start.

In the days leading up to your dinner, try to test each guest’s connection to see if they can successfully join a meeting. When you know each guest is ready to go, set a date and time that everyone can agree to.

3. Topics to talk about (no politics, please)

Even if politics are a staple of your family Thanksgiving, a virtual dinner isn’t the best place for it. If passions get high enough, everyone will end up talking over each other anyway.

Instead, the host should plan an itinerary of discussion topics to keep the event moving smoothly. Ask guests how they’ve spent their time in quarantine this year, what kind of hobbies they’ve picked up or what their thoughts are on this year’s sporting events.

It’s a good idea to have everyone take turns talking, so nobody misses out on a chance to speak. Once everybody is caught up with each other, you can open up discussions while eating together.

4. Fun and games

It isn’t a real party without games, and there are plenty of fun options the whole family can enjoy over a video call. Here are three of our favorites you can play on camera:

  • Drawasaurus: In this virtual Pictionary-style game, players take turns drawing a word or phrase for others to guess. Points are awarded based on how fast each player can guess the correct answer. It’s a great way to flex your artistic talents and see how creative your family can be. This has a 16-person limit, so plan accordingly.
  • Heads Up!: You’ll need your smartphone for this one. In this game for iOS and Android, players have to guess the topic or name that appears on their phone. A player holds their phone to their forehead, and others give clues to help figure it out. It’s $1 per person to download, and the whole family can play online.
  • MyFreeBingoCards: Bingo is a great game for large gatherings, and MyFreeBingoCards gives you everything you need to set a match up. The website provides the cards, caller and verification tools to see who won. There’s even a video tutorial to walk you through every step of the way.

5. A virtual potluck

It’s not Thanksgiving without great food. To make dinner extra fun for guests, invite them to prepare a special dish to show off on camera. If everyone is up for it, the host can assign a different dish to everyone, so each person will have something unique to bring to the virtual table.

To get you started, here are a few delicious recipes to consider.

6. Setting the mood with music

Music sets the mood at any party, and Spotify has a new option for sharing your favorite holiday tunes with everyone attending dinner.

Spotify Group Sessions lets users sync up their accounts, so the music is playing at the same time for everybody. Each guest can add songs to the queue, too. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Open Spotify on a phone, tablet or computer and start playing a song or playlist.
  2. Tap  at the bottom of the screen.
  3. Under Start a group Session tap or click START SESSION
  4. Tap or click INVITE FRIENDS. From here you can copy the link for your guests to join in. Send this by email or Messenger and ask them to delete the link once they’re listening.

Tap or click here to see 10 incredibly useful Spotify tips and tricks.

7. Make the memory last with a family photo

Before you wrap up, take a picture of everyone together at your virtual Thanksgiving dinner. First, change the view to a Gallery View. This will make your call look like “The Brady Bunch” opening, so you’ll be able to see everyone on the screen.

On Zoom, click View in the top-right corner of the call and select Gallery.

On Google Meet, click the three-dot icon on the bottom-right and then click Change layout. Choose Tiled to see everyone in the call at once.

Facebook Messenger Rooms is in a grid view by default.

Once everyone’s in the picture, take a screenshot to capture the memory. You’ll now have a timeless keepsake of this extraordinary Thanksgiving dinner. Tap or click here to see how to take a screenshot on your computer.

The year 2020 may have been difficult, but bringing family together is the best way to ease each other’s struggles. From all of us at Komando.com, we wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving no matter how you choose to celebrate it.

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