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How to Host a Virtual Thanksgiving

Planning is crucial to a successful holiday gathering online

how to do a virtual Thanksgiving dinner
illustration by Tara Jacoby

Yes, we've been Zooming, Skyping, Teaming, Webexing and/or Google Meeting since early spring, because of the coronavirus. But as Thanksgiving approaches, this might be the first major holiday in which families hold a beloved traditional meal together via an online teleconference, rather than around the same table, which ups the stakes for hosts.

Can't get the whole familiy together for Thanksgiving this year? One solution is to stage a virtual gathering for would-be attendees. But to make it engaging for those watching on-screen, you need to think like a producer. Here's some pro advice to make this as easy as pumpkin pie.

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1. Take hosting seriously

“It sounds ridiculous, but Zoom calls aren't all that different from late-night talk-show segments,” says TV producer Marc Liepis, who has overseen specials for John Legend and Questlove. “They're conversations, but they also have a degree of preparation to them."

2. Share a detailed plan

What's the start time? When should everyone have their turkey ready? Who should speak, and in what order? Keep in mind that attention spans are shorter online. “At our first Zoom comedy show, we gave each performer 10 minutes,” says producer Marianne Ways, who has worked with Jim Gaffigan and Janeane Garofalo. “We wound up cutting it to five."

3. Stay steady

“It's jarring to see people walking around on-screen,” Ways says. Her stand-up shows became sit-downs.

4. Stage a run-through

Hold a sort-of rehearsal, especially with participants who are less tech savvy, so they feel comfortable on Thanksgiving. “When you're producing a talk-show interview, the unexpected stuff is also the best stuff,” Liepis says. “Preparation and a host who is quick on their feet allows for that to happen.”

How to Host a Virtual Holiday Party