5 Ways to Connect Socially on Zoom

Gathering many folks in a Zoom call to chat without any structure or plan can be fun sometimes. And, let’s be honest, it can also be a nightmare. Have you been on those large social meet-up calls where folks talk over each other or we all sing Happy Birthday out of synch?

There is a lovely feeling of collective joy — and a simultaneous deep longing for what’s only possible in person.

Discourse is Different Offline

What I love about gathering informally with family and friends in person is very different from what happens in an informal Zoom get-together. I love the natural ebb and flow of conversations that happens when people connect in the same home. For example, I love chatting with my sister-in-law while we prepare a meal in the kitchen. I love the murmur of voices in conversation at the couch. I love the flow of folks between rooms in these gatherings. I also cherish the one-on-one conversations that spontaneously happen as we set a table together, wash and dry dishes, or take our dogs for a walk.

Zoom can’t replicate the organic flow of what happens in person in a multi-room space, across hours or days of a family gathering.

So, if we do want to gather virtually with loved ones, we need to first ask ourselves: What’s the goal? Is it to hear an update from each person, one at a time? Is it to share an experience together?

C0-Create a Shared Experience

Honestly, I’m interested in the shared experience. I prefer the organic spontaneity to a structured meeting with each person speaking in turn; that’s not how I teach, and it’s not how I socialize. I want to co-create an experience where natural dialogue can happen. I want to create a fun, shared experience that builds connection.

There’s nothing like being together in person with those we love, but here are some ideas I’m considering for a shared virtual experience with extended family and friends this week. I’ll mix it up and try what feels like the best fit for different branches of my family tree.

5 Ideas to Consider for a Shared Experience on Zoom

Photo by DapurMelodi from Pexels

  1. Cook Together: There are two approaches that work great for cooking together on a video call: (1) cook the same thing or (2) just connect socially as you cook. To cook the same thing, collaborate before the Zoom to choose the recipe and each buy the ingredients. I’ll do this with my young nephew, so we can share a fun cooking experience and make a new memory together. I also love the option of simply connecting with adult friends and family via Zoom in my kitchen as we each cook our separate recipes. Tips: If you are joining via phone and moving around a lot, turn off your camera and just connect with audio to listen and chat. If you are about to turn on something loud, mute yourself!
  2. Puzzle Time: Google Arts and Culture has an online experiment right now for a Puzzle Party you can do collectively with others. My son’s high school art teacher had students do this in breakout rooms, and the fact that my son told me about it means he really enjoyed it. The idea is you gather with friends on Zoom, and share the link to a puzzle you’ll work on together. This is a great way to share an experience with someone who isn’t entirely verbal. You can work on the puzzle, and chat if you like.
  3. Charades: Charades is a great game to play in a video call with a few tech tips. In charades, one person acts out a clue without speaking and everyone (or just team mates if you play with teams) shouts out guesses.  To make this work in a Zoom call the host needs to spotlight the person who is acting out clues  (Here’s how).  The advantages of spotlighting the silent actor is (1) everyone can watch that person full screen, and (2) you avoid a dizzying barrage of video interruptions a everyone shouts out their guesses.
  4. Scattergories: There are a few versions of this game, including this online simulator that gives you five categories and a letter. Players have 60 seconds to come up with a word for each category that starts with the assigned letter. When the time is up, all players share answers, and a point is awarded for each UNIQUE response. (If we both picked BLUE for a color starting with B, no points!) To mix modalities with the Zoom screen, I prefer a paper and pencil approach in which each player draws a 6 by 6 grid, and crosses out the top left square.  Then we collaborate to (1) choose five categories that we each write down the left side of the grid and then (2) choose a five-letter word that we write across the top. We set a 5-minute timer and each try to fill out our grids, then compare. For example, look at the following grid.  I started filling out a few of the boxes to show what my board might look like a minute into brainstorming ideas.
Things that are Cold snowman
Animals mouse iguana
Fictional Characters Sula Eloise
Desserts lemon bars
Warm Places Isla Mujeres

There is a silent think and write time as each player generates ideas. They we connect and compare responses, tallying our own points for unique ideas.   Zoom actually gives you an option to play in teams that isn’t as easy in-person (because people overhear!).  To play as household teams, mute each household Zoom mic during the 5 minutes – and have the household collaborate as a team to complete the grid. Some kids love this approach when they can team up with an adult!

  1. Social Hour: Imagine a cocktail party in a movie – people are usually standing and talking in pairs or small clusters. Unlike during a sit-down meal, folks move around and talk with different people. You can set up a variation on these theme with breakout rooms. One idea, for folks up to a little spontaneity, is to set up random breakout rooms of 3 or 4 people, and change them up every fifteen minutes. You can leave topics of conversation open to whatever folks bring with them, or provide themes or prompts, such as “holiday traditions,” “what brings you joy?,” “what’s something your friends might be surprised to learn about you?” etc.

This cocktail-hour mingling is very different from the moment in a gathering when someone clinks a glass and proposes a toast before the entire room of people. If you prefer the one-person-speaks-to-everyone experience, just pile into the main room of a video call and have at it.

Do What You Love

It’s vacation, so don’t overthink it. Pick an idea that sounds fun, and try it out.  Or, fall back on the simple pleasures of a phone call.  I must admit that going on a long walk while talking with a loved one is one of my favorite ways to connect across the miles.

You’ve worked hard for this down time. Do what brings you joy.

I am a keynote speaker, author and educational leader helping educators teach and lead for equitable schools. My books include EL Excellence Every Day, Breaking Down the Wall & Opening Doors to Equity. I'm a descendant of colonizers and enslavers deeply committed to transforming my family legacy for healing.

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