Poll: Americans Preparing for First Virtual Thanksgiving

Communication Experts Offer Tips on How to Keep Conversation and Connection at the Forefront Despite Physical Distance

October 27, 2020

(Rockville, MD) With the pandemic upending the Thanksgiving holiday this year, many Americans are turning to Zoom and other video conferencing platforms for their celebrations, according to results of a new national poll released today by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

The poll, conducted by YouGov, queried a nationally representative sample of 2,714 U.S. adults between October 16–20, 2020. Among Americans who have already settled on their holiday plans, nearly 1 in 4 (24%) say they will be using an online platform such as Zoom, Facetime, or Google Hangouts as part of their Thanksgiving celebration. Among families with children under 18, more than 4 in 10 (41%) say they will be using a virtual meeting platform for their gathering. With about a month to go until Thanksgiving, a full quarter of Americans have not yet decided if their holiday celebrations will include a virtual component.

“While ASHA generally encourages technology-free dinners, the pandemic has changed almost everything about our daily lives—and that includes necessitating the first Zoom Thanksgiving for many of us,” said Theresa H. Rodgers, MA, CCC-SLP, 2020 ASHA President. “As we all try to stay safe and healthy, we can use available technology in ways that enhance communication and connection.”

ASHA offers these 5 tips for a successful virtual Thanksgiving:

  1. Set expectations. Agree to certain parameters in advance, such as what time you’ll start and how long you’ll stay online together. Zooms can be tiring, especially for young children. If everyone is on the same page, this can help reduce stress and conflict—allowing everyone to enjoy each other’s company.
  2. Plan conversation starters or games to keep everyone involved. Designate one person to come prepared with Thanksgiving-themed conversation starters (Family Dinner Project has some great suggestions). Other ideas include a word game such as Table Talk or Madlibs, a virtual scavenger hunt (e.g., find your favorite family photo and bring it to the table), or a family trivia game (people can use the “raise hand” or “like” features within virtual platforms to answer questions or use free tools like Kahoot!).
  3. Keep important traditions alive. You may need to tweak special customs for the virtual setting. For example, rather than going around the table and asking what each person is thankful for, collect responses ahead of time in a gratefulness jar to read out loud. Or do a thankful show and tell (e.g., bring an item that represents what you’re thankful for this year). This may help move the tradition along faster and allow for additional creativity.
  4. Accommodate family members with different communication needs. Many older adults are hard of hearing—consider modifications to help them stay engaged and hear better. For example, turning on closed captioning, seating a person closest to the computer or speakers, and projecting your meeting on a larger screen to allow better access to visual cues (such as seeing the facial expressions of those talking) can all make a world of difference. Keep in mind that online meetings may be tedious, overstimulating, or otherwise challenging for children with autism, ADHD, or a speech or language disorder.
  5. Communicate respectfully. Give everyone a chance to speak, try not to talk over others, and limit side conversations during your gathering. This may be more difficult with everyone in different locations, but doing your best to do so will make the experience better for everyone.

ASHA notes that while this will be the most high-tech Thanksgiving yet, that doesn’t mean Americans need to go overboard on device use at the holiday dinner table: “More technology isn’t necessarily better,” Rodgers noted. “Individual phones and tablets should ideally be stashed away for the meal so they don’t distract from the main gathering.”

For more information, visit ASHA’s Healthy Communication & Popular Technology Initiative at www.communicationandtech.org/.


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,714 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th - 20th October 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 211,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.

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