7 Steps to Hosting a Virtual Funeral April 28, 2021

"How to Host a Virtual Funeral" - Computer with a conference call and coffee mug

The coronavirus pandemic has posed many challenges to the way we gather. Depending on where you live and the timing of the service, you may face restrictions against gatherings of more than 10 people. Some friends and families may also face long-distance travel or budget restraints that get in the way of bringing everyone together in-person. 

If you are dealing with these kinds of hurdles, hosting an online funeral service may a suitable option. In addition to abiding by gathering restraints, an online funeral service can alleviate travel costs and allow more people to join the event. 

For grieving loved ones, it can be difficult to imagine, much less plan, a virtual funeral service. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, loved ones, and your local funeral home for assistance. 

Step 1: Pick a platform for your online funeral service. 

Planning a virtual funeral service begins with selecting a user-friendly platform. Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype, and FaceTime are popular options. You may also opt for a Zoom Pro subscription if you’d like to have up to 100 computers join the event (and remember, that’s computers—not people. Families can join together from one computer). This is a great choice for those who want all participants to be able to see and speak to each other during the service. 

If you go this route, remember that all guests will need a computer, tablet, or cell phone with microphone and camera capabilities. You might also ask guests to prepare to log on a few minutes early to face any troubleshooting issues. 

If you have a limited budget or more than 100 attendees on your list, you may choose a live stream funeral service. This can be done through YouTube or Facebook live, where there is no limit to the number of participants, but they won’t be able to interact with you directly. 

A live stream funeral service is also a great option if many attendees do not have a device with a microphone or camera. They will be able to view the service live or, if you choose to record it, they can view it at a later time from home. 

Step 2: Select a time and date. 

If possible, you’ll want to schedule the online funeral service 3-5 days in advance to give yourself enough time to arrange the event. Just like any funeral service, you may not be able to accommodate everyone’s schedule. However, you may be able to record the service and allow those who could not attend to view it later. 

The length of the program is another important consideration. Many in-person funeral services are an hour or longer, but often online funeral services are shorter since guests won’t have the chance to move around the room and speak with each other like they might at an in-person event. Of course, it is up to you and your loved ones how long the online funeral service might be. 

Step 3: Plan the virtual funeral service. 

The planning process for a virtual funeral service is similar to a traditional funeral service. You’ll want to consider a sequence of speakers, slideshows, videos, or other ways of honoring your loved one. Let the funeral home you are working with know that you plan to incorporate technology into the event. They will help you plan and arrange the space to accommodate your needs—whether you need to set up a camera, connect to WiFi, or other technology-related needs. 

Just like a traditional service, you may want to incorporate speakers, slideshows, music, and other tributes to the deceased into the ceremony. Take some time to arrange the order of these events, and let all participants know when they will be speaking, singing, or sharing their screen for photos and videos during the service. 

You’ll also want to designate specific roles for each participant. Select a host to help keep things running smoothly. They will aid in transitioning between speakers and keep the program on-track. Select your speakers (people often choose 2-3, but depending on your preference and the length of the service, you may want more or less). Make sure to let these folks know which order they will be speaking in, and what events you might have planned in-between. 

If using Zoom for a large online funeral service, some families may choose to incorporate breakout rooms during the event. This can give attendees an opportunity to share memories and personal stories, as well as meet and grieve together. If you’ve chosen a live stream funeral service, guests may want to add comments to share their memories and condolences. 

Step 4: Send your virtual funeral service invites.

Some people will choose to create a webpage for their event using a service like Keeper, GatheringUs, or Ever Loved, while others may use existing platforms like Facebook’s event tool. Either way, the details of the service will be easy to access to all your invitees. You can share your event page via text, email, and social media. If you plan to use an interactive platform like Zoom, you may want to ask guests to RSVP so you can plan accordingly.

It is best to send invites two days in advance, if possible. It is also important to wait until you’ve completed steps 1, 2, and 3 before sending invites so you can plan to answer any questions that attendees may have. If you plan to allow them to participate in the event, you might remind them to bring stories or memories to share with the group. 

When planning your invitees, you have the choice to keep a ceremony small or make it available to the general public. If you want to have a small online funeral service, or if your chosen video conferencing app allows a limited number of participants, you can make the event page private. If you’d like to keep the invitation open, you can leave the page public and even invite friends and family to share the event with others. 

Whether you choose a small event or a large one, one of the most unique benefits of an online funeral service is the option to record it. While you certainly don’t have to record the ceremony, it can be a nice gesture for those who cannot attend the virtual funeral at its designated time. 

Step 5: Designate a moderator for the online funeral service. 

It can be helpful to designate someone to handle technology and troubleshooting issues during the event. The funeral home may have someone who can do this, or you may have a tech-savvy loved one or family member to assume the role. It is important that this person is comfortable navigating the video conferencing app you choose, as they will be responsible for making sure the sound and video elements are running smoothly. 

The moderator should have the ability to mute and unmute participants, spotlight the speakers, initiate breakout rooms, and run the slideshows or videos you plan to share. Appointing someone to take care of technical issues can free you and the other speakers up to focus on hosting a moving virtual funeral. 

Step 6: Test your setup. 

Before the virtual funeral begins, do a dry run with the equipment and software you selected. This will help you ensure that the event will run smoothly, and everyone should be able to connect to your feed. 

It is also helpful to invite the host and speakers to this dry run to test their own equipment (if they are joining from home) and practice their speeches in full. Invite the moderator as well to give them a chance to practice muting and unmuting participants, sharing their screen for slideshows and videos, and troubleshooting other technical aspects.

A test run will also give you an opportunity to run through the service and adjust any oddities or hiccups you run into. If you, the host and speakers, and the moderator know what to expect during the event, it can reduce everyone’s stress levels and help you focus on delivering a memorable online funeral service. 

Step 7: Hold your virtual funeral service. 

Hosting a virtual funeral service may feel different at first, but in reality, it’s not so different from a live one. During the event, focus on honoring your loved one the best you can, despite the circumstances. 

It can be helpful to ask participants to mute themselves at the beginning of the service, just to ensure any background noise does not disrupt the feed. You may ask them to unmute later if you plan to invite guests to share memories and stories during the event. 

Above all, a virtual funeral service is an opportunity to reimagine the way we memorialize a loved one. While hosting a funeral service online can be challenging, it can also be an opportunity to get creative and allow people to interact with the ceremony in ways they may not have been able to in the past. 

If you’re planning a virtual funeral service, our professional staff can help answer any questions you may have. Contact us today to discuss your needs.