Since the pandemic, most of us have substituted Zoom for social gatherings, meetings, and everything in between. However, this can be difficult for older family members who struggle with using technology in general. You may have become the designated tech whiz in the family required to help your mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa get on Zoom when you cannot be there to see their screen. As someone that has helped hundreds of older adults use their technology, I want to share 5 actionable tips to help you be more effective and save you extra emotional stress. Plus, if you follow these steps, you will make the experience so much more enjoyable for your loved ones. 

Pre-tip: If your older loved one has a smartphone, start with a video call such as FaceTime and teach them to flip the camera over so you can see what they are looking at on their computer. 

1. Start the call by saying “do not click on anything until I tell you to.”

If you have ever helped an older adult with computers over the phone, you’ve probably experienced a window accidentally being closed when you are almost done. Fingers could slip and people could get a bit ahead when we are almost at the finish line. If you have never experienced this, don’t wait till it happens because it’s going to double everyone’s frustration and time when it does. Take five seconds at the beginning of the call and tell your loved one “only click when I tell you to click”, “keep your fingers off the mouse when you are moving it around,” and “do not click on anything until I tell you to do so.”

2. Navigate their eyes with position-specific language.

Spotting words and buttons on a digital screen is not always easy for someone that did not grow up with technology. Instead of just saying “the camera at the bottom”, use position-specific language to navigate their eyes and help them find buttons faster. Don’t say: “The camera is at the bottom. Do you see it? It’s there to the left.” Do say: “On the lower-left corner of the Zoom screen, find the second icon from the left, and that’s the camera.” While this step may take an extra second of mental work for you, it will make your instruction so much more effective.

3. Explain what they should be seeing on their screen.

Ever noticed how whenever you call tech support, they will use language such as “now you should be seeing blah”? This magical sentence serves 3 purposes: One, to make sure you both are on the same page, literally, without explicitly asking. Two, to reassure you, are doing it right and make you feel less stressed. Three, confirming to the person what is happening on the screen. Let’s apply this trick to our scenario. Don’t say: “Click on the button to turn it on.” Do say: Say “The camera button you are looking at right now should have a red slash across it. That means your camera is turned off. Let’s click on it to turn it on, and the red slash should go away.”

4. Give specific mouse click instructions.

For someone that isn’t familiar with using a computer, whether the instruction of a “click” means a left-click, right-click, single-click, or double-click is not intuitive. To save time, always specify what type of click you are asking them to do. Don’t say: Say “Click on the camera.” Do say: say “Left click once on the camera button to turn it on,” or “to make the Zoom call full screen, double left-click on my face.

5. Pretend you are helping your boss’s mom.

The best way to stay patient and calm is to pretend that you two are not related. This is especially important because your loved ones are doing something that is stressful for them. Simply imagine that your boss has asked you to help his mom get on Zoom, and you need to be on your best behavior. In doing so, you will be closer to zen in providing the most patient and effective experience, which we all need in these crazy hectic times. 

6. Outsource the help so they don’t feel like a bother

Sometimes you just don’t have the time to help your older parents, or it takes too much of an emotional toll on the both of you, or that you just want them to feel confident when asking for help and not always feeling like a bother to you. In these cases, outsourcing the support is the best way to go. Gifting them a Personal Technology Coach such as Orchard, can be incredibly effective and empowering. In fact, according to a recent survey, it was the #1 most wanted gift among older adults, beating a book and a pair of warm slippers.