With our world moving more and more into virtual interaction and convening, we’re seeing some enticing myths start to propagate. Like many myths, these misconceptions have the potential to do actual harm in our ecosystem; we’re here to debunk them.
MYTH #1: It’s cheaper to host a virtual event than an in-person
While it is definitely cheaper to attend a virtual event (sans travel, etc.), actually hosting one is emphatically not. When looking at the breakdown of overall costs, the only major difference between in-person and virtual is the cost of food and venue, which of course are eliminated for virtual convening. But any cost savings from having your event online are made up for in spades with the cost of the platform you will need to purchase, and the support it takes to run a smooth, engaging virtual convening. Virtual convening is also a lot more costly in terms of the time investment it takes – now that we are no longer constrained by physical space, many conveners are hosting multiple events over multiple days (or weeks)–which is exciting, and exactly what we hope will happen in this new paradigm– but which also means more investment in your communications and production departments as well as overall staff time.
MYTH #2: Virtual convening can’t be interactive – it is a one-way exchange
This is one myth that we want to stop in its tracks immediately. If you design your engagements mindfully and know the right tools and platforms to use, there is NO reason that virtual convening need be any less interactive than in-person convening. Yes, we miss out on the neurochemicals of physical proximity, but that’s no reason to consign your event to webinar status. And while there are many platforms that encourage and support deep interaction, the experience design is really what determines the level of interactivity.
Here are just a few examples of different types of interaction you can use for your virtual convening:
- Types of tools & platforms
- Types of facilitation best practices & resources for virtual convening
MYTH #3: Virtual convening solves all your accessibility problems
While virtual convening can be a lot more accessible (differently-abled communities have been advocating for live streaming and call-in options for years), it also creates accessibility challenges all its own. While barriers of cost, mobility, language, etc are greatly reduced by going virtual, virtual convening has surfaced and a whole new set of equity issues that conveners need to address.
For conveners with a global audience, time zones become a major barrier to equitable virtual convening. Over and over, we see Asian time zones being pushed to the margins as conveners plan around the U.S. and European time zones. Just because they are “used to” getting up for calls at ghastly hours doesn’t mean our Asian communities should always be the ones who are asked to.
There are also many people who simply do not have the bandwidth or internet access to fully participate in virtual convenings. It can also be a challenge for older generations to adapt to rapidly-changing virtual convening technology. Finally, many learning styles are not incorporated into virtual presentation and facilitation styles, especially with so many conveners defaulting to PowerPoint presentations and sage-on-a-stage lectures for their virtual offerings.
MYTH #4: You can simply translate your in-person plan to your virtual one
Virtual convening is a design challenge all its own. It requires a different mindset when it comes to agenda and design. It also requires its own logistics and planning and staff who know how to operate online tools and platforms (and how to encourage and support engagement on them). There are a lot of production implications that you don’t have to consider with in-person convening; like bandwidth, using different tech and platforms, and coordinating with your team online. There is also a whole new set of equity questions that you need to take into account, alongside considerations about diversity, inclusion, and representation.
MYTH #5: Virtual convening takes less energy than in person
As we touched on above, virtual convening actually takes more planning than in-person convening, all of which (for the time being at least) must be coordinated virtually. This is a new way of interacting for most of us and we are all playing catch-up (which again, takes more time and energy). There is also a lot of digital fatigue taking hold as people tire of constantly being “on” for the camera. And while in-person interaction does take a lot of energy for most people, screen time actually changes our brain chemistry in a way that can cost us more energy to interact than face-to-face. We don’t get the same amount of physical signals virtually like body language and sense of connection when interacting virtually, which can be really energy-draining.
All this is not to say that virtual convening is more trouble than it’s worth. Going virtual offers incredible opportunities to bring communities together and advance the impact we all care so deeply about. Let’s just make sure we understand it as it is, and give it the investment (of time, of energy, of resources) it really requires.