5 Things Virology Can Teach Us About Virtual Convening

  1. Small interactions can be incredibly meaningful – Viruses are so tiny–3,000 of them could line up across the period at the end of this sentence. Yet they impact huge organisms in enormous ways – just like virtual convening where meaningful information can be conveyed to up to hundreds of people in an all-in-one format of a virtual platform. Virtual convening can also be used to create smaller spaces for connection between participants for them to share information, ideas, and resources. Virtual convening can also help you open your audience to be more global (if that is within the mission of your convening), by dropping barriers to access that may have existed in the past like expenses and time around travel and accommodations.
  2. Remember the power of replication – that’s how viruses work, by making copies of themselves! Virtual convening Isn’t limited by time and space like in-person convening. Instead of just creating a direct translation of your in-person model of convening in a virtual format – like having a panel or single presenter talking at the crowd, you can create several different formats for engaging your participants virtually. Playing with group size, switching platforms for different program elements, and offering recordings of sessions so they can be available to participants when they need them are just some of the innovative ways to use virtual convening for impact.
  3. Principle of viral load – Some viruses have to create a lot of copies of themselves to make you feel sick and some only need a few. The same goes for virtual convening; depending on the type of interactions you want to have, you have to keep in mind group size. Pay attention to the optimum size of the group and be careful about matching the appropriate type of interaction based on the size of the group. Are you wanting to have more interactive, participatory conversations? Then a smaller group or a variety of small groups working alongside one another in different virtual rooms (think Zoom Breakout Groups) is the way to go. Do you want to have a captive audience to impart information to? Then almost any digital platform that has video, audio, and can host 100+ participants will work! What you don’t want is to be stuck with a large group and no way to break them down if what you want is high participation rates.
  4. Convening is always a balancing act – Like the same agent that helps kill off viruses, soap, there are always these seemingly opposing forces that you have to balance in a convening. With soap, the basic components that seem to be in opposition with one another actually work well together and help to deconstruct the walls of a virus, effectively killing it and making it unable to reproduce! For virtual convening especially, structure and flexibility in an agenda and keeping an eye on flow is a constant balancing act.  Creating spaces as a facilitator where you project confidence but also lead with vulnerability is another example.
  5. No virus is an island Viruses need a host cell in order to replicate themselves and eventually spread to another organism. Without this, they eventually die off and don’t create a huge impact (which is a good thing for us humans!). The same is true for convenings – no one event can impact the entire ecosystem. There are far too many challenges to address both globally and locally. Now more than ever, we need to create strategic partnerships with other conveners, replicate what works, and strengthen the convening ecosystem!