If you’re interested in learning more about Virtual Convening Best Practices and Resources, check out our Virtual Convening Skills Lab (in partnership with Story & Spirit): Building your Virtual Convening Toolbox Strategy, Facilitation, Design, & Implementation. For more information, see the link here.
As COVID-19 sweeps across multiple countries and affects global markets and all business sectors, one of the hardest-hit is the convener community. The lifeblood for many impact conveners has involved face-to-face connections and interactions. In response to this global shift to virtual engagement, Conveners.org is quickly responding to support our convener community and our Conveners.org Members in their transition to virtual convening.
The focus of this month’s Member Call on April 17th was how to create spaces virtually that can hold that same energy, excitement, vulnerability, and connection, as in-person convenings. Michael Kass from Story & Spirit was our guest spark and guided our group conversation. Below are some of the key points discussed by Michael and the participants on the call:
Both Michael Kass and Cecilia Wessinger from MassCollaboration.org touched on the importance of setting the tone of your convening right from the start – and it begins with the initial invitation to connect. This challenges all Conveners to evaluate the purpose and goals of their convenings, consider if/when and/or how to retool their traditional in-person events into a completely virtual setting, set the right tone, and create safe, inclusive, diverse spaces for their participants to interact and actively participate. This also includes selecting and training your facilitators so that they can help hold authentic spaces for your participants in a virtual setting, which is a very different dynamic than in-person settings.
The conversation then turned to the paradigm shift in thinking and structuring dour convenings now that they are virtual and the nuances of that process. No longer can we rely on the decades-old structure of simply presenting information to a crowd when we go virtually. Studies are showing that people are already getting burned out by the multiple online presentations and meetings they have to attend on a daily basis since the majority of us who still have jobs have shifted to working from home.
We as conveners have the opportunity to get creative with virtual spaces to make them more interactive, inclusive, and participatory for a more diverse set of participants such as:
- Use Zoom breakout rooms to break the larger group into smaller discussion groups
- Shift the structure of our virtual agendas so we aren’t simply mimicking the 3-day, all-day in-person conferencing mode
- Create recordings of your sessions so attendees can view all of the information shared during the convening.
Another major consideration reinforced on the call is to remember that presenting or facilitating virtually is nothing like in-person convening. There are so many other/new factors you have to take into account so that participants feel engaged with your presentation or discussions group, including:
- Have the right background for your screen
- Hold a strong posture and a clear speaking tone
- Test out your tech before the call to make sure everything is working properly
- Make sure you as the presenter/facilitator have everything you need to be comfortable for the call
- Maintain and monitor the energy in the room and engage participants all from a computer screen in your home.
Lastly, many conveners during the call wanted to know how they can create safe spaces to spark genuine conversations around hard topics – something that would be easier to create in person where you can see everyone’s reactions, body language, etc. Michael reinforced the importance of setting the right tone from the very beginning – starting with the invitation itself and the beginning of the call. His tips include:
- Invite people to take a breath together can help connect everyone physically, even in a virtual space.
- Acknowledging the discomfort for some in connecting virtually and letting people choose if they want to have their videos on or off depending on how they are feeling is another way.
- Have guiding questions that help participants in smaller groups with guided facilitation can help people open up and share in ways that they might not want to in a larger virtual group setting.
We hope that sharing these points from our call has helped you in thinking about how you can evolve your convening into inclusive, safe, participatory spaces.
- Resources to Support Social Entrepreneurs During the COVID-19 Crisis
- Getting Creative: Blended Models for Convening
- 7 Good Reasons to Cancel Your Event
- Convening and the Coronavirus FAQ
- Getting Innovative with Virtual Convening
- Virtual Convening: Top Four Tools We’ve Been Testing
- 5 Keys for Communicating a Cancellation to Your Community
- For diversity & inclusion: Jennifer Brown (DEI expert) has been hosting a bi-weekly community call (Tue/ Thu @ 12N ET)
- PCMA (the professional convention management association) has a FANTASTIC site with a ton of how-to’s and best practices around running virtual events