Virtual convening is relatively new for most conveners and thinking about using it instead of having an in-person convening can be downright depressing. While there are legitimately some elements of face-to-face interaction that even the best virtual convening can’t replicate, there are a variety of ways you as the convener can bring more of that in-person magic to your virtual spaces. Here are some ideas:
Innovative Formats for Virtual Convening
PLAY WITH TIME
Utilize both synchronous and asynchronous interactions to make the most of your “in-person” time with attendees. Deliver more passive content (videos, worksheets, handouts, etc.) in the form of pre-work participants can engage with before joining the call. Then when you are together, you can focus on deeper interaction that uses the pre-work as a jumping-off point. This can be especially useful when you are trying to solve a problem or develop an idea. Just remember to communicate clearly with your participants about the role this pre-work will play in the overall experience; most of us aren’t used to actually needing to do the homework!
PLAY WITH GROUP SIZE
Get beyond “mainstage” style engagement. Many virtual convening platforms (Zoom, etc.) allow conveners to create space for paired and small group discussions. Some tools (like Hopin, Airmeet, and Braindate) even allow for random networking. This can help shift the energy of the group throughout your virtual convening, keeping people engaged, and generating authentic value through your most valuable resource (virtually or in-person)–your attendees.
PLAY WITH THE FOCAL POINT
Most virtual convening formats place the focus on a single speaker or group of panelists. For a more innovative virtual space, try shifting that focus to an idea instead of a person. You can do this by having a shared workspace – like a virtual whiteboard (we like Miro) or Google docs worksheet and center the discussion around the artifact of this shared problem space. This changes the interaction pattern by organizing all participants on a level playing field around a shared creative space.
PLAY WITH CONTROL
In traditional convening, virtual or not, the locus of control has always been on the facilitator/organizer. To truly push the boundaries on your convening, shift control on to the participants. Do what you can to co-create the agenda, content, priorities, and interactions with the participants themselves. Give them the power to choose where they want to be and how they want to interact. One tool, in particular, HopIn, is really innovative in terms of playing with control – it allows the participant to choose where and when they want to move virtually, and even allows them to create virtual spaces for their own conversations.