High hopes.

That’s what I had when I registered for the virtual conference.

The sponsoring organization was in alignment with my values, the theme was of interest to me.

I was excited to come together with others and learn.

Reality, though, did not meet my expectations.

​Sadly, my memory of the day is mostly of multi-tasking, which left me feeling deeply unsatisfied.

Granted, I was the one who chose to turn my attention to other things, but the designers of the event could have done a lot more to keep my focus.

Here are three things I would have done differently, had they hired me as a consultant or virtual experience designer:

1) Connection before content

If you follow me at all, you’ve no doubt noticed this refrain. I say it all the time, because it’s critical.

As Peter Block says,

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.”

This is true in-person, and it’s even more important in virtual spaces, where distractions are ever-present.

The virtual conference I attended only had one connection activity — a breakout room discussion — and that was late in the day when people had already had plenty of time to check out.

What a missed opportunity!

The best connection activities will accomplish these three goals:

  1. Connect people to each other
  2. Connect people to the purpose of the gathering
  3. Create space for authenticity and vulnerability

If, right off the bat, I had felt connected to the purpose and to other people in the space, tapped into my and their authenticity and vulnerability, I might have been more immersed in and committed to being present for the event.

The pull to multi-task may not have completely disappeared, but it would have had something powerful pulling against it. 

Which brings me to…

2) Connect throughout

Connecting right up front is so important. But if your only connection is at the start of your event, and the rest is talking heads, you’re in dire danger of losing attention fast.

And just one connection activity near the end, as I experienced at the conference I attended, is too little, too late.

People need to feel connected throughout your session.

As an experience designer, I like to weave in multiple touch-points.

Some of these can be micro-engagements — quick opportunities for participants to interact with presenters and each other via chat, or hand signals, which I like to toss in every 2 to 5 minutes.

And wherever possible, I love to send small groups to breakout rooms to reconnect people to each other and to purpose, and to create space for authenticity and vulnerability.

If the overall goal is to deepen connections, I’ll keep the breakout groups the same. If the overall goal is more networking or “speed dating,” I’ll switch it up.

It may seem like a lot of time spent away from your content, but the insights that happen in those breakout rooms is where the real impact from the day is likely going to happen.

3) Give people a break!

Another frustration I had with this conference is that sessions bled right into each other, without any breaks.

There was no time scheduled in for participants to use the restroom, grab a drink or snack, or just integrate the last session!

When we don’t schedule in breaks, we do a disservice to our participants, who will end up taking the breaks they need… by taking time away from scheduled sessions.

Just as with in-person conferences, build in time between sessions to allow folks to get from one place to another.

They may not need to walk across campus, but they’ll have a better experience if you design your event as if they do.

Yes, it may feel like you’re taking precious time away from your content, but again, if you don’t give participants time to integrate and take breaks, they will take time away themselves, by checking out!

Wrapping Up

I wish the organizers of the virtual conference I attended had taken these three principles to heart. It would have made for a much better experience.

There are a lot of things to consider when organizing a virtual event, but keeping these three principles front of mind will set you up with a strong foundation for an experience that people remember with a smile.


Interested to learn more? Message me to chat about how I can use my signature system to help your employees infuse connection, joy and delight into virtual meetings, trainings and events at your workplace.

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