Do you remember the last in-person event you went to?
However you got to the venue—car, public transit, bike—maybe you ran into some other attendees on your way in the front door.
Maybe you introduced yourselves and made small talk as you found the room.
When you entered the meeting space, perhaps the event host welcomed you, introduced themselves, and pointed you to a table with snacks and coffee, or invited you to make yourself a nametag.
You might have even had a little conversation with the event host.
Of course, if you are shy, or particularly reserved, you may have kept to yourself, but my point here is that with in-person events, connection happens fairly organically.
A good experience designer will want to facilitate that connection, but it doesn’t take too much effort.
Now contrast this with the last virtual event you went to.
In most cases, we land in a virtual room with no sense of transition from wherever we were before.
And connection on Zoom? What’s that?
Well, as I wrote in my recent article, “Why Can’t I Keep People’s Attention on Zoom?”, if you want to create a meeting, a training, an event, an experience that people will rave about, connection has to come first.
“Connection before content,” as Peter Block so famously put it. “Without relatedness, no work can occur.”
So how do we create that relatedness? What can we do to create connection on Zoom, or other virtual platforms?
It’s really not as hard as you might think!
To give you a bit of a kick-start, here are four of my favorite connection exercises for Zoom (or any virtual meeting platform that allows breakout rooms). I’ll share two activities that are examples of what Jenny Sauer-Klein refers to as “wide and shallow” in approach, and two that are “narrow and deep.”
First, “wide and shallow”:
1. Unique Thing in Common
In this activity, participants are partnered with one or two other people, and instructed to find as many things as possible that they have in common with each other, and to look for the most unique thing to share with the group.
Before sending people into breakout rooms in pairs or trios (tip: trios helps avoid lonely solos, if anyone drops off the call!), suggest that the look for things they’ve done, things they like, pet peeves, hobbies, or other non-visible, non-obvious things, in order to discover unique and surprising commonalities.
Give the pairs/trios six minutes in the breakout rooms. Then when there’s one minute left, broadcast a message to tell them they have one minute to decide which commonality is most unique and surprising, that they’d like to share with the group.
When you bring everyone back to the main room, invite each pair/trio to share the most surprising or unique thing they found in common. They can do this in chat, or if it’s a small group, go around the room and share out loud.
You can also debrief what the experience was like, to seek out unique commonalities for six minutes. Possible questions:
- What happened in your breakout room?
- What did you learn?
- How do you feel now?
Background: I learned a version of this activity from Jenny Sauer-Klein, and a version with the “unique” element from Erica Marx.
For a great follow-up connection activity (also from Jenny Sauer-Klein), now pair up the groups you made in Unique Thing in Common, to form breakout groups of 4 or 6.
Before sending them into the breakout rooms for 6-8 minutes, explain that their job now is to find as many differences as possible.
On returning to the main room, ask the groups to share how many differences they found, and debrief. You can use the same questions as above, or make up your own.
Now, “narrow and deep”:
3. Differences (or Commonalities) Storytelling
Another activity from Jenny Sauer-Klein, this is a great follow-up to either of the above activities!
Let your participants know they’ll be going back into the same groups of 4 or 6, and that they’ll have one minute to land in the rooms and introduce themselves. After that initial minute, each person tells a 1-minutes story inspired by one of their differences [or, if you prefer, have them tell a story inspired by one of their commonalities — the activity can work either way! 😊]
(Tip: Be sure to give people a speaking order before opening the breakout rooms! Alphabetical order, whoever went to the dentist most recently, longest hair goes first…)
Possible debrief questions:
- What happened during that activity?
- How do you feel after doing that activity? Do you feel different now than you did before? What are some emotions you experienced?
- What did you learn from this experience?
- How does this apply to the real world?
4. Rose Thorn Bud
This last connection activity I’ll share here is a great one for providing a full snapshot of where everyone is at right now. It’s a beautiful opener (which I also learned from the fabulous Jenny Sauer-Klein).
Divide people into pairs or trios (again, trios help prevent anyone from being left alone if someone drops off the call), and before sending them into breakout rooms, explain that each person is going to share three aspects of what’s going on in their life, using the metaphor of a rose:
ROSE – something beautiful that’s in full bloom in your life
THORN – something challenging you’re struggling with
BUD – something exciting that’s about to unfold that you’re looking forward to
So, for example, my rose might be my relationship with my husband, which feels rich and satisfying and in full bloom.
My thorn is currently my body, specifically my shoulder, which was doing better from rehab until my bicep tendon flared up this morning (argh!)
My bud is the Kiss My Boundaries pilot program I’m co-teaching with my friend, Kathy Klotz-Guest. I’m super-excited about it!
Debrief questions can be similar to those above, or make up your own!
The goal of all of these connection activities is to get participants (ahem) connecting and sharing.
My experience with activities like these is that people tend to come back to the main room with smiles, more relaxed, and with more attention for whatever comes next.
Let me know if you try any of these activities, and what your experience is!
If you’d like to experience some brain-friendly exercises that activate learning while building connection, come to my next Non-Boring Virtual Meetings Learning Lab.
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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