I was talking with a group of colleagues the other day about all the things we miss about in-person events.

  • Hugs.
  • Sharing meals together.
  • Feeling the energy of the room, as a performer or speaker onstage—those audience sounds of laughter, applause, the sudden intake of breath…
  • Spontaneous interactions—being able to turn to the person sitting next to you to share an insight, and “hallway moments” walking from one session to the next.​

Let’s face it, we can’t do hugs on Zoom.

We can, however, bring some of these human features into Zoom. Specifically, the spontaneity.

How?

By designing and planning for it!

Here are 4 tips for bringing some of the spontaneity we love about in-person events into virtual experiences.

1) Build connection time into your event program, before the official program start time. 

Set expectations in advance, in all of your communications and promotions, to make sure attendees know there will be dedicated time to connect with other participants before the official start. Not everyone will take advantage of this option, but make it clear what will happen, and make it enticing!

Have some music playing before anyone shows up (not too loud, so it doesn’t interfere with conversation) and as people arrive, invite them into conversation.

If it’s a big group, you can even experiment with “friendship lottery” breakout rooms right at the top. Send everyone off in small groups with some sort of low-stakes question prompt.

(Low-stakes, because psychological safety is paramount, so you don’t want to ask people anything that makes them feel too vulnerable!)

As new people dribble in, welcome them, explain what’s happening, and add them to a breakout room.

2) Include an Afterparty or Watercooler Time block after the official program end time. 

Often people aren’t quite ready to leave when an event is over. When we’re in-person, we have the luxury of standing around and chatting before heading to our cars / the train station / wherever.

On Zoom or other virtual platforms, we don’t have the same luxury. Transitions are typically abrupt and out of our control—*snap* the window closes, and we’re onto the next thing!

It’s a gift to your attendees to offer the option of a more gentle transition in the form of an Afterparty or Watercooler Time—a block of some kind of unstructured, or less formally structured time immediately following the main program.

Just as with the connection time in advance of the official program, make it clear in all of your communications and promotions what will happen after the formal program is over, so attendees know what to expect.

3) Let go of the reins. 

The whole point of holding space for spontaneity is to let your attendees run free, as it were.

Sometimes, though, attendees may feel a bit inhibited if the person who just led the program is still in the room.

One way you can signal that you are no longer in charge is simply by leaving the room. Say something like, “This is now [Watercooler Time]. I’m going to go make myself some tea. I may come back later.”

Boom! You’ve just let go of the reins.

Or, you can follow the next tip…

4) Facilitate spontaneity

Want to facilitate spontaneous mingling? Make use of Zoom’s “Let participants choose room” breakout room feature!

One of the highlights of my week is a two-hour Zoom event every Friday. And one of my favorite parts of that event is the unstructured Afterparty, where folks are dropped randomly into breakout rooms, and from there we can roam at will.

It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to the spontaneous, “hallway moments” I’ve always loved at in-person conferences!

So there you have it: four tips that can go a long way toward bringing some of the spontaneity we love about in-person events into virtual experiences.

Virtual events will always be different from in-person events. Trying to make them otherwise would be like trying to make a cat into a dog. However, when designed thoughtfully and carefully, we can get the many benefits of virtual, and also still create the deep connection and even the spontaneity that’s so much more easily found in-person.

Would you like to bring some of these human features into your next virtual experience? Looking to transform your virtual training or event into a creative, interactive, playful experience your attendees will rave about? Let’s chat!

 

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