By Sarah Sterling & Avary Kent

During our last Member Call, we discussed the components of what it actually takes to have participants connect and engage with one another – both at in-person events and with virtual convening as well. Guest spark Avary Kent from led us in a discussion that centered around the Awareness, Alignment, Action Framework. We were joined by a variety of organizations around the globe including members Impacto Experience Design, Intentional Media, Opportunity Collaboration,, and Salzburg Global

When we think about what it takes to actually collaborate there are three key ingredients that emerged from our conversation:

  1. Build trust between participants
  2. Create intimate spaces for participants to connect in small groups
  3. Provide support as action only takes place over time

Below we share some of the insights that emerged from our community during the call and highlight a few practices that can help you to cultivate action with your community.

One of our virtual convening practices is the use of “Threshold Moments.” This framework creates an intentional grounding opportunity for virtual call participants at the start and end of each call.  Our goal for these moments is to help people be fully present in the conversation.  Using nature imagery and intentional breathing are two techniques you can use to create a Threshold Moment. 

When asking participants to explore a topic, it is often helpful to prime their thinking with some prompt questions that encourage them to remember the experiences they’ve had and how they felt.  Avary used this technique to invite our members to think about how they have felt as participants instead of conveners.  Some of the prompt questions included: What did you want to get out of the event? What types of connections were (or weren’t) formed with other participants? How might you have felt trapped by the agenda or format? Were there times you felt you had agency and voice? 

Della Green from Meet Green, shared her recent experience of attending a sustainable supply chain conference where the conveners were switching pretty quickly over to a virtual platform. The conveners executed really well and created the space to bring together key actors and players at an opportune time. It was such a positive experience that she was sad to leave it at the end – something we all hope for as Conveners.

Ashleyn Przedwiecki from Social Enterprise Alliance, Twin Cities shared that the best virtual convening she had attended recently was one where all the participants were treated as experts and given space to reflect and share from their knowledge and backgrounds.  While not appropriate for every event, we’ve found that when participants are invited to contribute their perspectives and experiences engagement is higher and they leave with more positive reflections on the event.

One of the key topics of discussion during the call was how to connect, engage, and inspire participants to take action in a virtual space. 

Building Trust: Topher Wilkins from Opportunity Collaboration reflected on how they spend most of the year leading up to their annual convening in October creating personalized connections between their delegates.  The goal is that when everyone arrives on-site, each participant has at least some connections with others to get them integrated into the OC community.  This is an effective strategy when you have a relatively small delegate pool (~400) and have the time to do curated outreach.

Finding Alignment: Kate Byrne from Intentional Media shared from her convening SOCAP, how this can work for a large (~3,000) convening that is more open. SOCAP tries to segment people into specific groups to connect with one another and create spaces, like their entrepreneur scholarship program, for specific groups to receive more personalized attention and orientation prior to their flagship event. As they transition to virtual, Intentional Media hosted smaller online gatherings leading up to SOCAP and plans to continue this model even once they go back to doing some of their events in-person. 

Create space to follow through: Dominic Regester from Salzburg Global reflected on the importance of earning and building the trust of participants leading up to and during a virtual event. The dynamics of personal connections tend to shift when dealing with a virtual space vs an in-person one. A recent convening they hosted with a partner was not completely focused on taking action, but they did have a goal to connect participants.  While the primary mode of engagement was through webinar-style formats, the conveners encouraged participants to connect with each other in private zoom rooms or phone calls outside of the main convening space.  It can feel counter-intuitive to ask participants to leave your virtual venue, but when the goal is connection this is a great practice. 

Recently, one of our members Katapult hosted their virtual Katapult Cloud event on the Hopin platform.  We would say it was a huge success.  For a 24 hour event they had on average 300 participants throughout the entire time.  They achieved their goals of sharing knowledge and building community connection, and participants were definitely sad to see it end.  To support ongoing collaboration they provided a number of group WhatsApp chats so that participants could follow-up with one another.  They also leveraged the “Expo Booth” feature on Hopin to connect people with specific calls to action.  If you would like to get a Behind the Curtain look at how the Hopin platform works and what they learned from this experience, please join us on June 2nd at 8:30 AM Pacific for our next Convening & Coronavirus community call- click here to sign up.

Overall, the group acknowledged that while there are many challenges involved with moving an in-person convening into the virtual space, it also presents many opportunities to unleash the full power of convening., Even when we start to make the shift back to some in-person gatherings it will be important to include the lessons we’ve learned from building connection online. Everyone acknowledged that this new world dynamic of convening virtually will be around for a long time to come, and in many ways, will reshape the entire convening industry.