Humanizing the Virtual Experience

Humanizing the Virtual Experience

Jun 15, 2020

By: Kate Shervais

As we all get used to Zoom meetings, GoToMeetings, Webex meetings, and the many other forms of meeting virtually, it’s important to consider how to build in humanizing experiences. Although we’re all getting more comfortable with this new normal, human connection can sometimes be ignored, or not prioritized, because it’s hard to get “right” in a virtual world. And, we worry that it may just mean we will spend extra time on Zoom. Here at Integrated Work, we have come to know that creating connection is an essential part of the arc of an experience. The goal is to figure out how to align connection with the meeting purpose and keep things simple.

Here are some key concepts to do just that:

Consider the Connection Outcomes You Hope to Create Within the Scope of Meeting Purpose

All meetings, conferences, in-person courses, and other gatherings, naturally offer social experiences that not only serve as a form of relaxation outside of the formal events. In fact, social interaction is a critical part of any in-person experience because it creates connection between attendees which results in deeper relationships, better meeting outcomes, and longer-lasting impacts from the event.

To create connection virtually, consider the purpose of the meeting and look for opportunities to offer connection-building activities within that framework. Name your ideal outcomes as a first step, for example, professional networking, building teamwork skills, opportunities for collaboration, breaking the ice for deepening relationships, and creating intercultural understanding.

Map the Arc of the Meeting

Using your ideal outcomes as the north star, look at your meeting, conference, or course and its arc. When you attend an in-person meeting or conference, frequently the arc looks like:

  • A pre-meeting social event the evening before to connect with new colleagues and to say hello to old friends. This may be an officially sponsored event connected to registration (and picking up event badges), or it may be unofficial, such as groups naturally congregating in the hotel bar.  >> The intention here is to build new connections, strengthen old connections, and get acclimated to the conference location. In a virtual experience, this is essentially the same… but instead, the focus might be on gathering colleagues to get acclimated to the platform they will use and to introduce virtual tools that will enhance their meeting experience.
  • Coffees, lunches, and snack breaks throughout the day at in-person events that offer opportunities to process the presentation that just wrapped up; have an unexpected run-in with a friend, and to pause and recharge.  >> You want to offer breaks in a virtual experience too!
  • Vendor fairs where attendees can meet possible new partners or learn about new tools.  >> Again – you may want to offer these things in a virtual experience as well!
  • Evening social events with time for deeper conversations, connecting on topics that aren’t directly work-related and more.  >> Yet again – you want this in a virtual experience too!

Identify What Can be Accomplished  Asynchronously to Create Space and Ease for Attendees

Once you’ve mapped the arc of the meeting, pay special attention to when energy might be flagging and a change of pace is needed.  Once you identify those times,  you can find the places you can focus on asynchronous activity, like content delivery. When looking at your agenda, prioritize taking “Zoom time” for connection, collaboration, and socializing. Asynchronous content can focus on priming a question and answer session for a presenter,  or on posing a question that will get the next discussion started.

Working this way allows breaks that give attendees more flexibility in their day. Full meeting days feel very different when you’re away from your home than they do from your home office. In a virtual setting,  adding asynchronous content will  likely benefit attendees who are navigating attending a full meeting with every aspect of their regular life.

Design Lighthearted Experiences

  • A few examples include:
    • A Zoom costume party with backgrounds (see backgrounds here) and hats
    • A discussion group, based on a book, podcast episode, or current events
    • A little more complicated: play a board game together or watch a movie using a synchronous watching app
    • Do an escape room or murder mystery party together
  • Other ways to do this that don’t involve scheduling a specific time could be:
    • Program bingo: Attendees notice things throughout the event and fill in a bingo card to qualify for a prize
    • Build Easter eggs within your meeting, learning management system, or whatever your meeting ‘backbone’ is, as a fun way to motivate participants to explore the system.

Bring Others In

Providing a “human experience” along with designing all your content can feel like a lot. To lighten your load, consider inviting attendees  to host a session. Other participants tend to  show up for their peers in a different way than they would show up for a meeting organizer, and that can be a good thing. Another option is to bring in a special guest  or vendors to host some of the meeting events.

The primary thing to consider when asking a participant or a special guest to host, is how to make the experience feel seamless for the other attendees. For example, ensure technology is well set up for the group, use tools that they are already using in other sessions, and support your guest host with a brief prep session so your expectations are aligned and so that they feel at ease with what’s to come.

Learn and Synthesize for Next Time

Remember to synthesize your learning and build on it for your next meeting or event.  Get feedback. Perhaps participants will have interesting and innovative asks and ideas. Consider building the next version along with them.

Have Fun

People appreciate seeing the fun and silly side of others – it brings us closer.  Don’t be afraid to adapt in the moment.  You don’t have to be perfect, just willing to  demonstrate your openness to create with your participants in the here and now.

If you would like learn more about hosting virtual events, check out our online self-paced course, Leading Virtually.