Is it possible to connect meaningfully online?

August 17 2020

Yes. But it takes intention and effort.

The digital world requires a bit more finesse than in-person events. Many of us grew up in front of screens —- televisions, cinemas halls, Ninentedos, and Game Boys. These same screens paved the way for productivity tools, redefining our lives and the ways in which we schedule, communicate, and do business. Now, laptops and cellphones are within easy reach from sunup ‘til sundown.

However, “the way we do things” is once again evolving, and we have the choice to embrace or reject these changes. So whether you’re trying to organize a meeting, host a conference, teach a class, or build a relationship, there are four elements to consider when connecting from afar:

Participation 

Online activities work best when people engage. Think of the lecture hall in which a student hides in the back row. Now recall a class in which the teacher prompted students with questions and lively discussion. Which scenario fosters learning?

Though direct participation may not be required by a host or organizer, you are guaranteed to get more out of the experience by taking responsibility for yourself: Turn on your camera, type in the chat box, follow up with an email, do your own research on the topic at hand.

If you’re participating, look for ways to get active.

If you’re organizing, look for ways to engage others. 

Nothing will work unless you do.

Maya Angelou

Entertainment

If you’re responsible for planning an online seminar or teaching a virtual class, remember: We want to be entertained if we’re watching something. And if we’re watching something, we want to feel. That feeling might be surprise or intrigue, curiosity or delight, disgust or repulsion, but we must feel something to be interested.

A traditional lecture won’t cut it. 

Incorporate images, videos, sounds, and unexpected elements to spark engagement and hold interest. Themes and pop culture references can surprise and delight attendees; end your meeting with a song or insert a relevant story into your presentation.

Collaboration

The greatest gift of online activities: The ability to network and share. 

Exchange opinions, ask for resources, find ways to trade thoughts, and start online conversations with others. While you can stick to more traditional chat forums and send emails, you can also get creative: Write a turn-by-turn story with a friend, watch a movie separately before sharing opinions, create a music playlist together.

Collaboration can become a tremendous pool of inspiration and insight. With a bit of creativity, options are endless.

Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.

Hazrat Inavat Khan

Expectations

As an organizer, intentionally decide upon the set outcomes of your online happenings. Then make a plan. Choose whether recurring events or one-off structures will best suit your goals. Schedule the meeting in advance, or jolt an eager audience with unannounced events.

Next, consider how you’ll present to participants. The way in which you communicate establishes rapport and sets clear boundaries, establishing a framework for what will take place. Audio-only arrangements create different spaces than those with video elements. Participatory tasks with light structure can be the right amount of encouragement participants need to stay interested.

Thoughtfulness guides the most worthwhile experiences and helps provide foundations for creativity to blossom.

Meaningful content is grounded in intention.