Weekly-ish emails with tips to create powerful group containers for transformation.

The Biggest Mistake Folks are Making with Virtual Events

A couple weeks ago, I held a daylong retreat for 15 of my clients that was intended to be 100% outdoors — online.

As you might imagine, I had a little apprehension about going virtual, but I’d been planning to do it this fall anyways, and well, here was my opportunity (seems the pandemic is presenting all sorts of these types of opportunities, amiright?).

A little context – these daylong retreats are intended as a reset… a day to slow down, step back from the busyness, and get some solo intentional time in nature to realign with our purpose in our lives and businesses. There’s circling, sharing and learning, and then we spend the afternoon on business strategy – informed by the wisdom gleaned from our time in nature.

And thankfully, it turned out awesome! Nourishing, connective, delightful, and useful.

As one participant put it: I was so thrilled at how connected I felt to everyone on the call and how it truly felt like I had “stepped away” even though it was literally just to my back patio.

I am learning a ton about hosting virtual events, both by facilitating and participating in them, so I want to share a little bit about what I did so you also can create powerful, embodied, connected experiences that are Zoom-based (notice I said “based”).

So here’s the thing you don’t wanna do – and the biggest mistake I see folks making in transitioning live events to virtual…

Do not try to make an exact replicate of your in-person event online.

Some things just don’t work the same online, so instead of trying to stick a square peg in a round hole, take this approach instead:

  1. Re-clarify the desired outcome of your event.
  2. Let go of the outcome happening the same way it did in person.
  3. Get creative and design a way to get there that works on a virtual medium.

For example, I have a client who facilitates multi-day staff retreats for nonprofits. But can you imagine having folks sit on Zoom and talk at each other for 3 days straight without having the social and meal time in between sessions at a special retreat center away from the office?

You need to do it differently — Folks need to be prepared differently, the container needs to be set stronger and what you do at the event needs to be different as well.

And you need way more breaks.

So here are some tips:

In Your Marketing

Address people’s objections from the start – tell them they won’t be sitting on a boring Zoom call for 3 days, you promise. It will be different, dynamic, engaging and DESIGNED for virtual, not just an attempted copy of the live version.

And do not apologize that the event has to be virtual and that it might not be as good as the original. Plant the seed that this event could even be BETTER than the original. And then do your damnedest to make it so.

Preparing Your Clients

Send very detailed instructions in advance so that people know the detailed flow and logistics of the event. For example…

I wanted people outside, but able to connect on Zoom, and I even thought about the fact that at some point people’s phones would run out, and organized accordingly.

I asked people to have a delicious lunch prepped, to bring a candle and journal, and really create a retreat-like space for themselves in their home. They also needed to find a nature spot at or near home to do the nature journey in advance.

They were also asked to agree to Community Standards in advance, which helped create a strong container for our day. Among many other things, people were asked to sign a commitment to presence and not getting distracted with other things on their computer or at home.

During the Event

Be dynamic. Use lots of formats. We had a variety of activities, just as we would have in person and even more! For example, full group sharing circles and small breakout groups for connection and ice breaking. We had an opening meditation and a song, and yoga and dance breaks.

We spent a full hour outside individually on a guided walk that went straight into lunch for an extra-long Zoom break.

We did visionary, big picture work in the morning and down and dirty 90-day planning work on our computers in the afternoon. We had an hour of open work time on our plans where I was available for questions, but many people just hopped off Zoom for an hour to work on their own (or do something else).

All of this really broke up the day and folks agreed they had a truly “retreat-like” experience, really enjoyed the connection, container and flow, and got a lot out of it, both on the visionary “a-ha” side as well as the logistical get-it-done side.

Moral of the story? With an open mind, creativity and some extra planning, you can ABSOLUTELY create meaningful and powerful events virtually, even daylong or multi-day programs.

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