Virtually Awesome: Creating Meaningful Connections Online
I’m hearing a lot of folks express worry and doubt about how they can create deep connections through screens, especially when they typically deliver their services face-to-face. As a coach, facilitator and trainer, for the past six years, I’ve worked with most of my clients virtually. I’ve had to figure out how to create bonds and trust quickly so that clients feel safe and we can do great work together.
Here are some of my suggestions to create vibrant, deeply connected online spaces for learning, sharing and supporting each other.
Create the Container
One of the quickest ways to create connections is to open the shared online space with a shared experience, such as a ritual. Rituals create comfort and meaning. Here’s a simple approach to try:
Provide an opportunity for participants to clear and become present (be sure to limit the time to one or two minutes, depending on the number of people).
Call forth each person to offer an intention or the desired energy for the call or session, and cast aside distractions, worries or other responsibilities.
Breathe together for a minute or two, lead a brief grounding/presencing meditation or offer a reading to set the tone for the meeting or session.
Agreements, agreements, agreements! Define the ‘rules of engagement’ so folks know what to expect, and what behavior is okay and not okay. Group agreements, or ground rules, create safety and courage in your online container so people can show up fully and participate freely.
These can be created and shared ahead of time and reviewed during a first gathering, or co-created with the group. Regardless, be sure to ask what else participants need to feel safe and courageous and to have the shared space be conducive to their learning or sharing.
You’ll want to include agreements about what appropriate participation looks like while understanding that some people prefer to sit back and observe, and others want to share and vocalize frequently. It’s important to make all ways of participating okay and check in on the quiet ones.
Other important agreements include honoring confidentiality, creating norms about taking turns or sharing, when to mute or turn off the video, and when to ask questions. Naming these expectations into space will help your participants feel comfortable because they’ll know what to expect and can then behave accordingly.
It can be helpful to clarify roles within the space as well. Let your client or group know that a participant or assistant is taking notes or keeping time, or that you will be leading part of the session, and then will be asking for a volunteer to participate in an activity for the benefit of everyone’s learning, for example. Let them know if you will be sharing notes after the call, or if it’s their responsibility to capture important points themselves.
From time to time, ask if everyone’s needs are being met, and adjust as needed, placing the bulk of responsibility on participants to care for themselves.
Make time for sharing
As the leader of a group, such as a workshop or a course, briefly share your story in a way that’s relevant to the purpose of the gathering (what will participants connect to in or about you?) and ask participants to share something relevant with the group as well (tip: limit time to maintain your agenda as appropriate).
On the first and subsequent calls, allocate time for getting to know each other and checking in with each participant -- ensure there is time for all to share and be heard. You can also orchestrate paired or small group activities in the online space (by using break out rooms, for example) or between calls or sessions, to encourage deeper engagement amongst participants.
Moving meetings and workshops online offers the opportunity to be creative and try things you might not normally do in a face-to-face setting. Here are a few ideas:
Use the shared chat or whiteboard function to collaborate during the session.
Create a code for your group: hand signals, colored cards, other visuals to express agreement, applause or questions (movement, wearing funny hats, waving a tissue or a shoe).
Use your geography: offer virtual hugs, high fives and fist bumps; breath together; move together -- a stretch, a pose, a dance!
Notice body language and energetic shifts and speak them into space -- see what needs to be discussed or shared.
Let there be silence, and let it breathe: unhurried spaciousness creates permission for people to show up.
Encourage participants to express appreciation for, acknowledge and reflect what they witness in each other.
Close the Container for Continued Connection
It’s important to not simply end the call. Ensure you have time allocated to close the container so everyone can complete and check out.
To close the space, ask participants to offer:
A one-word takeaway or key learning.
A commitment or action to integrate what they learned.
Appreciation for what transpired.
Appreciation for another participant and how they showed up, grew or offered value to the group.
Depending on the nature of your call or workshop, you could offer a closing prayer, poem or blessing to send participants off into the world.
Encourage continued community after everyone logs off, such as using other technology -- texting, chatting, messenger apps, a private or public Facebook group or community (moderated or self-directed).
Your clients or participants will connect to your true nature when you show up exactly as you are, and they’ll know intuitively when you’re trying to be someone or something else, so be your perfectly imperfect self.
One way to do this is to take a few minutes before you get onto a call or meeting to connect with the energy you want to portray. You could choose a word or intention to guide you before, during and after the session and keep you centered and focused. When I first started coaching, I would wear my brightly colored rubber boots during calls to help me bring my colorful self to my clients while creating safety for them to get messy with me.
Let your authentic personality shine through and don't try to BE anything other than who you naturally are! Just do you!
Need some help preparing for an online meeting or session? I’m here to help! Reach out to schedule a time, or check my other Virtually Awesome tips at JillyHyndman.Com/Virtually-Awesome.