Welcoming participants

How to make participants feel comfortable in a virtual event?

The challenge

Humans are multidimensional beings. They interact not only with their mind, but also through emotions, intuition, and body. Therefore, receiving the participants with all their sensitivities and expectations is an important prerequisite for a successful online event. In contrast to face-to-face events, in a virtual setting there is no arrival with initial mingling with other participants over a cup of coffee. As people communicate remotely, it is more important than ever to create an atmosphere of trust and openness.

 

The solution

Although all virtual events face time restrictions, enough time should be planned to welcome participants and, if appropriate given the size and format of the event, for a warm-up session. This investment of time always pays off and contributes to effective and successful work meetings.

Areas of application:

All types of virtual events from online group meetings, classroom trainings, and workshops to large-group events.

 

Methods

The virtual space needs to be prepared so that participants feel comfortable and get some orientation about the course of the event. It is important to create a pleasant atmosphere and a good reception right from the start of any virtual event. Good practices include:

  • When designing the event, plan about ten minutes before the official start of the event (“soft landing”) for small talk, which might be accompanied by background music.
  • When entering the videoconferencing room, a PowerPoint slide with a welcome message could be displayed for the participants.

Clear meeting rules, either announced by the moderator or developed jointly by the participants, help to establish a common ground for the collaboration. The rules can include issues such as use of camera and microphone, or confidentiality (e.g. no recording of the event) and should be communicated at the beginning of the event.

For smaller events, it is helpful to start the online meeting with a guided small talk or a warm-up session. The objective is to get to know the other members of the virtual group better and to strengthen mutual trust. As with face-to-face events, a number of creative interventions – both on interpersonal level and related to the specific topic of the event – can be used.

For example, in an introduction exercise participants can be divided into small groups (breakout sessions) to get to know each other by sharing something personal and discussing a question which serves as an introduction to the workshop topic. Depending on the time frame, these short sessions can be repeated with different small groups. For events over a longer period, it is advisable to carry out interventions at regular intervals to re-engage the participants, strengthen cooperation and build trust.

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Tools and technical aspects

In most videoconferencing tools and if appropriate for the size of the event, the chat function can be used for first introductions. Participants might be asked to include their full name, institution and function in their profile or to write it in the chat.

Breakout rooms can be used for initial getting to know each other, short discussions, or group work.

A virtual flip chart can be prepared in PowerPoint, e.g.  an attractive design combined with a question. The presenter can insert a text box and share his or her screen. The participants’ contributions are then directly written down and are visible to everyone. These flip charts can also be sent to the participants as documentation at the end of the event.

There is a large selection of virtual group exercises, e.g. Energizer, exercises from the improvisational theater, self- or team-reflection in small groups that can be used as warm-up exercises at the beginning of an event (see links below).

REFERENCE PERSON

Gudrun Becker

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