Tips for Hosting Online Conversation

PeggyHolman
Mar 16, 2020 · 5 min read

Looking for an alternative to face-to-face events in the time of Coronavirus? People have been experimenting with synchronous online convening for years and the tools continue to improve. Here are some suggestions based on experiences of the Journalism That Matters team.

World Café Principles, Image by Nitya Wakhlu, Elevate Engagement, 2017

The basics apply whether online or in-person.

Set the stage…

Invite the people who care. Complex challenges benefit from multiple perspectives. Do your homework to identify the people who ARE IN — with authority, resources, expertise, information, and need.

Create a sense of welcome. People are more willing to speak authentically when they believe they belong. Be a good host. From the invitation forward, use language, images, delivery approaches that make it clear you appreciate their participation.

Engage…

Reflect together…

Follow up….

Images in the diagram from Steven Wright, Wrightmarks

For further information, see Designing for Engagement.

Use a technology that supports interaction.

Zoom Room

Have at least two hosts. One person focuses on the flow of the meeting and the people. The other handles the technology. If you have more than 30 people, having a third person to track comments in chat and bring them into the conversation helps.

Do a dry run. It isn’t hard but if the technology is new to you, it sure helps to experience the process before working with a crowd.

Include information about the platform in the invitation. It helps participants prepare for a new experience. Let them know it’s an experiment. That often creates generosity in case something goes sideways. Invite them to optionally come 15 minutes early for an orientation. Or even a more tech support session prior to the event.

Greet people as they arrive. Opening moments, while waiting for people to join, can be awkward. Be a good host. Music, a greeter, a question to answer in a chat box, are ways to welcome people into the swing of things.

For more ambitious convenings

Do some pre-work. Provide participants with background resources. Or have them do a brief survey and even share everyone’s answers.

Employ a graphic recorder. There’s something amazing about watching real-time capture of a meeting in graphic form. Like a digital white board, it leaves a record to share. Visual records tend to reflect the spirit of a meeting as well as the content.

Image by Carlotta Cataldi, Online Art of Hosting Meeting 2020

Resources

Learning Communities

Image by Adi Leigh Brown, 10x Collective

Sound daunting? Hire an expert.

Online Hosts

  • Amy Lenzo, WeDialogue, has been engaged in online communications for over 20 years. She offers workshops on online hosting with a monthly clinic for registrants and alumni.
  • Ben Roberts, The Conversation Collaborative, has focused since 2010 on the design and hosting of virtual engagements on behalf of teams, organizations, networks, alliances, and collaborative initiatives.
  • Nancy White, Full Circle Associates, co-author of Digital Habitats, Nancy White has also worked online for over 20 years.

Graphic Recorders

Technology Platforms

  • Lucas Cioffi, Qiqo Chat, has developed a set of collaborative tools to make online meetings and between meetings more effective.
  • Peter Lee, Video Facilitator, has a mission to the make the digital experience for workshop and conferences better than the in-the-room experience.
Image by Stacy F.S. Weitzner
In-person meeting hosted by Alaska Humanities Forum, supported by Journalism That Matters, May 2019

_______

Edited to add Ben Roberts and Adi Leigh Brown.

Journalism That Matters

Supporting the adventurers who are transforming relationships between communities and journalism

Journalism That Matters

Journalism matters most when it is of, by, and for the people. JTM supports the adventurers who are transforming relationships between communities and journalism for the common good.

PeggyHolman

Written by

Co-founder and director, Journalism That Matters. Author, Engaging Emergence & The Change Handbook. Hosting conversations for addressing complex challenges.

Journalism That Matters

Journalism matters most when it is of, by, and for the people. JTM supports the adventurers who are transforming relationships between communities and journalism for the common good.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store