by Avary Kent, Chief Innovation Officer, Conveners.org
This is a featured partner post on PCDN.
If you’re interested in learning more about Building your Virtual Convening Toolbox Strategy, Facilitation, Design, & Implementation, check out our Virtual Convening Certification workshop (presented by Conveners.org and Story & Spirit).
As COVID-19 sweeps across multiple countries and affects global markets and all business sectors, one of the hardest-hit is the convener community. The lifeblood for many impact conveners has involved face-to-face connections and interactions. In response to this global shift to virtual engagement, Conveners.org is quickly responding to support our convener community in their transition to virtual convening.
With our world moving more and more into virtual interaction and convening, we’re seeing some enticing myths start to propagate. Like many such myths, these misconceptions have the potential to do actual harm in our ecosystem; and we figured it was time for some debunking.
MYTH #1: It’s cheaper to host a virtual event than an in-person
While it is definitely cheaper to attend a virtual event (sans travel, etc.), actually hosting one is emphatically not. When looking at the breakdown of overall costs, the only major difference between in-person and virtual is the cost of food and venue, which of course are eliminated for virtual convening. But any cost savings from having your event online are often quickly reallocated to the cost of a virtual platform, virtual facilitation coaching and virtual event or meeting production support needed to run a smooth, engaging virtual convening.
Virtual convening can also be costly in terms of the time investment it takes (now that we are no longer constrained by physical space) many conveners choose to host their event over multiple days (or weeks) – which is exciting, and exactly what we hope will happen in this new paradigm– but which also means more planning and production investments.
MYTH #2: Virtual convening can’t be interactive – it is a one-way exchange
This is one myth that we want to stop in its tracks immediately. If you design your engagements mindfully and know the right tools and platforms to use, there is NO reason that virtual convening need be any less interactive than in-person convening. Yes, we miss out on the neurochemicals of physical proximity, but that’s no reason to consign your event to webinar status. And while there are many platforms that encourage and support deep interaction, innovative experience design is really what determines the level of interactivity.
For more tips, check out Conveners.org Blog post: Getting Innovative with Virtual Convening
MYTH #3: Virtual convening solves all your accessibility problems
While virtual convening can be a lot more accessible (differently-abled communities have been advocating for live streaming and call-in options for years), it also creates accessibility challenges all its own. While barriers of cost, mobility, language, etc are greatly reduced by going virtual, virtual convening has surfaced and a whole new set of equity issues that conveners need to address.
For conveners with a global audience, time zones become a major barrier to equitable virtual convening. Over and over, we see Asian time zones being pushed to the margins as conveners plan around the U.S. and European time zones. Just because they are “used to” getting up for calls at ghastly hours doesn’t mean our Asian communities should always be the ones who are asked to.
There are also many people who simply do not have the bandwidth or internet access to fully participate in virtual convenings. It can also be a challenge for older generations to adapt to rapidly-changing virtual convening technology. Finally, many learning styles are not incorporated into virtual presentation and facilitation styles, especially with so many conveners defaulting to PowerPoint presentations and sage-on-a-stage lectures for their virtual offerings.
MYTH #4: You can simply translate your in-person plan to your virtual one
Virtual convening is a design challenge all its own. It requires a different mindset when it comes to agenda and design. It also requires its own logistics and planning and staff who know how to operate online tools and platforms (and how to encourage and support engagement on them). There are a lot of production implications that you don’t have to consider with in-person convening; like bandwidth, using different tech and platforms, and coordinating with your team online. There is also a whole new set of equity questions that you need to take into account, alongside considerations about diversity, inclusion, and representation.
MYTH #5: Virtual convening takes less energy than in person
As we touched on above, virtual convening actually takes more planning than in-person convening, all of which (for the time being at least) must be coordinated virtually. This is a new way of interacting for most of us and we are all playing catch-up (which again, takes more time and energy). There is also a lot of digital fatigue taking hold as people tire of constantly being “on” for the camera. And while in-person interaction does take energy for most people, screen time actually changes our brain chemistry in a way that can cost us more energy to interact than face-to-face. In a virtual setting, we don’t receive the same degree of physical signals like body language and sense of connection, which can energy-draining in virtual convenings if not designed effectively.
Going virtual offers incredible opportunities to bring communities together and advance the impact we all care so deeply about. Let’s just make sure we understand it as it is, and give it the investment (of time, of energy, of resources) it really requires.