How to Create People Spaces Online That Breathe and Thrive

Marc Beckmann
Innovation
You must get in touch with their needs, not push through your own agenda. You must provide a space for depth and joy. You must make the space look like them. The approach to online spaces shared here has been tested across a variety of cultural norms and organizational cultures.
Charlotte Hochman

We need new spaces where people can connect, collaborate, innovate, and grow. We need these spaces to be online, and to bring similar results across cultural and social contexts. Learn to be a part of the solution of the post-COVID-19 world.

One of our biggest challenges as a society is to make collective spaces inclusive, safe places where personal potential can blossom - whether they are physical or online. The approach to online spaces shared here has been tested across a variety of cultural norms and organizational cultures. It presents common denominators for most people to access the best of themselves and to be fully present to each other. Because new ideas and connections can only spring from that place within us all.

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Wow!Labs

Wow!Labs is an innovation studio working globally since 2012. Its co-founders are presently based in Paris and collaborators are spread across San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Helsinki. Creating results for businesses, universities, and cities, Wow!Labs believes innovation is the result of 3 factors: people’s capacity to produce new ideas, spaces that accelerate collaboration, and organizational cultures that support innovation.

So let’s collectively learn to create and host spaces that are inclusive and incite people to be the best of themselves. For that, you must get in touch with their needs, not push through your own agenda. You must provide a space for depth and joy. You must make the space look like them.

The principles below will empower you to create interactive online events that enable a meaningful, memorable connection from 5 to 50 people - and potentially many, many more once you get the hang of it. These principles are for immersive, interactive experiences that fully engage the participants - they are not for one-way knowledge transfer to passive audiences. These experiences can last anything from 30 minutes to 4 hours, and rely on videoconferencing tools such as Zoom or equivalents, depending on your needs. Each principle below is followed by practical tips to move you from theory to practice.

#1 Don’t let tech be a wall: create a precise, playful space for others

Michele Caleffi – Wow!Labs

As host, assume participants don’t know what to do with the technology. Be directive: when should people have their videos on, go in gallery mode to see all the other participants, rename themselves precisely? Vagueness does not work in crafting a digital experience.

Create a tight-knit event team: Convene the event team at least 30’ before the starting time. Go through the flow together, meditate or pick up the energy by visualizing success. Prepare to stay calm and good-humored as a team, to mind your body language and voice, and demonstrate optimal collaboration when things go wrong (not if - they always do!). You’ve got this!

#2 Reproduce the sense of being present that people have in a physical space

Michele Caleffi – Wow!Labs

Get out the red carpet: As in physical spaces, the threshold is gold. Open and close the event in a way that all participants can see each other as they come in, by directing people to gallery mode and not sharing your screen. Celebrate collective presence. Call out people by their name, have a quick personal word, make them comfortable, don’t leave them sitting on the edge of the couch.

Get people on the same pitch: To start and end, ask a simple question that each participant answers. This enables them to be fully present. This could be “what are you leaving behind you to be here?” to start and “what are you taking away with you?” at the end.

#3 Fill people’s cups

Chris Montgomery

Go slow and experiment: As groups get bigger, get creative about how to slow down the rhythm to be effective as a whole group. Pacing, music, moments for silence or mindfulness - we are all collectively learning to weave them in. Experiment with these. Always provide an inspirational element before you close the session: a poem, an image, a cartoon, etc. Be generous and replenish people’s energy after a plenary, as they are draining.

Create corners for intimacy and peer sharing: Use breakout rooms to create small spaces for deep exchange - an acute need in these stressful times. For peer support, 2 is company and 3 is a crowd: form pairs if you can. For lighter exchange, icebreaking or socializing, trios work well. As an absolute minimum, count 3 to 5 minutes per participant to share, and add a couple of minutes on each end to greet and wrap up.

#4 Invite the whole body, not just the brain

Michele Caleffi – Wow!Labs

Use your body wisdom: Encourage as full a physical presence as possible: point the camera to your torso as well as your face. Remind participants in the invitation to bring water and nibbles, or wine and peanuts, depending on how you want them to feel.

After 90 minutes, everyone needs a break - guided breathing, stretching or getting up. Trust your body to let you know when that time has come: it may be wiser than the rest of you right now.

#5 Make joy the centerpiece of your space

Michele Caleffi – Wow!Labs

Identify when release happens: People will often laugh or compare notes spontaneously. Let it happen, don’t cut in to facilitate from the top. It’s needed release. It’s trust, it’s joy. Cherish it, it means people are fully present.

Leave people with joy: Remember that thresholds are gold? Enable people to go out in style, with music and lightness. Unmute everyone to say goodbye, share sound from your device and put on, for example, an energizing tune so people can dance out. That joy, right there, is a large part of how they will remember the experience. As in your house, be the last one in the space when people leave.

This is a moment to be there for others. Let’s role model and embody what we want to see happening.

We are collectively teaching ourselves ways of creating moments of learning and sharing without physical proximity. This is a definite leap forward in how relationships - and organizations - evolve. It is also an opportunity for tribes to include new voices as they reach beyond traditional definitions of belonging, such as geography.

What new spaces are you creating, and how are you getting along with these principles? Let us know - thankfully, good practices are contagious, too.

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