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Rich conversations and strong connections in the time of COVID-19

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Social distancing doesn’t have to feel distant.

Anyone who watched Mount Stromlo High School teachers boot scooting their best in an empty gym hall this week can see that the online world can give us hope in a time of turbulence.

There they were—Woody from Toy Story leading a cheer squad of teachers dressed as sharks, superheroes, tigers and zebras—showing their students how to keep fit from the safety of their loungerooms.

It was inspiring and innovative stuff, reminding all of us in the business of creating connection that the COVID-19 crisis brings opportunities as well as monumental obstacles.

I’m taking Salon Canberra online soon, and in preparation I’ve spent time talking to technicians, testing and trialling technology, and most importantly, listening and learning from what others are doing. And here’s what I’ve discovered.

Our creativity is limitless

Online events are already being beamed around the world. Aside from virtual boot scooting classes, we’re seeing live music broadcasts from balconies, loungeroom dance parties, cocktail hours and yoga sessions.

Artists are live streaming drawing lessons, writers are sharing podcasts of their favourite books, and entire industries are taking their conference rooms to the cloud.

Technology will test us

Even under normal circumstances, engaging a screen-bound audience with seamless technology is challenging. But the goodwill out there is palpable, and people are prepared to overlook a lot of technological glitches to stay connected.

So, don’t stress too much over that stuttering, out-of-synch presentation or faces that freeze mid-sentence. We’re all learning.

Don’t overcomplicate it

I was incredibly inspired to watch a six-person panel discussion earlier this week; the bookcases and kitchen cabinets in the background were clear evidence that each person was beamed in from the comfort their homes.

But I’ve also watched one-on-one conversations with insightful leaders that are just as intellectually stimulating and less technically complex to execute. Start small rather than not at all!

Innovate to inspire

Offline events offer many distractions—morning and afternoon tea breaks, table mints, networking and breakout sessions, and ample water-cooler conversations.

Translating the content from an offline conference, for example, into an online environment can be tricky. But exciting tools are at hand to help engage people in new ways. Think virtual chat rooms, online polls, creative case studies and out-of-the-box graphics.

What I’m learning is that online audiences pose more thoughtful questions and, with the right foundation, the conversations flow freely and the discussions delve deeper without all those distractions.

Give people a break

The intensity of online content means people need bigger breaks in between sessions—especially now when audiences need extra time to grab a coffee, keep the kids’ school work on track, load the washing machine and check the steady stream of emails at the same time.

We’re learning to multi-task like never before, and our online events need to accommodate this.

We’re living in challenging times. But there is light among the shadows as creative people find new ways to bond and build community. We’re all in this coronavirus crisis together, and it will pass.

But the rich conversations we cultivate now will build stronger connections for life on the other side.

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