Presence to Connect

You can feel like you really know someone, even if you have only met online. Similarly, you can feel part of a group who has only met virtually, even if you are dispersed over the world. This feeling of group connection can be so strong in online meetings that the computer screens at a certain point just seem to fall away.

You can reach this point in your workshops or conferences. The key to this is to be fully present in the moment. You as a chairperson need to be present in order to allow for your participants to be present as well. The stronger their presence, the more meaningful the meeting will be.

If your participants are answering their emails, they will not learn or own the solutions that are being developed.

After setting a bold and meaningful purpose and designing the general agenda you can secure a strong presence by: 

  1. scripting to the minute,
  2. arranging co-facilitators for tech hosting and tech support and
  3. preparing participants, speakers and interpreters.

1. Script to the Minute

When you are scripting to the minute you are essentially creating a road map for your meeting.

With a script your meeting will run smoothly and you will be able to focus on the content and interaction between participants.

A script is usually made in a spreadsheet with separate columns for each key element.

The key elements of a script are:

  • The time

Include the time for each section in your script. If you use a spreadsheet, make sure that each line does not cover more than three minutes. This will help you keep track of where you are in the conversation and how much time you have left. It will also enable you to make choices with the group to alter the agenda if a topic needs more time than foreseen.

  • The text of the chairperson

How are you going to facilitate this section? Your presence will be stronger if you know precisely what the next piece of bite-sized info is that your audience needs.

  • The tech host instructions

What tech hosting do you need for each point in time? This could be sharing a presentation or video, preparing the breakout rooms, spotlighting speakers or placing prompts in the chat.

  • The chat prompts

For the participants to be present you need to activate them every three minutes. That is the average attention span in online meetings. The chat is a great way to keep the group engaged and allow everyone to contribute, connect and learn. The chat also gives visual support to your instructions of what they are invited to talk about in the breakout room, so you keep the conversation focused. You need to prepare the chat prompts in advance for the tech host, so that you can stay in the moment.

If there are participants who prefer to express themselves in another language than English, you can also already translate the chat prompts to their language of choice. Read more about the magic of tailored interpretation at online events.

  • The tab for the interpreters

In the plenary the translation is simultaneous in a separate audio channel. When the group splits up into breakout rooms translation becomes consecutive. A participant talks and then needs to pause for the interpreter to translate. This alters the timing of the assignment. The interpreters are the time keepers in the breakout room and find the alternative timing in a worksheet tab in the script.

2. Arrange co-facilitators for tech hosting and tech support

If you want to focus on the content and interaction, you will need to arrange for co-facilitators to take care of the technology. One person for the technical hosting that is needed for the chairperson, speakers and interpreters and another person who takes care of the participants.

You cannot guide the group and assign participants to breakout rooms at the same time without losing connection with the group. 

The tech host manages the technology of the meeting (such as breakout rooms, sound and image, prompts in chat and virtual collaboration spaces) and will serve as chairperson in case of technical emergencies.


For participants to be fully present it is also important that there is someone who can help them with sound and image problems, or with login issues. The tech host needs to focus on the chairperson and speakers, so you need a separate person for this. Tech support helps participants resolve technical issues during the session, so that they can contribute to the session as soon as possible.

The tech team and chairperson arrive one hour early to do final tech checks, repeat the sequence of the breakout rooms and go through any last minute changes.

3. Prepare participants, speakers and interpreters

Online workshops and conferences start at the moment that participants and speakers first have a notion of that they will take place.

Use that time wisely to have the strongest possible presence during the event. Your meetings will be full of joy if you prepare your participants, speakers and interpreters.

Prepare participants: Manage expectations and transfer knowledge before the event

Invitations matter. Use them to manage expectations and transfer knowledge.

When you invite people to participate or speak at your event, make sure that you give them all the information they need to prepare themselves. This way they will know what to expect and can arrive fully prepared. Include:

  • The purpose of the meeting: What is the goal of the meeting? What do you want to achieve?
  • The structure of the meeting: How is the meeting going to be structured? What will happen during each part of the meeting?
  • The expectations: What is expected from participants and speakers? How should they prepare? What should they bring with them?
  • The technology: What technology do they need to participate? What is the login process? Are there any specific platforms that will be used?
  • The culture: What is the culture of the meeting? How should participants behave towards each other? What mindset should they bring?

By providing this information in advance, you will create a sense of safety for everyone involved.

Even though most guests will have too little time to prepare themselves, there are always some people in the group who like to do this in spite of a big work load. They will read the documents that you sent them in advance. These participants will then feel more comfortable during the event and they will provide depth to the exchanges.

If you are bold, you can include a three minute Loom video recording of your presentation in the invitation and make clear that you will use the time of the meeting tor the group to ask you questions and work in small groups to formulate actions to implement learnings.

The transfer of knowledge goes two ways. You can also ask participants to provide you with input, for example by making a work book in SurveyMonkey or asking about their experience or priorities in a VideoAsk. During the event you can refer to this and this will make everyone’s presence stronger.

Prepare speakers

Speakers at online events are used to giving presentations of ten minutes at webinars, after which they leave for other obligations. If you are organising an interactive event it will greatly enhance the presence of the speakers if you ask them to prepare them for a short presentation and longer reflections on the input from the participants from the outset.

You can provide them with a personalised agenda with the exact timing of their arrival, when their intervention will be, where they will go during the breakout rooms and when they will be invited to reflect on what came out of the plenary conversation or remarks in the chat.

As part of the briefing you can also organise a dry run, about a week before the event. You can then rehearse a panel discussion or interview with them and you can use the time to get to know each other better. This way they feel more connected when they see each other during the workshop or conference and they will create a stronger presence of everyone in the online room.

Briefing, documentation and instructions for interpreters

The interpreters will prepare in advance for the session by reading the script, translating chat prompts and going through presentations.

In addition, you brief them about the purpose of the meeting and their role in the breakout rooms and the chat. You can also test the settings of the interpretation channels during the briefing.

Interpreters arrive half an hour early, so they are all set in their digital interpreter booths when the speakers and conveners arrive.

The bottom line is that if you want to create an online event that has real meaning and impact, put in the work ahead of time to enable everyone to be fully present. This means scripting every minute, arranging for quality tech hosting and support, preparing participants, speakers and interpreters, and doing everything you can to ensure a smooth experience for all involved. 

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Jobien Hekking

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