How to transform an online conference into something magical?

How to transform an online conference into something magical?

In January 2020 SenseTribe supported Dafne and AEF in facilitating a wonderful 2-day conference in Madrid with 120 participants from philanthropy infrastructure organizations from all over Europe and from abroad. PEX 2020 was a place for individuals and organizations active in the philanthropy sector to meet and build an active community of support, and made it possible to kick-start a number of concrete projects and initiatives.

The plan was to meet again in Istanbul this year for PEX 2021, but with COVID the ‘road to Istanbul’ suddenly became longer than expected. Together with the Dafne team we were wrestling with the following question: 

How can we bring the conference online and create something meaningful? 

Although we had the advantage of people having met the previous year, we still had to solve the challenge of including newcomers and creating a similar magic online at a moment of significant screen tiredness. Despite the challenge, we somehow made it possible!

Over 160 participants enjoyed a 2-day conference that made them discover not only how to meet, but how to co-create and fully enjoy an online experience. We literally forgot at some moments that we were sitting in front of a screen. 

So, how did this magic happen? 

We are happy to share our reflections with you, hoping they will help you co-create your magical online events as well… Let us know what you think about these tips! 

1. Trust is a key ingredient of any work relationship. 

Between SenseTribe, Dafne and Ariadne there is a special bond. We deeply appreciate each other as teams, are comfortable being ourselves and make decisions together. The team delegated a big part of the decision making regarding technology and the process facilitation to us as professionals in the field. Without this trust, none of this would have been possible. Thank you team!

2. We involved a council of stakeholders in the co-creation process 

The council included participants from last year as well as newcomers. This wonderful group helped us identify the real needs, desired outcomes, agenda items and strategic decisions.

3. We put a lot of care in the selection of the right tools

Both teams did their research and shared outcomes. We wanted to make things simple and bring some innovation into the space. We finally chose to combine a well-elaborated Miro board for harvesting the event journey with participants, Spatial Chat for informal spaces and Zoom for the formal and co-creation spaces. You can find a practical guide on how to choose the right tools for your event here

4. A visual metaphor as a common thread

Quite early on we identified a metaphor together that represented the event journey and our Illustrator Marina Roa turned it into a wonderful illustration that served as a continuous reminder of the purpose along each clearly signalled step in the process. 

5. We sent a physical welcome package to participants

Sending a little physical welcome package to all participants made the event real. The little letter-shaped gift with summer flower seeds, your piece of the ‘larger puzzle’ and the tree image brought a sense of connection and belonging to participants and to us hosts and facilitators.

6. Informal spaces 

Informal spaces are key and we need to make room for them online as, without them, we are missing out on an essential part of any event. We enabled free mingling and networking with an intuitive platform during the breaks and before the event. 

7. A mindful opening

A strong opening was the opportunity for participants to connect with others and with themselves. That’s why we invited our dear friend Vasco Gaspar, a skilled facilitator with vast experience in mindfulness, integral meditation and many meaningful practices, to join our team and facilitate a moment of self and group connection. This warm and welcoming start made a difference for newcomers as well as veterans.

8. We purposefully intended to hit the learning zone

When we design participatory events, we foresee an overall flow that allows us to intentionally hit the learning (or groan/growth) zone. We need disruptive moments in an event so participants leave their comfort zones and open up to the emergence of new discoveries. This moment is not necessarily enjoyable, but it is key for openness, new perspectives and truly collaborative creation to take place. 

9. Music and sounds to bring in emotions and a sense of connection

When we are all muted we do not hear each other’s laughter or cheering. So we used a few sound effects to bring a pleasant atmosphere during breaks and self-exercises and even a few sound effects to make the experience even more real and enjoyable. 

10. An artful closing 

We felt it was important for this particular event to create space for art and poetry, to convey deeper meaning and activate the participants’ creative juices. We invited Marina Roa to capture key moments with visual harvesting, great poetry from Stien Michiels and a final closing song for participants. Participants could contribute by sharing insights with our harvesters throughout the event and by whispering a chorus and holding up a light during the final song. The outcome was meaningful art and a magical closing moment that helped us to forget that this all happened on a screen.

11. Wellbeing is key, especially when you are involved in offering meaningful experiences to others

You can only offer truly enjoyable experiences when you are yourself balanced and when the purpose of the event is truly meaningful to you as well. We tried our best to take care of our own wellbeing so we could offer a great experience to participants, and we had the mental and physical capacity to improvise, adjust along the way and work with what was alive in the space at the moment. Good preparation and the capacity to skillfully improvise are key.

12. Our role as hosts and facilitators 

We as hosts and facilitators offer room for co-creation, the participants are the ones that fill it with life and make it all happen. So THANK YOU to all 160 participants who made this event a truly unforgettable experience!

Here are some articles written about the event by participants and contributors of PEX 2021: 

Choosing tools and platforms to facilitate participatory events online

Choosing tools and platforms to facilitate participatory events online

Our colleague and co-worker Laura Grassi has noticed a few months ago that we kept on explaining the same principles over and over again to clients and how desperate many were with finding tools that do not look cool and inspire participants but are also easy to use and serve the overall purpose.

When developing an online event, we ask ourselves:

How can we create amazing participatory experiences that allow people to completely forget they are not in a physical environment?How can we turn the online challenge into an opportunity?

Much of what makes an event special is the time we spend together with our clients sensing into the deeper purpose, building a strong design with clear roles in the team and of course the participatory mindset and practices we apply when we facilitate.

However technology does play a key role and technology should be an enabler rather than a disabler 🙂

Technology in service of the purpose

What most people fail to realise, is that any technological tool needs to be selected and used, based on the specific PURPOSE that has to be addressed

So how can we understand the different expectations/needs that we have to address? And how can we select the right tools, based on these specific needs? 

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Here is a practical guide that we’ve pulled together on the topic with the SenseTribe team. Enjoy!

How was this guide developed? Laura Grassi has been the key author, Marina Roa has added her wonderful illustrations, Raffaella Toticchi has added a mental model and many other amazing SenseTribers have added their ideas and thoughts, thank you.

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Building business back better pledge

Building business back better pledge

Sign the Pledge today

The impacts of COVID19 on the economy show that the way we do business today is economically unsustainable. Business owners and decision makers are in crucial need of alternatives to business-as-usual in order to create resilience for crises to come and to become part of the solution rather than the problem.


WEAllSistema BWorld Fair Trade Organisation and SenseTribe therefore invite business owners, decision makers and other stakeholders to commit to seeking out ways to contribute to an economy that is not only economically viable but also socially and environmentally resilient:

  • Business resilience: We commit to give as much importance to resilience as to efficiency in our business model and value proposition. We commit to building resilient business structures, allowing us to respond to a changing environment and to build capacity to deal with crises effectively.
  • Human wellbeing: We commit to building balanced stakeholder relationships, so there is trust and commitment to one another. An important basis for building capacity for effective collaboration in moments of crisis.
  • Environmental wellbeing: We commit to re-evaluating how our business can make a positive contribution to our current  environmental crisis, making our business part of the environmental solution, not the problem.

Read the full pledge:

Sign the pledge now

Art of Hosting online training 9 June – 21 July

Art of Hosting online training 9 June – 21 July

How can Art of Hosting help us navigate uncertainty and evolve in times of isolation and global crisis?

Our world is in flux. COVID19 has surfaced the drawbacks of our current way of life, leading us into uncharted waters. The pandemic has created global unrest by illuminating economic and social inequalities even more. It is clearer than ever before, that the world is changing rapidly and all of us, inevitably, are part of this process. What if this is the opportunity that we have been longing for, the beginning of a new era? What if this is the right time to change the current status quo and imagine a future of living within our Planet’s limits, for the good of all?

Based on the assumption that our world needs fundamental change, the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Meaningful Conversations practice has been supporting organisations, communities and groups to “be the change” for the past 25 years. It is a practice that prioritises diversity and collaboration where people can discover and cultivate new collective intelligence together. By learning and applying participatory methods, models and theories, we become more skillful in navigating chaos and complexity individually and collectively. Being a global community of practitioners expands the potential and impact of learning, increasing our ability to respond in times of crisis. 

We would like to invite you on a quest. We invite teachers, parents, managers, community organisers, politicians, all who are seeking a way to meet this new future which is emerging to join us.  We are creating a digital space, where we would like to share and explore together with you the essence of our practice. Together, we invite you into a learning space where we can exchange knowledge, experience participatory methods, explore mental models and theories of complexity, change and systems thinking. We will explore new forms of leadership, based on Living Systems – where interconnection, collaboration and self-organising around purpose lead to results for the good of all.

We invite you to bring your questions, ideas, hopes and dreams and dive into a collective inquiry together. Let’s navigate into these unknown times with an open heart and mind to discover new possibilities. 

Who is this for?

Anyone who wants to develop collaboration and participation skills – public service professionals, entrepreneurs, social innovators, NGOs, leaders in business, educators, and anyone who see themselves stepping into new ways of leading.

We will learn, explore and practice

  • Participatory methods of engaging small and large groups in conversation.
  • Forms and strategies to build conditions for co-operation and collaboration.
  • Worldviews and models that will help you to work with complexity.
  • New perspectives, tools and practical ways of engaging a diverse group of people to discover new ideas and solutions by working generatively with complexity, conflict and emergence.
  • Process Design, designing and planning the process before implementation, as a structure for new potential and possibilities to emerge.

Be prepared to:

  • Generate new and collective knowledge that you can apply to your context
  • Listen to stories from different people, places and perspectives
  • Contribute to other people’s learning by sharing your insights, questions, projects
  • Deepen, develop and design your ideas, projects, goals, initiative, questions in a collective learning space
  • Join an international network and community of practice and connect with a diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds

YOUR HOSTS

Maria Scordialos with Dimitris StratakosMaya RimerMira Bangel and Julia Hoffmann (Visual Recording) decided to collaborate and cocreate this online learning journey, as a response to the current global health and economic crisis.

As stewards and/or seasoned practitioners of the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Meaningful Conversations global community of practice, they offer trainings and immersive learning on participatory leadership, living systems, and design practices for living and working in complexity, particularly in contexts of chaos, crisis and collapse. 

More details and registrations

Online workshop: How to take care of your coworkers remotely?

Online workshop: How to take care of your coworkers remotely?

How can we care for each other in challenging times, deepen human relationships and build a sense of togetherness remotely? 

Learn the Caring Circle Practice to build trustful and honest relationships with your colleagues and with others in a remote work environment.:

      • Build the capacity to care for each other in challenging times and deepen your relationships as human beings remotely
      • Explore how to build a sense of togetherness and community remotely
      • Enhance the capability to take care of yourself
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