3 Techniques for Turning Vulnerability into Connection Online 

by

Three years ago the entire world went home and logged online.

Almost overnight, our living rooms transformed into offices, schools, and conference centers globally. With this change opened a brand new – and vulnerable – way of working.

Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “emotional risk, exposure, and uncertainty”. 

With online meetings came a lot of unexpected exposure to our messy homes chaotically overflowing with toys, books, clothes, partners, kids, pets, and who knows what else. Our houses and our private lives were instantly open to our colleagues to judge and self-assess.

All that said, one of the most underutilized benefits of meeting online is that there’s a more intimate feeling to connecting from our personal spaces vs. when we meet in a pristine office without that background context. 

When we leverage these vulnerabilities with sensitivity and grace, it allows a whole other level of depth and possibility to emerge. As Brené Brown says, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.

Here are 3 SIGNIFICANT VULNERABILITIES that may hinder your participants’ engagement in your next online event, with facilitation tips for how to address them:

😱 #1 – CAMERAS ON AND BEING FULLY SEEN:

It’s no secret that for many people it can be extremely vulnerable and difficult to even turn on their camera, let alone keep it on throughout the duration of the meeting. Whether it’s because they don’t want others seeing how they look, their back drop, or the other family distractions in the mix, they might choose to opt out of using their video. 

💪 Facilitation Tips: 

    • Set guidelines up front to empower people to show up as they are. At Scaling Intimacy we love to use the principle “Cameos are Cool” to help explain that kids, pets, partners, roommates, etc. are all welcome to join our workshops if they decide to make a cameo appearance. It is precisely thanks to this guideline that one woman who had been nursing her baby told the group she finally felt comfortable to turn her camera on after over a year of attending online meetings without it.
    • Challenge by choice. Create opportunities so that participants can engage in whatever way feels most appropriate for them. For example, when we do the “Backstage Pass” activity which asks the audience to pick up their computers and take everyone on a backstage pass through their space based on a prompt, we create opportunities for those that might not feel comfortable to select their own challenge levels. We inform the group they can always turn off their cameras while they walk through their messy homes until they arrive at the space they want to show, or they can even bring an object to the screen instead, in case they feel backstage pass is just too revealing.

😱 #2 – MOVEMENT ON SCREEN:

Bringing kinesthetic movement into your virtual events is another great tool for your facilitator arsenal. The problem is that so many people are not accustomed to moving around on screen; it can quickly put people into their panic zone, where no learning can occur. 

💪 Facilitation Tips: 

    • Role model it. It’s one of the most universal rules for all facilitation practices – if you want people to feel comfortable getting vulnerable, then you need to role-model it for the group and set the tone. The same goes for movement on screen. Instead of asking your audience to do something, show them. Watching you dance on screen or move around funnily will create the conditions that more people feel safe to do it too. The more outrageous or exaggerated your movements are, the more others will feel comfortable to lean into the activity too. 
    • Gradually increase vulnerability. When you force people to dive into a vulnerable activity, like a hyper-energetic movement activity, it can cause whiplash (or even cause them to leave the meeting) if it’s done too early on in the event. This goes for any activity, but especially one that requires movement online, it is smart to think about how to gradually build up the vulnerability required over time. For example, start with a simple slow stretch, then build up to a more upbeat kinesthetic energizer, and eventually invite others to a full-on dance party. 
    • Give them levels of opt-in. Especially with movement, many people are shy to move their bodies while sober in the broad daylight in front of their work colleagues. 😜 You can always give people the option of participating in the exercise with their cameras off or their eyes closed to make it easier to say yes.

😱 #3 – COMMUNICATION + CHATTING ONLINE:

While many introverts find it more comfortable to participate online, some people feel more awkward or hesitant to speak up in a virtual meeting in comparison to an in-person one. There can be lots of fears around interrupting people, not chiming in at the right time, speaking while on mute, or publicly speaking to a large crowd.

💪 Facilitation Tips: 

    • Explain the Engagement Upfront. If you don’t make it explicit how people should communicate in the meeting, they likely won’t do it. Even if we are all using the exact same virtual platforms, how we use them differs immensely. Are you expecting people to unmute and interrupt? To digitally raise their hands? Put their comments in the chat? Tell them how they can communicate and consider placing this in your opening guidelines to make it known from the get-go. At Scaling Intimacy, we offer the guideline “Chat it up” and let participants know that the chat is a place to have an ongoing community conversation, and to share your questions, ideas and resources, not only with the facilitator, but with each other as well. 
    • Offer Different Conversation Formats: Variety is your friend when you are designing different conversations that invite all members to communicate and express themselves. If you go for too many breakout rooms, people may feel fatigued. If you have too many plenary style discussions, the energy in the room can wane and we continue to hear from the same voices. Create various opportunities for people to share their opinions, such as:
      • 👉 Give people the choice to either reflect in the chat or out loud.
      • 👉 Mix up the breakout room numbers to have more intimate conversations in pairs as well as more energetic conversations in groups of 4-5.
      • 👉 Try out liberating structures conversation formats, such as 1-2-4-all where:
        • 1 – everyone first thinks about the prompt on their own,
        • 2 – then shares it with a partner, 
        • 4 – merge two breakout rooms together and have the group of 4 people share patterns they noticed and 
        • All – bring everyone back together and source the information of the entire group. By facilitating such conversation formats, you still get to hear the opinions from everyone in the room, whether they are the one speaking up in plenary or not.

When working online, vulnerability is inevitable.

However, if there’s anything we have learned from Dr. Brené Brown about the topic, it’s to embrace the discomfort and keep going because the rewards are immense:

We hope you will bravely embrace vulnerability and take these facilitation tips to heart. The connection, trust, and psychological safety experienced in the room depend on it! 

 


Looking to create small moments of vulnerability without pushing people too far, too fast? We’ve aggregated 100 of our favorite conversational questions to build connection at any event. Check out our 100 Free Icebreakers here or join an upcoming program.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Romy Alexandra is a learning experience designer and experiential learning trainer on a mission to humanize learning spaces.