The single biggest mistake we make when trying to gather — whether physically or virtually — is assuming we already know its purpose.
Even in our physically-together-normal-circumstances-gatherings, we assume the purpose is obvious. In these Corona times, as physical gatherings are fumbling into virtual ones, purpose becomes even more crucial. We now have a unique opportunity to investigate why we are gathering. Let me give you an example.
Over the past few months, millions of teachers have been scrambling to figure out how to teach their courses remotely. My mother-in-law, Nandini, is one of them.
She's a ceramics teacher at an all-girls school who now has to teach remotely. Without a kiln. Without clay. Without a way to squeeze a hand to show the right amount of pressure to apply when burnishing a vessel. It's hard to imagine a more physically-dependent gathering.
So without any of the tools she would normally have to teach, Nandini was forced to ask herself a set of questions:
Why do I teach this course?
How do I want my students to be different because of this experience?
What is the purpose of my class?
She realized she wanted her students to be confident problem-solvers, to be risk-takers, and to be able to create something from nothing. Ceramics was the medium but not the actual purpose.
Nandini wanted them to keep using their hands, and to limit screen time. She wanted to keep them working in 3-D. She wanted them to be resourceful and use only materials they already had in their homes.
My mother-in-law changes the class from ceramics to papermâché. She gave the project a new name: "Dinnerware with Paper". And she allowed for some creative freedom: they could make anything that could be put on a table. She also promised that she would still display their work at the school, once it reopened. She told me, "We will still honor their work."
One of the biggest mistakes we make when converting a physical gathering into a virtual one is assuming it will look the same, just online.
As you are thinking about hosting virtual gatherings, don't confuse your assumed activity with the gathering's purpose. Your planning should always begin by asking first: What is the purpose now?
Here are some questions to help you get clear on your gathering's purpose:
What is the desired outcome?
Who is this gathering for (primarily)?
If all goes well, how might the guests be different because of this gathering?
How do you want people to feel when they walk away?
If your virtual gathering is replacing an in-person one, has the purpose changed? Is it the same as we originally intended, or has the need changed?
What is the role of the host, and what is the role of guests?