The past few years have found numerous new opportunities to follow and sometimes engage with conferences and more informal conversations around the world online.  In any given week  – from annual conferences (this week) like the Clinton Global Initiative and Social Good Summit to more regular chats with high profile individuals such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan or colleagues with common interests such as the use of  images around poverty Regarding Humanity  – the menu of options can be dazzling.

As this development evolves, it comes with both opportunities and challenges.

How this is evolving

As in ‘offline’ (or ‘real life’) we are still better at forums for presenting information, than for engaging in actual dialogue among participants.   The offline options clearly parallel this challenge, although there are those who are trying to encourage more effective options for engaging in dialogue.  Although still evolving, these options include interacting with those who are also following the event on social media (such as using common twitter #hashtags or participating on the event’s facebook page) or participating in a Google hangout.

Regarding Humanity has begun hosting regular issue salons via Google Hangouts.  Co-founder Lina Srivastava shares that they chose Google Hangouts because it’s free, easily accessible, and the recording can be uploaded quickly to YouTube. “The problem we’re having with it is that it’s hard to publicize because you can’t pre-schedule a link for viewers– so you have to announce it just as you’re starting”. Co-founder Linda Raftree shared that another technical challenge is if  the connection is lost, you have to restart the entire process and you get a new link,  without a way to announce the new link on the site where everyone is watching.  “However, despite some of the technical frustrations, I do like that you can save the video and rebroadcast easily.”  Lina also notes that encouraging people to share via tweets.with the presenters (and each other) can be a challenge.  “Publicizing more and getting people to suggest questions ahead of time might be a good way to increase participation.”

Some tips to maximize participation and dialogue

  • If you’re hoping to participate in a live event, scope it out in advance, look at the agenda, and put it on your calendar as you would with an event you are attending in-person.
  •  If you’re viewing a live event and following on social media, look to see who else is tweeting or posting on facebook.  You then can approach them to engage in a one to one or group discussion just as you might with someone sitting near you at a real life event.
  • We all still need to work at turning these fora into actual opportunities for dialogue. If you’re a planner, you may want to encourage a core group to help draw in others to engage in discussion around the presentations (again as one might do in real life). If you’re a participant, look for opportunities to be a more active participant and help the organizers if possible to encourage others to participate as well.
  •  Whether you’re the planner or a participant – be flexible – since much of this technology -livestreaming and online chats  – is still fairly new (and it’s amazing that it does now connect the world even in remote places) expect that it may get cut off from time to time.  You may want to explore whatever back-ups may be available.
  •  Not available during the live event? Many events are summarized or archived to be watched later.  And if you connect this with social media, you can still be in touch with others who may have tweeted or posted about the event and share your interests.