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How to be Virtually Authentic

As concerts, movie premieres and live performances continue to get canceled, virtual events are becoming the “new normal.” Yes, there's the added benefit of not having to commute far from your home, but many are dreading the thought of spending more time trapped behind their computer screens. 

By utilizing tools and practices effectively, virtual events can be “the next best thing.” Productive experiences can still be had . . . and can even be fun. It just takes:

  • planning
  • practice
  • commitment, and
  • a constructive attitude

The Whole U. community came together for a virtual event about maintaining a sense of self, and avoiding "Zoom Fatigue.” We heard from Danielle Allard, a certified corporate event manager who has been working in events for a decade.

Due to Covid, Danielle had to pivot her career to focus on virtual (instead of Live) events, allowing her to remain in the industry that she loves most. She did not sugarcoat the dilemmas that both event planners and attendees now face, but her experience and optimism made her the perfect source of advice. 

Danielle confided that even for event planners like herself, remaining virtually authentic is a challenge. After many years of assembling people face-to-face, it’s not easy to apply those same values when in-person interactions are no longer an option. Virtual events can be tiring, difficult to make foolproof, and thus, less than ideal.

Above all else, she believes that we should never have to apologize for being human. With this, she invited us to take breaks when needed - for water, snacks, and the bathroom - encouraging us to not be apologetic for doing so.

The primary challenge Danielle acknowledged, is the pervasive (and very real) Zoom fatigue. 

“[Zoom fatigue] stems from how we process information over video. On a video call, the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera. But, in real life, how often do you stand within three feet of a colleague and stare at their face?” 

Without the visual breaks needed to refocus our eyes, our brains become fatigued. To battle all of this and remain virtually authentic, Danielle says that now is the time to give everyone a break and accept ourselves as imperfect beings. With that, she gave us three tips for combatting Zoom fatigue:

  1. Be present

  2. Be honest, and

  3. Be true to yourself

 

Be Present

A common instinct in any Zoom meeting is to look at yourself. But since we're often critical about our appearances, this can be a distraction that takes us away from the content. If possible, adjust your viewing options, so you are only looking at your fellow Zoom guests. Danielle recommended doing a test  right before the scheduled Zoom call, to make any adjustments needed - for yourself, or your environment. When you finally jump on the call . . . 

  1. Forget about yourself, and
  2. Focus only on the content. (It takes practice, but it's necessary to give your peers your full attention.) 

In this same vein, avoid multitasking during meetings. The luxury of the complete privacy of your computer screen can be a downfall in terms of staying focused and present. Take all necessary steps to stay present and energized during a virtual event:

  • Close extra tabs
  • Log out of slack channels
  • Put your messages on “do not disturb”  

Preparing yourself to stay focused is no easy task - Danielle shared that she takes three deep breaths to consciously prep her mind and body for the experience that lies ahead. We owe it to ourselves and the people in the “Zoom room” to give our full and focused attention, and these little routines can help keep us engaged and prevent virtual burnout. 

Be Honest 

The secret is out - we ALL have lives outside of our Zoom boxes! Rarely do we live alone  without children, pets, parents, or roommates, so it's time to stop apologizing for our circumstances. This is not to say that you should have your dog on your lap during a conference meeting . . .  but give yourself, and others, a little grace. Danielle stressed that for virtual events to work sustainably, we have to normalize the human aspect of those events. Perfection should not be the goal - (especially in a time like this . . . during a pandemic!) Instead, focus on being your best, and consciously work on not apologizing for inevitable bumps in the road. 

The logic is clear - if we are hiding our real lives, we are not being authentic. When “messy” aspects of our life creep into our Zoom boxes, feeling guilty isn’t productive. Better to channel that energy somewhere else . . .  maybe on the preparation and endurance required to maximize the event. Danielle believes that when you allow others to see the REAL you, they will feel relief, and will reciprocate. This virtual world is not going away anytime soon, so for all of our sakes, strive to be honest, and accept the imperfections that form who we are. 

Be True to Yourself

The third component of “being virtually authentic” is to accept who you are, so that others can do the same - especially in an online setting. Don’t project an image that you believe to be the desired virtual avatar. Instead, share your uniqueness. Be courageous and vulnerable, show your personality, and remember that to be the most authentic version of yourself that people are craving to see, you must first be YOU.

Although looking inward and being honest can be daunting, Danielle reminded us that we have comrades in this process. We are all figuring it out together, and luckily, no one must battle this new normal on their own. 

Despite her level of expertise, even Danielle admits that she is learning as she goes along. There are a plethora of new platforms and gadgets to host virtual events, and new ways of making occasions unique and memorable. She also admitted that it’s not her preference to host events digitally. She finds it uninspiring to work for 7 hours trying to connect people . . . only to end up staring at her own reflection in the computer screen.

The energy and excitement that comes from being around 100+ people in a single room must now be found in different ways.

Danielle, like all of us, continues to adapt and make the most of what lies ahead. Virtual events may not yet be perfected, but they CAN still connect people in an authentic way. 

 

Community Invitation 

This Whole U. meeting, hosted by founder Shannon O’Brien, created a space for people to discuss their challenges with the virtual world.

Consider joining a Whole U. Event!

These classes cover a variety of topics related to wellness, career and service, and take place on the last Sunday of every month.

Join today: https://www.wholeu.info/Events

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