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5 Ways to Stay Balanced during Online Sessions

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.  Unfold your own myth.” —Rumi

I found out the hard way that it is no easy task to run an online session. The COVID19 crisis has challenged us in many ways while shifting all our conversations and interactions online. How do I keep it together? Will participants get bored and leave my session? What if I mess up? I gathered together my top 5 key learnings from the various online sessions I’ve experienced lately. I hope they answer some questions you might have about running your online sessions and helps you stay balanced and present during these challenging times.

#1 Be Fully Present

Being fully present is a tough one for me. Before a session it helps to do a bit of “grounding” work. I enjoy breathing exercises the most as it helps clear the mind. Deep inhales, then very long exhales. Taking a moment every now and then in a session to consciously breathe keeps me grounded too. Bonus if you incorporate body movement. Simple stretching, either seated or standing gets everyone feeling present. I find keeping a calm mind is vital. You’ll never know what might pop up. I had an unforeseen technical issue once. I designed a 90 minute session around 3 breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are useful for splitting a large group into smaller groups for deeper learning experiences. For some odd reason the breakout room option was not working so I had to continue without. Can’t keep over 350 participants waiting. I welcomed the technical glitch. Breathe. Calm. Focused. (To be honest, the session turned out better than I had imagined)

#2 Give Space

I try very hard to speak as little as possible. What is the minimum instructions that needs to be shared to get participants engaged? My online sessions tend to be action oriented full of fun activities but I notice I talk too much. (Chris, please shut up and let them get on with it!) During the last online session I ran, at some point participants had to take a moment to reflect on what they had created. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to take out my ukulele and strum a few calming chords to get them into a relaxed state. It helped me shut up and it helped them focus. Silence also works. It gives space to allow digesting and processing time. It’s a great tool that I always have to remind myself to use. Silence. Slow down.

#3 Small Celebrations

This is a new one for me and I find it so useful. Creating moments of mini celebrations keeps the spirits up. Keeps it light. Learning together is a lot of fun, so small celebrations creates a sense of “we’re in this together”. We’re all uplifting each other.  We get to see and hear each other. One of my favourite mini-celebration is inviting participants to wave their hands like a bird if they’re ready to “fly” to the next part of the activity. The typical one is “Give me a thumbs-up if you’re ready” but that’s so 1980s! Coming up with small novel ways (even for just a moment) to invite the imagination or even the body to move is a great way to keep everyone in the flow. It’s like small fun check-ins.

#4 Stay Curious

I’m always amazed with what participants share. I’m so inspired with their generosity and courage to share their thoughts and feedback. So yes, sometimes I do wish I was a participant instead. Most of my questions come from a place of curiosity. I’m so curious to see the participants perspective. What emotions are arising? What is it that they see? What are they finding challenging? I get caught in the performance mode, but then I have to remind myself to get into a learning mode too. For that I’ve got to stay genuinely curious about their learning as this will help my learning. It’s a learning party!

#5 Authentic Voice

This is going to sound cheesy. Tone of voice is super important when you run an online session. Speaking in a digital space is very different to speaking in a physical space. In a digital space we’re missing the room acoustics and ambient sounds. It doesn’t feel “real”. I get it, we’re trying our best to mimic reality. Sherry Turkle said it best in her book ‘Reclaiming conversation: the power of talk in a digital age’, 

Digital promotes a transactional language

The closest we’re going to having an authentic connection is if we speak with an authentic voice. A voice that connects. (Here comes the cheesy bit) I like to speak to participants as-if they were all my brothers and sisters. I find that it activates a friendly voice. And most importantly it invites a sense of care in my voice. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I’m speaking to my family I’m actually speaking from my heart. I’m trying my best to be as authentic as possible. (Cheesy bit over)

Conclusion

One of the hardest things to let go is our inner perfectionist. We all want to deliver the best online experience and have participants leave the session with a smile on their faces.   I like to test my sessions with trusted and supportive friends who would give me constructive feedback. It would also give me the opportunity to shed any fears I may have. And there are plenty of fears. I had to learn to trust the process and trust my participants to make the best decisions for themselves. They own their learnings and not me. And above all, we’ve got to learn to be kinder to our self. After all this is all a learning experience and we’re all in it together.

What strategies do you use to stay balanced during online sessions?

PENCIL WALKING

To help support everyone cope with the challenges of living in confinement with the COVID-19 crisis, I created a series of online webinars titled “PENCIL WALKING” – creative mindful activities aimed to help calm the mind. Since we’re confined to our homes, Calmness is a superpower because it’s the best cure to anxiety helping us remain resilient. Everyday for one week (13-17 April) from 6-6:30pm I guided participants through straight forward & fun activities helping them access a state of relaxed focus.

Every session underwent a 3 part structure.

First we a started with a short guided breathing exercise to help calm the mind.

Second, I guided everyone to follow a focused drawing activity.

Then finally, everyone was invited to take a moment to reflect and harvest some of their learnings from the experience. This allowed them to recognise and appreciate their inner strengths.

Approach

I used mindfulness-based art therapy (inspired by Dr. Laury Rappaport) as an approach to improve our understanding of our inner self and emotions. Creativity as the gateway to the inner self. Engaging in a creative process of making art as a way to explore the inner self. With a focus on self-care, personal growth, and wellbeing, the benefits of this approach helps lower distress levels and improve quality of life.

List of activities:

Session 1: Take my pencil for a walk – We will bring our full awareness to the movement of the pencil on the page by connecting it to our breathing.

Session 2: Around the park with my pencil – By focusing on a single object we will travel across its silhouette.

Session 3: Pencil hears a sound – We will explore how we might visualise different sounds.

Session 4: Finding balance with my pencil – We will create charming images by drawing simple structured patterns.

Session 5: My pencil leads the way – We will travel through imaginary bumpy and twisting paths.

What some of the participants had to say about their experience:

 

All sessions were happily supported by our dear friend Bruno Selun from Kumquat Consult who shared his Zoom channel with us. Thank you for saving us Bruno! And thank you to Anuschka Ruge for her enthusiastic support.

Please sign up to our Creativity lab meetup to join in our activities

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance
Aristotle

Creativity Lab

I created the Brussels Creativity Lab in beginning of 2020 because like any skill, creativity needs practice too. The monthly meetup is open to anyone interested in exploring new possibilities, questioning assumptions and discovering their creativity.

It is very important to establish a safe and supportive environment to foster learning in a collaborative way. To be able to encounter one another and learn from our varied expertise. Creativity thrives on diversity.

The first edition of the meetup (29.1.2020) was titled, “Seven Deadly Sins of Creativity” – through a series of collaborative activities we explored various barriers preventing us from connecting to our creativity and how might we overcome them. By moving beyond barriers of our creativity we enable unimaginable possibilities to emerge.

At the start of the session participants were invited to activate their explorer’s mindset:

  • to invite curiosity
  • to expect resistance and push forward
  • make connections
  • be flexible and open to possibilities
  • share stories of our understanding of the world

The Approach

Drawing inspiration from Logotherapy by Victor Frankl , participants were encouraged to approach all activities with “paradoxical intention” which is to demonstrate the opposite of what you are aiming to achieve.

So instead of trying to find a “way out” which typically suppresses a barrier, with a paradoxical intention approach, we exaggerate the barrier to a point of irony making it look seem ridiculous thus reducing it’s “power” over us. Using humour helps reverse our attitude towards it. Therefore resistance is reduced or disappears.

Activities

I created a deck of 39 cards with a single barrier on each card such as ego, fear of rejection, impatience, distraction, conformity, complacency, and over thinking, to name a few. Before each activity participants received a single card, then were invited to take part in a creative activity such as:

  • Generate 5 tips to promote the barrier
  • Create a personification of the barrier
  • In your group create a human sculpture representing the barrier
  • Create a unique dance move of your barrier. Everyone replicates the move

The meetup continues to nurture and grow creative behaviour within ourselves and with others. Join in the fun, tap into your creativity and meet some awesome folks. 

We are creative beings, our lives become our work of art
– Julia Cameron

Taking stock of team achievements

TAKE STOCK OF TEAM ACHIEVEMENTS

Duration 30-45 min
Number of persons 10-15 persons

Description
The best way to end the year on a high note is to take time with the team to reflect on the past year and to celebrate your achievements and progress. Taking stock helps build team confidence and brings some insights to take on the next step of the journey.

Goals
The goal of this fun activity is to share appreciation about the team achievements.

Materials and preparation

  • sticky-notes
  • thick coloured markers
  • ballpoint pens
  • A4 paper
  • A3 paper
  • coloured oil-pastels

Instructions

  1. Have the team seated in a circle with all the materials nearby.

  2. HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR
    On sticky-notes invite everyone to write 1-3
    personal highlights from the year they will treasure. One highlight per sticky-note. They could write one word, a short phrase or doodle.  (3 minutes)
  3. Invite the team to go round one-by-one and share one or two personal highlights.
  4. Next, on sticky-notes invite everyone to write 1-3 team highlights from the year they will treasure. One highlight per sticky-note. They could write one word, a short phrase or doodle.  (3 minutes)
  5. Invite the team to go round one-by-one and share one or two team highlights.

  6. LEARNINGS
    Pass a sheet of A4 paper and pen to each team member and invite them to a free writing activity. Explain that free writing is a technique, when we say ‘Go’ you begin writing and continue uninterrupted until we say ‘Stop.’ The idea is to keep your pen moving the entire time. Spelling nor punctuation matters. Your entire writing piece might be one long sentence, or you might have all kinds of short phrases. No crossing out or rewriting. Just let the thoughts flow and captured them on your paper. Remind the team that the writing will stay private and that we will only share learnings later.
    Prompt #1: What did I learn about myself this past year? (3 minutes)
    Prompt #2: What did I learn about my team this past year? (3 minutes)
  7. When time is up ask them to read their writings silently and underline one or two learnings they would like to share with the team.
  8. Invite the team to go around the circle and share something they learned either about themselves or the team.

  9. GRATITUDE
    Invite everyone to get into a comfortable position and close their eyes. If they are not comfortable closing their eyes invite them to focus their gaze somewhere in the room. Ask them to take a couple of deep breathes. Reflecting on the past year, have them think about what they are most grateful for. What worked well for them? Who do they feel appreciative of for their contribution to their life? Picture this person or moment you are most grateful for. Stay with this moment.  Feel the gratitude as it fills up your chest. (long pause) Take a couple of deep breathes. Begin to stretch your fingers and your toes, stretch your arms and your legs, and when you are ready, open your eyes.
  10. Pass a sheet of A3 paper to everyone and ask them to grab a few oil-pastels and invite them to draw a picture that represents your gratitude. The picture can be literal—showing recognisable objects—or it can be abstract—just colours—or it can be a combination. It’s up to you. Use your imagination. This is not an arts test. Feel free to play some soft instrumental music in the background.
  11. Give them around 5 minutes to complete their drawing.
  12. Invite the team to go around the circle and share their picture and their gratitude story.

  13. LEAVING BEHIND
    Next, ask everyone, what would they like to say goodbye to? What have they outgrown? What would they like to gently bring to a close? Invite everyone to write some ideas down on sticky notes then share in the circle.

  14. TAKING WITH ME
    Then finally, what would they like to take with them into the new year? What is the one word that would be the guiding focus for their new year? Invite everyone to write their one word in a creative way on an A4 sheet of paper. Share in the circle. Celebrate these words by pinning them up on a board that is visible in the office.

Background
Inspired by the work of Kevin Eikenberry and Louise Thompson

Closing activity: Tree of Strengths

TREE OF STRENGTHS

Duration 10-15 min
Number of Persons 20+

Description
Before you kick off your end-of-day cocktail drink of your event, this simple closing activity helps participants meet others that they did not get a chance to interact with throughout the day.

Goal
To help participants to get to know each other at the beginning or ending of a session. To help participants identify their personal strengths.

Materials and preparation

  • A5 green colour card cut into “leaf-like” shapes
  • Thick multi-coloured markers
  • Large room with a large table in the centre

Instructions

  1. Have everyone stand in a circle.
  2. Pass around a leaf-like card to each participant.
  3. Invite everyone to grab a marker and write in bold letters on their leaf-like card the ONE THING people come to them for help.
  4. Once everyone has their word written on their card, ask them to hold it up to their chest.
  5. Instruct the group that they now have 3 minutes to get into groups of 3 – with people they have not interacted with throughout the day – and share how they practice their word.
  6. When time is up, invite them to create another group of 3 persons and share how they practice their word for another 3 minutes.
  7. When time is up, get everyone back into the circle and invite them, one-by-one, to call out the word on their card and place their card on the table in the middle of the room.
  8. Once everyone has placed their leaf-like cards on the table, close the session by pointing out that the tree represents the strengths of our community that shelters and nourishes us.

Background
I designed this activity as a closing session at an education hackathon organised by Ashoka Belgium – Education Innovation Programme “Education Shakers

Creative experiential session

I had the privilege of designing and delivering a session which took place on the 11th of November 2019 in Rome, Italy for ICCROM, The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property –  an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the perseveration for cultural heritage worldwide through training, information, research, cooperation and advocacy programmes.

The session was part of their 4 week training program “First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Time of Crisis”. The training is based on a field-tested three-step framework for cultural heritage first aid, which can be adapted to any emergency context, whether conflict or disaster.

The title of my 90 minute session was “Transformation of values and significance associated with cultural heritage in crises”. Participants were invited to explore and understand the importance of community values for cultural first aiders when assessing the situation during heritage recovery. I used a highly creative and collaborative experiential learning approach to help them tackled questions such as:

  • How will your community care/value/enjoy cultural heritage?
  • How will it benefit future generations?
  • What approaches could your community take to recover damaged cultural heritage after a crisis?

Summary of Session

Values we attribute to cultural heritage are not fixed. They are constantly changing, sometimes distorted and in some cases ignored. To consider all the values we must recognise the importance of including all stakeholders in the process of value assessment. The understanding of community values is essential for cultural first aiders when assessing the situation during heritage recovery. This interactive session puts participants in the shoes of a community to explore the importance of value assessment.

Training goals

  • Understand the role cultural first aid plays in recovering heritage
  • Explore and understand value assessment before disaster and during post-crisis recovery
  • Learn typical approaches communities take to heritage recovery

21 international professionals working in the fields of humanitarian assistance, civil protection, military and disaster risk management, and those working in the field of cultural heritage attended the session.

 

 

A two day retreat for WeBrussels

Creative expression brings down the walls and builds trust, connecting us across cultural, religious, socioeconomic, and generational divides. – Partners for Youth Empowerment

I had a fantastic time leading a two day retreat for WeBrussels – a group of passionate citizens aiming to reinvent politics in the city of Brussels. They were the folks behind the “municipalist” summit “Fearless Cities Brussels” which gathered locally engaged citizens  to discuss creative ways of managing the social challenges of the city.

The aim of the two day retreat was for the community to discover each others strengths and deepen their connections.

Continue reading “A two day retreat for WeBrussels”

Sketchnotes of KIKK Festival

Think outside the ordinary. You never know where you might go – Dominic Wilcox

I had a fantastic time at KIKK 2018 festival this year. This is the first time I randomly met soooo many awesome people and had some very interesting conversations. Here are some of my personal sketchnotes of a few of the talks I attended. My personal take away from all the talks was the importance of observing the mundane to discover deep meaning about ourselves and our surroundings. And oh… analog will never go out of fashion 🙂

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5 questions to ask when scripting your explainer video

With their short durations, straight-to-the-point message and engaging visuals, explainer videos are one of the most effective ways to attract your audience attention. Apart from boosting brand awareness, this compact marketing tool is fantastic at educating your audience about the how, what and why of your service/product.
Making sure we keep the video content digestible and not get carried away with the finer details can be a challenging task. This is why I came up with five questions to consider when drafting your script for an explainer video. By script, I mean the narration or voice-over of your video.

How good is your script at grabbing audience attention?

If you haven’t grabbed your audience’s attention within the first 10 seconds you’ve probably lost them before you even started. We’ve all seen those TV ads where the first opening sequence is so mysterious and strange that it keeps us guessing throughout. The big reveal comes at the end but usually leaves us disappointed. Viewers don’t want to wait until the end of your video for the punchline. The first opening sentence of your script is the most important part of the script. Get to the point. Write that hook.

Continue reading “5 questions to ask when scripting your explainer video”

Creating that sticky-note video

I created a hand-crafted explainer video out of sticky-notes. Let me explain.

I was approached by Lucas and Marie-Amelie who were on the organisation team for the upcoming Startup Weekend ‘Changemakers’ edition (2015). Apart from the need to develop visuals to promote the event, they also wanted to create a promotional video out of sticky-notes.

I’d like to walk you through my process:

  • script
  • storyboard
  • inspiration
  • set design
  • filming
  • editing

Before we dive into it, check out the end result below.

(Check out more of my hand-drawn explainer videos here)

Continue reading “Creating that sticky-note video”