Last night we hosted our first Virtual Hoovie, bringing 14 strangers together to watch PARIS IS BURNING and talk about it after, face to face, human to human. The film was amazing (obviously) and the conversation went deep – circling around identity, belonging and #realness. Our cups were filled.

And we learned a lot! Hosting online sure ain’t the same as IRL. Virtual gatherings call for a different type of engagement and new modes of hospitality. (And they certainly aren’t nearly as photogenic!)

Here are 3 things we learned for our next intimate virtual film screening to support guests to have fun, feel included and reduce social anxiety.

#1: Introductions build trust.

Doing a round of names is important for smaller groups. It helps us bond and settle in. Without it, it can be difficult for people to feel comfortable to fully engage with the faces on the screen.

We discovered this ourselves when a logistical glitch created an awkward delay in our plans. We had planned to do a round of introductions after the film, but we only had half the guests join the video room right when the film was done, and the rest of the group trickled in slowly. We kept saying, “we’ll do a round of intros once everyone is here” but as the minutes ticked on, the light conversation started to feel awkward. We could sense that the discussion wanted to veer into deeper territory, yet we didn’t really know each other yet so it felt strange to take it any further than surface level chit-chat.

Finally, we just called it and invited folks to introduce themselves, after which the conversation got notably more interesting. We felt ourselves exhale – able to trust each other and listen more attentively.

A round of introductions could include: name, where you live (including a land acknowledgement if that’s your thing), and ______. Fill in the blank with whatever prompt makes sense; e.g. what you’re sipping, a character in the film you liked, one word to describe how the film made you feel.

This may seem super obvious, but one of the benefits of inviting people to do introductions is that it may make it easier for more introverted guests to speak up, since everyone gets a turn and the format is clear.

#2: Silence is fertile.

It can feel pretty nerve racking to be a host, whether you’re bringing people together for a dinner party or gathering them for a virtual film screening and discussion. Nerves can make some of us extra chatty, and anxiety can cause us to try to fill any gaps between sentences, leaving no space for silence.

But silence can be very powerful.

Hosts who can confidently allow silence offer a tremendous gift to their guests – especially those who need a bit of space to participate in discussion.

Ahead of our gathering last night, we set the intention that we’d like to challenge ourselves to breath through any discomfort we felt whenever silence presented itself. And it was lovely. We were amazed by the paths the conversation took and delighted that everyone participated, even the shyest in the group.

#3: It’s the host’s job to bring things to a close.

There’s always this moment in a gathering when you can feel things shift. The beginning of the end. We felt that last night and there was this sudden recognition that as hosts it was our job to shepherd the group through a closing activity of some kind.

In our case, when we noticed the conversation shift away from the topics related to the film and into the territory of “what I’ve been watching on Netflix,” we turned this into an opportunity “to close with each person going around and offering a gift to the group of one film or series recommendation.” We then dropped the titles people offered into the chat with links.

For some people, not knowing when the virtual gathering is going to end can be a bit anxiety producing. These people like structure and/or hate the feeling that they might be wearing out their welcome.

For those folks’ benefit, it would be nice if at the very beginning of the event, the host told them, “we’ll wrap things up at X time, but feel free to stick around after if you’d like to chat for another 15 minutes.” But do follow through on your commitment to your guests. Set an alarm if you have to. They’ll appreciate your efforts to honour their time.

Tonight, we’re hosting another Virtual Hoovie so we’ll get to practice these lessons – and of course learn new ones.

Going forward, we’ll be exploring how to bring richness, meaning and delight to virtual gatherings here on our blog and would love your insights as well. So please reach out with your tips!