The answer: From one day to the other we chose to transform our whole program – in-depth workshops, retreats and community meetings – into virtual.

Turning one-day workshops into online experiences – can it work?

We wondered: Is it even possible to transform whole day workshops into online formats without losing the networking, the lightheartedness, the learning effect, the intensity and also the fun of a “real” workshop? Turns out, it is possible. In order to do so we asked for help and were lucky to win the online-expert Christa-Marie Münchow as our trainer and partner in crime for this endeavor.

In this blogpost we want to share our learnings, tips, tricks and tools with you:  

Index: Core principles of creating transformative online experiences:








Core principles of creating transformative online experiences:



Online meetings need – even more than offline meetings –pauses and breaks! If you don’t want to lose the attention and energy of your participants, make one type of break for about 5-10 minutes at least every hour.  

A break can be:

  • A literal break: Stop the recording and encourage everyone to enjoy a short break, get something to drink, use it as a bio-break, or walk around for a moment.
  • A physical exercise: Whether you stretch together, do a breathing exercise, do some yoga or dance together (having fun is allowed, see more under icebreakers belowwink) it’s important to activate your participants physically!
  • An offline exercise: Let people turn off their cameras for a moment and let them collect their thoughts – old-school style – on an analog piece of paper. When in online meetings, our neurological condition is highly alert and it’s exhausting! Allowing participants to be offline for a moment can boost the overall concentration.
  • A long (lunch) break: If you have a workshop for a whole day, you need to plan in a real break for at least 45 minutes.

Yes preparation is key and at the same time: Don’t strive for perfection! Stay relaxed and try to react with humor if something goes wrong. Because, to be honest: It’s likely that something doesn’t work or things are different than expected. With a humorous, self-forgiving attitude, you are best equipped that a small mistake doesn’t kill the positive spirit of your event.



Every online agenda has to be designed individually according to the participants, the topic and the goals of the event. There is no simple copy & paste blueprint for an engaging and impactful online agenda.

But there are a couple of crucial elements for every online meeting:

a) Check-ins:

To start your meeting, gathering, workshop or retreat, it urgently needs a moment of welcome and connection. If you don’t allow participants to connect to one another or help them fully arrive at the meeting, potential gets lost, before you even start.


<<IDEAS FOR CHECK-INS (click to find out more)>>

  • The most simple check-in is: Encourage everyone to share their name and how they are feeling.
  • A world map: If people meet from different parts of the world, share your screen where you have a map prepared (e.g. in powerpoint) and encourage them to show where they are (here they used the stamps within the “annotate”-function in zoom)
  • Let them send you photos beforehand– of themselves or of their workspace they are in during the meeting – and present a group photo (a kind of collage of these single photos) at the beginning of the call. The message is: “We can’t see each other live but we can see each other together on this screen. We are together.
  • One word introduction: Encourage people to write down one word that represents them on a sheet of paper and let them hold it up in front of the camera. Make a screenshot of it – you already created a lovely memory. 
  • Dance with each other: That works well if groups are either very playful or know each other well. Why not starting with a bit of fun! (To actually enjoy music in an online space, you have to activate the “share audio function” first:
  • Make an imaginary journey: Ask people to close their eyes and let them imagine a situation that is connected to the topic of your workshop. This doesn’t need to be more than 5 minutes, but it helps to ground the participants.
  • Have a short moment of guided mediation. It helps participants to be grounded, concentrated and open for the session. Simply encourage them to close their eyes and concentrate on how they feel right now. Help them truly arrive.
  • Polls to capture how people are: If there are a lot of people in your meeting, this is truly helpful. Ask them how they are through your poll. It makes it easy to welcome everyone as a human without investing too much time.
    • If you use zoom, you can use the built-in poll function. To do so you have to activate polls in your account settings (on under settings)
    • Polls through Mentimeter (free of charge for up to three questions): Participants can use their phones (or the browser) to vote, you can share the visually displayed results by screensharing.


General advice for many check-ins, check-outs or icebreakers: How to draw / comment / stamp on Zoom: You find the stamps, writing and drawing once you click “View option” on the upper bar, then “annotate”. After that you can choose to draw, use the stamps or the text function. It's quickly explained and intuitive to use. And it triggers people's creativitiy.

There are endless ideas and possibilities to do check-ins. Our suggestion: Be open to be creative here. It's extra great if the check-in is connected to the topic of your online meeting. The more engaging a check-in, the better start does your online session have!


b) Check-outs:

With the check-in your meeting starts, with the check-out you close the circle. It is recommended that your check-out connects to your check-in, giving a feeling of completeness.

Simple check-ins are: Encourage every participant to share 1 word / 1 sentence about:

  • How the session was for them
  • What inspiration or outcome they take from the session
  • What surprised them…

You can also use poll tools like Mentimeter to ask for more detailed feedback.

Something beautiful you can do in the last seconds: Just wave at one another by saying each other’s names! It’s short and sweet and gives a nice feeling of recognition and connection before everyone leaves.

Or: simply hold hands with one another and take a group shot of it!





When working together online, never forget to make space for these 5 steps:

  1. Creating / developing
  2. Presenting (give people space to present their ideas!)
  3. Acknowledging (give feedback, ask for feedback from other participants!)
  4. Deepening (ask follow-up questions, it also reflects real interest)
  5. Sharing

This is particularly important when you develop something in breakout groups. Teams that work on a specific topic should have the chance to present, get acknowledgement, go deeper and share.


4.    INTERACTION = Key 

The more interactive and engaging, the easier it is to learn and stay attentive (and the more fun it is). There are many ways to have interactive sessions!

a) Breakout groups:

Breakout groups are a wonderful way to level up the interaction in your online event. People can meet in smaller sub.-groups and exchange more deeply and on a personal level.

<<How to use BREAKOUT GROUPS (click here to find out more)>>

  • Setting up the groups:
    • Learn about the basics of how to set up breakout groups in zoom here.
    • If you have a meeting where people did register in zoom beforehand (and you therefore have the email addresses), you can prepare the breakout groups.
    • If you have a meeting where people didn’t register in zoom beforehand, you can’t prepare breakout groups. Trick: Make a pause -> prepare it well while your participants enjoy a moment of break.
    • Tip: If you let people choose their preferred topic of the breakout group, ask them to add the group choice to their name (rename) in Zoom. This way, it is easy to create the breakout group.
  • “Specialist breakouts”:  If participants share a specific topic, it can make sense to let them join in a breakout group, discuss things in details and come back sharing their results.
  • As a facilitator, you can join people in breakout groups. They can call you and you can answer.
  • Breakouts are ideal for sprint working groups.
  • If your breakout groups are structured e.g. 2 minutes for each participant to share, the host can write messages to the breakout groups through “broadcast message”. You can take the time keeping pressure of your participants and simply write to them: “Now person 1 shares” – “2nd person shares” etc. This way, the breakout group is structured, it’s easy to stick to the timing and participants will come back to the plenum with a sense of having been heard


b) Icebreakers & activations:

Particularly for long meetings or workshops, you can help your participants to stay focused by guiding them into exercises that relax the mind and the body. It can do miracles for ones focus to relax and have an informal moment of connection.

  • Speed dating amongst participants: 2 to 3 people; 1,5 minutes per round. In this way all can get to know each other -> they feel heard and connected. This works well with the random assignment of breakout groups.
  • Singing together: It relaxes your whole body and mind and builds connection. Be courageous to try it out!
  • Draw together: Be creative and draw one picture about a topic related to the workshop together (see above "How to draw on Zoom"). As an add-on, you could give every person 1 word or 1 sentence (depending on the time you have) to explain what they did draw and what it means to them.
  • Mirroring:
    • Step 1: The facilitator makes movements (while music is on) and all others mirror the movement. In this way you start dancing …
    • Step 2: After a minute, the facilitator chooses another person to lead the mirroring.
    • Step 3: Everyone follows whoever they want for the mirroring. Everyone leads, everyone follows. This helps a lot for energizing!




  • Underline content visually

    It helps the human brain to have some visualization, in order to keep the concentration. You can do this by using a whiteboard. Share a presentation, share a video or get creative (see the map of replication ideas). Technical tools like having a tablet connected to your laptop, can help to smoothen up the presentation and prepare beautiful whiteboards (see below)! Every visual support, helps to boost the concentration!



  • Create spaces:
    Yes, you are all in different spaces. By having a common theme or landscape picture, you can design your workshop as a journey or as a meeting in a village (see photo). It helps to stay focused and gives orientation – in a playful way.


  • Use whiteboards:

    • Whiteboards are great for interaction (stamps & painting), for visualization and creative brainstorming! See here: How to draw / write or stamp on zoom.
    • You can activate the whiteboard in zoom through the “share screen” button. Then click on Whiteboard. You can prepare whiteboards beforehand (but don’t close the session afterwards, as the whiteboard might be gone then).
    • Whiteboards on Zoom are available in breakout groups, too! You can save it easily (press “save”, upper right corner) and take it to the main room.
    • A tablet can help to make visualizations more concrete and touchable
    • Other option: Use online whiteboards.



How can you build trust online? Trust happens by encountering one another and sharing something meaningful, something that has personal value. You need time for building trust! Acceleration by deceleration! Humans need time with each other to be seen, to share something they care about. Sharing between 25 people might be too much. Smaller groups are better for this.

“Simple” Examples of trust building activities during an online meeting:


  • Share where you are & show who you are (ca. 15 minutes for 4 people)
  1. Round 1 - Each person says where they are geographically and what room they are in.
  2. Round 2 – Each person chooses a nearby object and shares what it is and how it makes you feel.
  3. Round 3 - Curiosity version - everyone asks another person in the group about something in his or her background. Express real curiosity: "Tell me, what is the story behind that lamp?". Then that person has to tell a true or made-up story about the object the other has asked them about. Afterwards everyone can guess whether the story was true or false.
  • What’s your superpower:
    Ask them something personal e.g. what’s their superpower and share this. You can let them draw it or simply describe it.
  • An object that tells a story:
    Invite people to pick up one object in their room and tell people how it makes them feel. This allows people to share something that is personal to them without putting too much pressure on them. It's a lighthearted way to learn something about the other and use the opportunity of being in different spaces!
  • Buddy-Talk:
    People go in a breakout room in pairs and get to know each other (various options):
    • What is the biggest strength of the other person (interview). Later on the buddy presents the other in the plenum highlighting the strength.
    • Simply exchange: Who you are, what is a challenge you are working on and your hopes of this workshop.
      You can also guide them with a topic like: “Share one thing that made you laugh lately?”

If you want to dive deeper on how to build trust and lasting communities online, check-out this guide by Ashoka ChangemakersXchange.



Transforming our work into virtual, comes with many challenges. In one way or another we all experience eye-opening moments: when we learn something new and also when we fail. That's all normal and it's ok. And there is a way to make the best out of it: Share it with others! By doing so, you can leverage your learning experience and grow the knowledge and skills in your network, community or workplace.

That's why Ashoka Europe Fellowship initiated weekly 30-minute "online skill-sharing sessions" at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. Every staff member from across Europe, Asia and Africa could participate voluntarily. During these 30 minutes we came together to try out new (fun) check-ins and check-outs and in each session one of our colleagues, an "internal expert", shared his or her insights from an online experience. Learning from one another and openly telling others about the moments we succeeded AND failed, has brought us closer together while it truly leveled up our online skills. That's why we wholeheartedly recommend an internal skill-sharing process to any team or organization facing a new challenge like this. Thanks again to all colleagues who were open to share their learnings and experiences in the past weeks!

There are many ways to make an online workshop a great learning and community experience as long as you respect some basic rules and don’t forget to leave time and space for human connection.

A big thank you again to Christa-Marie Münchow who guided us through this wonderful journey of transforming our offer of offline workshops into meaningful online experiences!

Happy engaging online experiences to you all!

Your Europe Fellowship Team!

Author: Martina Zelt


Further reading recommendations:

Photo credit goes to: Ashoka and Unsplash (Header: by Chis Montgomery on Unsplash, last picture: by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)



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