I never thought a virtual “dinner” could be as wonderful as the one I attended recent to celebrate honorees of the Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business Class of 2020. It was an amazing gathering of powerful women that felt intimate and meaningful. How did they do it?

As we won’t be able to gather in person for these kinds of events quite some time, here are a few tips I picked up from this “virtual dinner” that might help your organization be successful.

Great planning with a very specific flow for the event that was communicated to attendees in advance.

Shared Meal – I have to admit I was skeptical about getting a catered meal delivered to my house. But aside from being tasty, the meal with wine gave us all a common experience.

Lots of small breakouts to spark conversation. This event had over 100 people, but the secret sauce was dividing us into small breakouts to simulate being at a table. We had three of them over the course of the 2-hour evening and with each course we rotated to another table to meet more people. Groups were small 8 to 10. In some ways this was even better than in person because usually these dinners are noisy and it’s hard to hear people across the table.

The Hollywood Squares layout we see on Zoom and other virtual platforms can be off putting, much like sitting around a long conference table where it is almost impossible to hear let alone connect with someone sitting so far away at the other end.  Breakouts allow for greater intimacy and interaction.  Make sure the breakouts are small up to 10 people, fewer if possible.

Facilitated Conversation Each “table” had a captain or facilitator who helped to spark discussion and made sure that everyone had a chance to speak. It wasn’t overly orchestrated and in one of my groups, we veered off the topic. What was important was that we got to know each other and share something of ourselves.

Good Technical Platform The event used Zoom and for the most part it was flawless as far as I could tell. I’m sure they did a lot of testing and planning, and there was a dedicated team working behind the scenes.

What are some other ideas for spurring connecting and meeting for large virtual events?