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Create an Online Retreat

Uncategorized Mar 21, 2020

Bringing your community together creates an amazing connection that last a life-time. But what happens when your planned in-person event needs to happen online?

This was one of the questions I was asked during the COVID-19 pandemic as we watched the entire world shut down and told to stay home.

How do we still create a retreat atmosphere for our community, online?

My answer: It is possible, but you just may have to alter a few experiences to create the same effect you would if you were meeting in-person.

Let's start by addressing the purpose of your retreat. There are a number of reasons why people meet, but I have (for simplicity) broken them into 4 main groups.

  1. Education
  2. Entertainment
  3. Inspiration
  4. Connection

Your event/retreat purpose may include a bit from all 4 groups, but I would encourage you to rate them in order of importance.

For instance, if you are meeting during COVID-19, you may want to highlight inspiration and connection. If you are meeting when the world is back to normal you may want to focus on inspiration and education.

Let's assume that you are bringing your members, staff, or close-knit community together online for inspiration and connection. I have laid out an agenda for you based on a 4 hour online retreat. 

There are a few things you need to do before you meet online so that everyone is prepared and ready to give their full attention during the meeting.

How to prepare for a 4 hour online retreat/meeting

  1. Take a poll to see when everyone is available to meet online
  2. Send a survey asking a few questions to each attendee (this will help you tailor your content and help you decide what to mail them ahead of time) - see question ideas below
  3. Send out an email stating the time of the online retreat
  4. Send a link to Zoom with instructions for each attendee to download it ahead of time
  5. Have a package of materials mailed to each attendee so that it arrives at least 4 days before your online meeting - see ideas below of what you can send
  6. Plan out your deliverables and agenda
  7. Prepare for things to go wrong...spotty internet, mail not getting to them on time etc.
  8. Record your retreat/meeting for those that could not attend
  9. Be flexible
  10. Bring your humour and lightness...even online it shows through!

What survey questions do you send ahead of time?

The questions depend on who your attendees are and what your main purpose is. No matter what, you should always aim to make your attendees feel: heard, loved, and understood. No matter what your deliverables are and what the main purpose is, making your people feel heard, loved, and understood is always your main goal.

Sample questions: (you may wonder why you would ask some of these questions for an online retreat/meeting, but no fear, it will all become clear when we talk about what to include in a mailed package!)

  1. What's your favourite morning beverage?
  2. Do you have any allergies/dietary restrictions?
  3. Do you have any sensitivities? (i.e scents)
  4. What is your favourite snack?
  5. What kind of food do you enjoy?
  6. What's your favourite colour?
  7. What's your favourite flower?
  8. What is your favourite number?
  9. Do you have kids that will be home during our meeting?
  10. How old are your kids?
  11. What special skill do you have that you are not not using right now?
  12. What special skill do you have that you ARE using right now?
  13. If you could learn one skill, what would it be?
  14. If you had to wear a shirt with one word on it for one year, what would your word be?
  15. What is your biggest worry right now?
  16. What is your love language (Take Gary Chapman's Love Languages Quiz)
  17. What is your biggest strength?
  18. What is your biggest weakness?
  19. What is something you want us to know about you?
  20. What is something you have done that you are really proud about?
  21. What is your shirt size? 
  22. What would you like me to know about you?

What do you include in the mailed package?

This is entirely dependent on the budget, type of meeting, attendees, and purpose of the retreat/meeting. For instance, if you are meeting with your core staff or top clients, your budget may be more than it would be for free members in your community.

For our purpose today, I will assume you are meeting with your core staff to inspire and connect and your budget is $120 + per person plus shipping. You do not need to include all the items below, this is just an offering of ideas for you to consider.

Here is what I would include in their mailed package based on their answers to the survey questions above:

  1. A journal (approximately $15)
  2. Their favourite beverage (if possible) (approximately $5)
  3. Their favourite snack (approximately $5)
  4. A craft or journal for their children that are home (approximately $20 per child)
  5. Pampering items depending on sensitivities (approximately $20)
  6. A special unique item based on their answers (approximately $15)
  7. A branded pen (approximately $3)
  8. A meal they can place in the oven and eat together (if possible) (approximately $15)
  9. A branded t-shirt (approximately $10)
  10. A stress ball or fidget toy - something that can relieve the stress of working from home (approximately $5)
  11. A new book to read (approximately $15)

If you are including a meal, you will want to send that to them ahead of time with instructions to put it in the freezer until you meet.

The remaining items should be mailed together (but in separate packages) with instructions not to open until you meet. As you will see below, in the sample agenda, you can instruct them to open specific packages at the same time as everyone else. (this creates togetherness, community, and excitement! Oh, how I love surprises!)

Mailing costs will vary depending on where your attendees live. I would budget at least $100 for shipping.

Sample Agenda for a 4 hour online retreat/meeting:

One week before - confirm your online retreat/meeting and make sure everyone has their mailed packages. Make sure to get tracking numbers.

One day before - send an email to confirm they have downloaded Zoom and are ready to meet. Include the Zoom link.

8:00 am - Send an email with the Zoom link and instructions to meet at 9:00 am

8:50 am - Start Zoom early just in case anyone wants to show up a few minutes before you start. Begin recording at 9:00 am

9:00 am - Welcome and check in! Ask if everyone has their mailed package ready (but not open yet)

9:10 am - Go over the agenda and ask them to open the first package (I would include a notebook, pen, t-shirt and their favourite beverage - if they have kids, instruct them to have the kids open their package at this time)

9:30 am - Update on what is happening right now and how you are addressing the situation

9:45-10:30 (interactive) Teach/Inspire/Motivate (ask me for ideas if you are not sure what to do here) A guided mediation or setting intention instructional works well here to begin the retreat/meeting.

10:30 - Open the second package (I would include some of their favourite things and snack) Enjoy the snack together (don't forget about the kids)

10:45 am - Ask each attendee to share (the topic of what they share depends on your purpose) i.e. If you want people to feel heard, ask them to share a new idea. If you want them to feel appreciated, ask them to share a skill etc.

At this time you will also instruct them to put their lunch in the oven (that you have already mailed to them) I would think a frozen lasagna would work best.

11:30 am - Share your vision - get excited - acknowledge each person for their contribution and ASK them what they need right now. (more support, learning opportunities, flexible hours etc.) Really listen to what they are saying, and what they are not saying. Ask to meet privately if they would prefer to share at another time.

12:00 pm - Eat lunch together!

12:30 pm - End with inspiration and gratitude. Have them open their final package filled with pampering items, a new book etc.

1:00 pm - End Zoom call  

Follow up with each attendee the day after the call to check in and see if there is anything they missed and would like to discuss privately.

If you have any questions about how to plan your online retreat, please reach out to me at [email protected]

If you would like to know more about planning online and in-person retreats, my mentor is Elizabeth Shaw from The Event Influencer. She offers a 90-day course for people that want to plan out the perfect retreat! 

Your online retreat can be just as amazing as an in-person retreat...you just need to plan ahead and be prepared to adjust as needed.

I am here for you if you have questions!

Thank you!








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