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Grapevine helps people experiencing isolation, poverty and disadvantage in Coventry and Warwickshire. It does this by strengthening individuals, sparking community action and shifting power across services.

Use this Guide to help you build stronger connections with people when running online events and meetings. It includes advice on communicating with people before, during and after the event. It is based on movement building techniques but its ideas and steps could be applied to regular online groups or one-off events. It uses Deepr’s Human Connection Framework and Zoom. You could use other video call software. 

Steps to building human connection with groups of people using Zoom and email

Start by reflecting on how interactive, friendly and equal your online events or group meetings are. List each type of event: for example, regular groups, one off events, board meetings, staff events etc

Ask yourself how much each one:

  • builds trust and connection between participants

  • makes people feel good after a meeting

  • enhances relationships as well as helping get things done

  • compares with your experience of running real life meetings

People connecting at one of Grapevine's big meetings

Grapevine have always taken an intentional approach to building human connection in their work. They initiate social movements, run connecting people services and have a track record of writing publicly about their approach.

They already had a range of offline tactics they used to create connection and trusting relationships at group and 1-1 meetings. When they had to move their delivery online they looked for ideas and inspiration to create the type of conditions for building the same type of relationships.

They continue to use the approach described here. 

Learn the theory of creating connection online by studying Deepr’s Human Connection Framework.

The Framework describes 5 conditions needed for human connection to flourish:

  1. Presence - helping people to feel engaged and present

  2. Equality - helping people to feel equal to us

  3. Accountability - helping people to feel invested in our relationship

  4. Autonomy - giving people choice and power

  5. Whole self - helping people to be fully themselves

The Framework includes 40 method cards for creating connection. These can be used in different online situations.

The approach requires thought and planning to implement. It won’t work if you implement the activities on their own. You need to talk about the Framework and the 5 conditions with others in your team or organisation so you are not the only one holding the approach.

Consider which other partners or stakeholders you will need to introduce the Framework to.

Download your own copy of Deepr’s Human Connection Framework.

Grapevine were inspired by the Deepr Framework. It gave them a language to talk about how they might take their usual approach to connecting people into their online work. They:

  • used the 5 conditions as a lens to reflect on how they ran online events

  • chose methods to try out in their movement building work - with online events attended by 10-80 people

Use the Framework’s 40 method cards and session planner to plan how you will create the 5 conditions. Each card shows how it contributes to each condition so you can mix and match.

Ask yourself what you will do to:

  • help people feel like they belong?

  • make sure everyone has an equal voice?

  • enable people to have choice and control?

  • make it feel safer to bring their whole self to the meeting?

Think about what activities will be right for your group. If possible do some codesign with them.

Use Grapevine's adapted session planning tool or the one that comes with the Framework.

Grapevine adapted the Framework’s planner to make some of its methods more accessible.

They learnt that most methods contribute to fostering many connection conditions at the same time.

Your emails to participants can help build foundations for better connection at the event. They shape expectations of its tone and quality.

Think about how you might:

  • bring more of yourself to your emails

  • encourage people to share something with you by email before the event

  • build a sense of being part of something

These emails are particularly important for anyone coming who doesn’t already know you or others in your organisation.

Grapevine has used different ways to build connection with people before an event.

They always use playful language in their emails. Other things they have tried include:

  • The person sending the email shares 3 things about themselves and asks each recipient to share 3 things back

  • They ask people to bring something to the event - for example, their answer to an icebreaker question

  • They ask them for a song, along a theme (for example, a song that reminds you of a time when you felt powerful and in control). Then they create a playlist and play it when people arrive in the meeting (and share the playlist afterwards).

  • 1-1 conversations with some people before the event. This can make a difference for those who wouldn’t otherwise turn up.

“We will target people who are most important to have at an event. We have conversations with them about why it's important they are there. We share a bit of ourselves and why we are here. It helps us learn why they care and what will help them show up.” - Mel Smith, Deputy CEO, Grapevine

Here’s an email that Grapevine wrote.

Hello to our (extremely valued) Class of Winter 2021! (Soon to be Graduates of Winter 2021)

You made it! After your commitment, dedication and really inspiring input during Changemaker University over the last six weeks, we are delighted to confirm that you will graduate next Friday.

Where and when?

On Friday 19th March, we invite you to your graduation ceremony at 6:30pm. We welcome you to join from 6:15pm to come in and get comfy. We’ll use the usual link to join, which you can find here.

Your post

Very soon you will be receiving a little something that we sent in the post to your home. Please do not open this until Friday at the graduation, where we will invite you to open it live together.

Dress code and arrival

Dress up or dress casual, bring a drink or don't bring a drink, bring your pet or bring your family. There is no right or wrong this Friday! Please arrive how YOU feel comfortable.

You’ll notice that the agenda invites you to bring a ‘quarantini’ and a graduation hat. We do encourage you to wear a hat that represents graduation, but what that looks like and whether you create it, video filter it, or find it in the back of your wardrobe is down to you. We will share the instructions on making a quarantini with you before graduation and, don’t worry, you will definitely have all of the ingredients.

What song/s make you feel powerful?!

During lockdown we have been building a pretty fab communal Change Maker Playlist, which we’ll share with you at Graduation. We would like your song choices to add to it so we can stay feeling connected and powerful, even when we are alone.

Please share your song requests by typing them into this shared document (or email them over).

Stay tuned - more info next week

The schedule for Friday has been carefully crafted. It is more than just a get together of the grads. It is a token of our appreciation and a celebration of each of you individually. Don’t underestimate the power of a purposeful gathering and please do join for the whole time if you are able.

Thank you again. With a very warm smile,

The Connecting for Good team x

Set up

  • If it’s an open event, make it sign-up only and password protect the event. Keeping it secure helps people feel safer to connect.

  • Customise the waiting room screen text to something friendly and relevant (see image, below).

  • Ask staff to set up a nice background and ideally sit on a sofa in a comfy space. This makes it more relaxed.

  • Ask staff not to use blurs or hidden backgrounds. You want them to bring their real selves. This builds more connection.

  • Designate a staff member to be chatbox monitor and give them co-host permissions within Zoom.

  • Use multiple hosts for big events.

Start the event early

Start the event 5 minutes early. Drop messages into the waiting room chat until it’s time to start.

At the event

  • Mute everyone on arrival to give people a chance to get settled.

  • As people arrive encourage them to have their camera on. Don’t make it compulsory. Ask them to say something in the chatbox if they have it off. Some people will interact better this way.

Ice breaker

The first part of any meeting can be chaotic. Run an icebreaker. The Framework offers several activities


As you segue from the icebreaker make it clear you are entering a different part of the event.


Breaks are important because being in an event on a computer screen can feel more intense than real life. If you don’t have a break, people will squeeze one in when they aren’t speaking. Aim for 10 minutes per 1.5 hrs.

Tell people what time the break will be and stick to it. That way people know what to expect. Knowing when the break is will help people balance how much energy they give to taking part and being in connection.

Play music during the break. Ask people to stretch their legs (outside if they can) and not to look at their work emails.

Be back 1 minute before the restart, with your camera on. This helps communicate that you are ready for people to return.

At the end

Run a reflection activity. You could use an online poll or the chatbox.

Asking for permission to share email addresses

After an event it’s good to be able to email everyone together. It shows you are not holding all the power, and it helps people build and hold their own relationships outside of your events. Ask permission from everyone and build the list as best you can.

After the event

Send a follow up email to everyone who attended. Add actions, future meetings, ways to get involved and ways to sign up for a 1-1. You can also add a summary of what was shared during the icebreaker or a link to any playlist.

Send a ‘you were missed’ email to those who didn’t attend.

A waiting room welcome message before a Grapevine event

Grapevine have tried several ideas:

  • They have mailed people things to use or eat during the meeting. This includes hot chocolate, homemade cookies, note pads, postcards and motivational stickers.

  • One of their groups renamed the icebreaker as a biscuit breaker. They preferred this as a term for helping people build connection. Biscuit breakers try to create unity and togetherness. They are often silly and fun.

  • At one event they asked everyone to perform a funny movement that shows power. With consent they screenshotted people doing it and shared the photo in the email afterwards.

They have learnt to create a balance between different types of methods. This comes by knowing their audience and understanding why they are using each method with them. For example the Framework's hot mugs activity wasn't for everyone.

At big events Grapevine:

  • Have a staff WhatsApp group for communicating with each other during the event

  • Deploy staff to any breakout spaces where there are people they don’t know yet.

Immediately after the event, on the same video call, take a 5 minute break then run your own reflection exercise. Ask yourselves:

  • What went well?

  • Complete the sentence ‘It would be even better if…’

  • What are our next steps?

You can even invite participants to stay on and do this with you as a way to involve them. The reflection process needs to be structured and meaningful to enable this.

Grapevine has a way of generating useful feedback with participants. They use several questions:

  • What went well?

  • Even better if…?

  • Who showed up?

  • How are we more powerful?

  • Who was developed?

  • How did it make you feel? What made you feel that way?

They find that these questions help participants offer more useful feedback than the praise they otherwise usually give.

They have also found that some people, usually people in service roles, choose to leave an event. They stick to their welcoming and connecting approach if this happens.

“You have to believe in the approach or no one else will.” - Chloe Andrew, Community Organiser, Grapevine

The framework has 40 methods so there are plenty to try out! After a while thinking about events and meetings in terms of human connection will become normal and automatic.

Allow staff to be creative when they have an idea. When you find something that works, be willing to tweak it further. Tweaking brings new energy, diversity, and freshness.

Some methods can be adapted for real life events.

Experimenting with gathering around a fire on Zoom

Many of the things Grapevine do have come through continuing to experiment. For example, reflecting with participants after an event came about by accident after some participants stayed on the call.

They have evolved their music theme and asked people to send a song that reminds them of relationships, connection and belonging, for a real life event.

Also, they have shared their approach with partner organisations they are running projects with.

Further information

Use other Shared Digital Guides focused on building connections online:

Get free resources from Deepr to develop the human connection approach.
Request their tools by clicking the pink download button half way down the page.

For more on Grapevine's approach you can contact: