Your Best Digital Self

Building Community

For many artists and arts organizations, building community is at the heart of what we do. How can we achieve the same good vibes when we can’t meet face-to-face?

We all know that gathering online isn’t the same as in person. What was natural becomes awkward. Nuance and body language are hard to read. Our previously private home lives are now on camera. Despite the obstacles, more than ever we need to find ways to build community, and with a little planning, you’ll discover that the effort you put into your online gatherings will be returned to you in abundance.

Ice Breakers: Start your gathering off with a group activity, ice breaker or game. Does it seem silly? Perhaps. But having a shared experience outside of “work” helps people loosen up, and allows them to get to know each other, contributing towards a more cohesive team. Here are a few of our favourites:

  1. Share a piece of artwork from your home and why it’s meaningful to you.
  2. Screen share a drawing with the group for a minute or two. Stop sharing, turn on some great music, and give participants five minutes to draw the image from memory. Share results with the group.
  3. Share your favourite app and why you love it.
  4. If your life was a movie what would the tagline be? Turn off your camera and take a few minutes to write. Turn your cameras back on and share with the group.
  5. Share a daily observation from your world – something you saw or heard that was interesting, unusual or inspiring.

Check-In: We’re all going through a lot behind the scenes. Go around and do a check-in with everyone. How is everyone feeling? It’s okay to be vulnerable. These check-ins can help create a culture of mutual support.

Shared Leadership: This Zoom meeting isn’t going to run itself! Take turns sharing the leadership role. Everyone should feel empowered to participate, and sharing the responsibility of running the show is one way to give a feeling of ownership.

Names and Pronouns: Using the right name and pronoun makes people feel seen and acknowledged. Encourage participants to list their name and pronouns on their profile (on Zoom this is called Display Name). In a performance scenario, addressing audience members by name, even if you don’t know them, will make them feel their presence matters.

Video Filters: Need to lighten the mood? Invite everyone to use a video filter or change their background.

Be Present: It’s so easy to get distracted and not give your full attention to a Zoom call. What about making a cell phone sleeping bag (thanks, Jan Keck!) and make a group ritual of putting your phones to bed at the beginning of a gathering?

Emotional Payoff: Sharing creative work online is very different from sharing it in-person. Don’t be shy about soliciting positive feedback from your audience. You’ll be able to reap some of the emotional pay-off that you get from sharing your creativity in the real world. Working on a project with a team? You may not be able to get together to raise a glass, but make sure to set aside some time to celebrate your successes. 

Boundaries: Does working from home mean working all the time? Create rituals around the start and end of the work day; this could be changing your clothes or taking a walk around the block. Siobhan Richardson recommends getting up, getting dressed, taking a walk around the block, and then entering your house to start to your work day. A similar end to the day helps with creating a ‘close’ to the work day. If possible, have a designated work area that you can shut down when the work day is over.

Self View: Whenever possible, turn off your Self View on Zoom. It’s exhausting and distracting to look at yourself all the time. To turn it off, hover over your video and click the ellipses button to display the menu, then choose Hide Self View. You no longer see the video of yourself, even though others in the meeting can see the video of you.

Lights, Camera, Sound – Setting Up For Success!

Whether you’re facilitating a workshop, leading a meeting, or participating in a gathering, take some time to get yourself set up properly and show the world your best digital self!

Framing: Consider what you’d like viewers to see. What does your background look like? How much of your body is needed? If you’re doing dance or theatre, you might want to be further from your camera for a wide angle. For meetings, you’ll want to frame yourself in a medium close-up so your facial expressions can be clearly seen. It’s best to have your camera at eye level, or at a slightly high angle (meaning your camera is slightly higher than you are).

Good lighting set-up

Lighting: Make sure your face is well lit. A natural source of lighting is best, but you can buy an inexpensive ring light. Have your light source come from the side if possible. Definitely don’t have it behind you – that will create a silhouette.

Bad lighting set-up

Sound: If you are having connectivity issues, try turning off your video; reducing your bandwidth use might improve the connection. You can function without video, you can’t function without audio. If problems persist try signing out of the platform, rebooting your computer, and signing in again. Use earbuds or headphones to prevent an echo; this will also be more pleasant for anyone around you!

Space: Make sure you have a comfortable quiet place to work or lead your session. Make a checklist for what you need, for example:

  • Computer and phone charged
  • Ringers off! Or, if you don’t need it, put your phone away altogether
  • Extension cord
  • Power cords
  • Materials to support the project
  • Props
  • Pencil and paper
  • Water
  • Coffee
Artist Leslie Ashton’s digital set-up. See info about 2nd camera set-up below.

Think through what you’ll be doing and assess if your space supports that. If you’re sitting on your sofa or at your desk, but you know there will be a moment to physicalize a character, or add movement to a spoken word piece, can you easily pivot to demonstrate that?

Internet: Check the strength of your WiFi by looking at the symbol on your task bar; if you only have one or two bars, it’s not strong. Try sitting closer to your router; if you can’t find a place where your WiFi is stable, hooking your computer to an ethernet cable will provide a more reliable connection. Consider the timing of your meeting; depending where you live, certain times of day the internet can be slower.


Leading a workshop or meeting online? As a leader, it’s up to you to create an online environment that runs smoothly and fosters good communication. The more care you put into planning your meet-up, the better your results will be.

Platforms: Choose a platform that best supports what you’ll be using it for. Zoom is often more suitable for creatives. Read more here.

Partner Up: Consider asking a colleague to help you run the session. They can do tasks such as monitoring the chat, running slides, creating breakout groups, and screen sharing. This makes a big difference to meetings running smoothly.

Materials: Give participants a heads-up about any materials or props they’ll need. What do they have at home? Does anything need to be delivered in advance? Do you have a budget to do that? 

Reminders: So many Zooms! Send a reminder email the day before, so no one forgets to show up.

Security: Refrain from publicly posting your meeting links in order to avoid unwanted participants. Always create a waiting room so you have to manually accept participants.

Build Relationships: Try using a ‘soft start,’ leaving time to check-in and chat before getting down to business.

Names: As people join, ensure that everyone’s name appears on their image. To do this on Zoom, hover over the ellipses in the top right corner, and look for “rename.” Names can also be followed by preferred pronouns.

Chat: Make explicit how you’ll be using the chat function; it’s a great place to ask questions, provide feedback, or share links, as well as for participants to chat with each other.

Share: As a facilitator you can share your own screen or allow others to share theirs, but there are plenty of other tools and platforms for group work. Note that if you’re sharing your own screen you won’t be able to see the rest of Zoom (this is where a partner comes in handy!).

Spotlight: Use spotlighting to highlight who/what you want your participants to focus on, such as a second camera, or a participant sharing their work. Another great tool to practice with a colleague!

Order: You can sequence the order of people’s boxes to ensure everyone sees the same thing. You must be updated to the 5.2.2 version or newer. This is exciting for drama and movement work because now participants are all looking at the same sequence, which can make games and warm-ups easier to facilitate. Watch this instruction video.

Breakout Rooms: These are a fantastic place for brainstorming and sharing ideas; it’s often more comfortable for people to speak up in smaller groups. Think through groupings ahead of time. Make sure you’re confident doing this; run a rehearsal prior to the session with a colleague or two if you’re unsure. 

Second Camera: This can be invaluable for demonstrations such as a close-up of your feet dancing, showing how to play a musical instrument, or giving close-ups of visual art techniques. You can use your phone as your second camera. In Zoom simply sign onto the link a second time. You can purchase a phone mount, or make your own. Ensure your audio on the second camera is muted or you will experience feedback.