The Making of an Online Conference

This is the story of how a few friends and I took what was supposed to be an in-person event and turned it into an online conference…in the middle of a pandemic.

As you know, 2020 was a year of crazy adjustments and Zoom calls. That part of the story will be familiar to you already, but first, I want to back up and take you to a relaxing summer book club where this whole thing began.

A couple of years ago, I was knee-deep in a writing project and needed feedback. The Life-Giving Path started as a book, and it was time to test the things I’d written with real people. My church, Westminster Chapel, graciously allowed me to host a summer book club in the Fireside Room.

Since nothing is more awkward than hosting a discussion about your own book, I found a friend to help facilitate. I think in most creative partnerships, there’s one person with the outlandish ideas, and the other’s job is to pull the space cadet back down to earth. Well, Gina and I don’t work like that. We spent the summer racing each other to the rocket ship.

We dreamed up different methods to bring our discussions to life and crafted props, interactive decorations, and round-table exercises. We loved finding new ways to surprise our ladies when they walked through the door. When I think on that time, it was sheer joy. Writing is often solitary, lonely work, so sharing the journey was a balm on this writer’s heart.

I loved our discussions and was thrilled when the church asked me to speak at Westminster Chapel’s annual women’s conference. I started meeting with a team and figuring out how to take that intimate book club experience and translate it for a bigger audience. Gina and I brainstormed ideas for activities and decorations with the team. I got to work designing the conference booklet.

Everything was set for April 2020. (You see where this is going, right?)

It’s hard to remember those first days when Covid-19 hit, and we were all sheltering in place. I was fairly confident the conference would be canceled, but I couldn’t afford to stop working on it—just in case. If we did decide to meet, I had to be ready with two days of content.

If I could go back in time, I’d give myself a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Those were hard weeks of trying to concentrate amidst worries about life + family + news. I’m sure you can relate.

We had a few meetings to decide what to do. In one of those first Zoom calls, another woman suggested we have it online. If we’d been meeting in person, I would’ve kicked her under the table. I knew she was right, but I hated the idea.

There are some people who do online live events well, but I didn’t know if I was one of them. Zoom fatigue was already a thing, and we’d wanted this to feel soothing—like a retreat.

It took me a while, but finally, I accepted that online was our only option. My husband got out the video camera and set it up in the living room. After some convincing, I filmed a test video.

There is a verse that says we were created “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  I started to see glimpses of this in my life.

The video camera we’d purchased but never really used

The hand-me-down tripod waiting in the coat closet

The extra memory card sitting unopened in its package

Each time I ran up against a roadblock, I’d find another piece of equipment or a forgotten skill tucked away in some back drawer.

I started to have fun with it. Filming and editing the videos, which I’d been dreading, turned out to be my favorite part. Collecting imagery and finding music felt playful and brought the whole thing to life. We decided to break up the content into short sessions, so that everyone could go at their own pace. It felt risky and somewhat unexpected, but I hoped it would help us hang on to that retreat-like feel.

I wasn’t entirely sure that our efforts had worked until I received an email from a friend a few weeks later. She told me that she’d been “filled with anxiety and headed down a slippery slope of depression.” Originally, she’d been disappointed that the conference was going to be online, but she enjoyed being able to pause, rewind, and consider what God was saying to her. The experience felt peaceful and calming.

Like a retreat.

I’m so excited to be able to share The Life-Giving Path Online Workshop with you. It’s my hope that this workshop will be a safe place for you to reflect on your path and to be refreshed, refilled, and renewed for the next step on your journey.

If you’d like to learn more or sign up, click here.

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