A virtual space, enabling spontaneous interaction and more intimate engagement in fluid conversation groups.

Area of application

Informal exchange is key for any successful conference or workshop. It takes place in the restaurant, in the hotel lobby, in the coffee corner or on the way to the laboratory. Some of the best ideas have been born from informal conversations. In times of social distancing people miss the human connection and the creative impulses it can provide. Luckily, technology offers a range of tools to gather your colleagues and partners in a virtual space, enabling spontaneous interaction and more intimate engagement in fluid conversation groups.

Social meetups prior to or after conferences and workshops offer a break from hierarchical, moderated online communication and the associated “online fatigue”. In such meetups, people can move around in a more fluid way. Spontaneous conversations, unexpected encounters, and energizing spontaneity suddenly become possible in the virtual space. Hence, this format is most suitable as a check-in counter prior to a conference or as after-work platform. During full-day conferences, it could also be applied during longer breaks.


Different tools suitable for virtual meetups offer a varying degree of interaction. Most tools are avatar-based and participants can move their avatar on the screen to interact with each other. The avatar can be personalized, for example, with a photo and a name. Once the avatar moves on the screen, it can interact with others, which is how small conversation groups build, and the meetup becomes dynamic with participants switching from one conversation group to the next one.

Alternatively, small breakout groups can be created through a video-conferencing platform. Either the participants choose a room or the moderator randomly shuffles and reshuffles them across rooms.

The meetup organizer can give specific topics for conversation, plan a common activity or just leave the space open for free unstructured interaction.

Virtual mode

Organizing a virtual meetup is less time and money intensive than planning an in-person social function. At the same time, it can be just as much fun as gathering in the coffee corner of a real conference hall. Also, just like in the offline life, participants need their small-talk skills to start a conversation. However, figuring out how the setup works and getting the best out of the virtual format requires some onboarding for the organizing team and the participants.  



To plan a meetup, you can follow the four steps outlined below.

  • Decide on the timing of the meetup. Would you like to offer it as a virtual coffee corner for participants before a conference kicks off? Or should participants rather have the possibility to socialize and talk after a workshop during a virtual after-work programme?
  • Choose a suitable tool and customize the meetup room! Most tools offer the possibility to choose a background and add different areas. This way you can make the virtual room look like a dining hall, a coffee bar, a park or even a laboratory. You can also adapt it to the specific country context or the place where the face-to-face meeting would have normally taken place.
  • Prepare technical instructions for participants and offer a trial session to make sure everyone will know how to navigate his/her avatar on the day of the event.
  • On the day of the meetup you can use the broadcasting function which some tools offer to welcome everyone and quickly explain the main functions. The meetup session should be at least 30 minutes or longer as time flies when people have fun!



  • Make the meetup an integral part of the conference and/or workshop, preferably not in the end. This way participants will block the time in their calendars and will not perceive the meetup as an optional add-on but as a social event they are looking forward to. On the other hand, it might be good to do it in the beginning or end of a meeting, as people can get lost when switching between a videoconferencing tool and a meetup tool.
  • Most meetup tools are also suitable for networking events and trade fairs. Try them out!

  • It is worth it to put some effort in making your virtual room look cozy and welcoming.
  • Most tools do not require installation and can be used simply with a browser. However, it is not recommended to use certain meetup tools and classical videoconference tools simultaneously. Hence, remind yourself and participants to close the browser tab when not active in the meetup so that the meetup tool can access the camera and the microphone.




While organizing a conference or workshop may take a lot of time, setting up a meetup is quite quick and easy once you have chosen a tool. Once opened, the same meetup room can be used throughout a conference or even for other events.



Some tools are free of charge (e.g., Trember). Others offer different subscription options (e.g. Spatial Chat). 



There are browser-based tools, where virtual rooms can host up to 1500 guests. However, for smaller conversation groups that form spontaneously in a meetup, it is recommended to not exceed ten people in one spot as the intimate character gets lost again or the video and sound quality decrease.



Roles differ, depending on the purpose and context of the virtual meetup.


Verena Stauber

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