WLA'S ONLINE SYMPOSIUMS, AS TOLD BY TWO DELEGATES DURING STAGE FOUR LOCKDOWN​

A couple of weeks ago, over two days, over 300 Victorian women joined us from their home offices, living rooms, bedrooms, and kids rooms.

Together, we committed to two days of learning, developing, sharing and connecting with one another in a city where we can’t even meet friends for a takeaway coffee and a walk. We came in bruised, fatigued and vulnerable with a certain ennui born from being in the midst of some of the toughest restrictions in the country and more or less thought ‘okay I’ll give it a go.’ 

And what a go we gave it. 

We smiled, we laughed, we cried. We learnt, shared and questioned. We opened up our homes and hearts to women around the corner and across the state that we had never met and gave our warmth, wisdom and encouragement generously. The chat filled with robust, warm, informative conversation, replete with thank you’s and other offerings of immense gratitude.

Someone commented that she felt like the speakers were her new best friends and we all heartily agreed. 

One of our delegates, Steph Gaddin, commented; “The intimacy and connection with the delegates and people who were speaking were incredible. It really did feel like you were having a conversation with them, one on one. That feeling was amplified by the chat, which became such a safe space.

“If we were in a big room somewhere, we would have ended up talking to people we know. That’s what happens; people gravitate to people they know. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there is so much more value in these random connections, particularly the ones we got to make in the break out rooms. I think where it really worked was that the chat became a safe space. You held space for people I a way that I don’t think you would get at a real-world event.”

Olivia, another delegate, commented; “I think [the lockdown] makes people appreciate things more. It’s great to see that people really were contributing, and in some ways, I actually think you got to know them better. You see the same names pop up in the chat and you take interest and think ‘where do they work’ and it creates this amazing connection. I think when you are in the room you end up hanging around with the people from your company or people you already know. 

“I loved the comment from someone who said ‘wow, my son just came into the room and was impressed because I am having a zoom conversation with Lee Lin Chin!’ It felt like they were in your lounge room, these famous people, because they were in your lounge room. I speak to my boss, my team, my friends and family on Zoom now, and it just felt no different.”

One particular theme that came through was the vulnerability that both participants and speakers were nursing throughout the two days. Steph said; “I think it couldn’t have come at a better time. It was just meant to be that it happened during our stage four lockdown. It became a very bright spot in a very tough six weeks. It was this moment of honesty and vulnerability and truth and warmness from a lot of the speakers and participants. 

“You don’t get that level of intimacy and warmness in a big conference room. There was a definite quietness and authenticity to the whole thing that we wouldn’t get in a real-world event. That feeling of vulnerability for everyone, that feeling of intimacy, a lot of that is coming from the fact that we are in lockdown, we are in COVID, we are stuck at home and will be stuck at home for many months.”

Olivia mentioned that it was nice to be able to see how people were feeling and coping at the moment and know that we were all in it together; “It got quite emotional and it was kind of nice to see that people felt that they could be emotional, a lot of people were so vulnerable. The speakers were so comfortable to present in a vulnerable way. Even the moment when Daisy had issues with her IT, there was no one to come and rescue her. She was just like one of us. I loved that. It made me feel like I was on her level and really connected to her.”

Barriers break down during a shared experience, particularly when those who engage in that experience are authentically themselves. They need to be authentic to create that connection, and if we are vulnerable enough to do that with other people then we create a safe space.

Having that commonality and shared understanding lends itself to a need to discuss, learn and share with others. And while the Melbourne may be feeling a bit of zoom fatigue, there is certainly an argument that a willingness to embrace this technology for what it is may, in fact, create more meaningful connections with our fellow locked down citizens. 

There’s something about being able to glimpse a bookshelf, or a lounge room, in the background of someone’s screen that makes you feel a touch more connected to them. So, to everyone who beamed in from their lounge rooms to ours, thank you. Thank you for the wisdom, the connection, the authenticity, the vulnerability, the laughs and the tears. May we all continue to encourage connection, growth and a bit of physically distant warmth during these *unprecedented* times.