I see you: how to build trust and connection online

cute puppy looking at you

Here we go again. In-person sessions are being moved online. Inevitably the person organizing the conference or workshop breaks the news with a sigh. “It won’t be the same.”

Perhaps it won’t be the same, but we have made a lot of progress over the past year on how to deliver online learning with a strong social presence. When COVID first hit and I was called on to teach people how to teach online, I shared the lessons of “Get Present: Build Community and Connectedness Online,” an article written by North Carolina Virtual Public School teachers who challenged us to look at five elements of engaging learners in their learning. Particularly helpful was the challenge to build community cohesion.

Over the past month, I have expanded my instruction on social presence based on Erica Dhawan’s four laws of digital body language, explained in her 2021 book Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust & Connection No Matter the Distance. While the book is intended to address digital body language in the workplace, not within learning programs, her four laws invite us to consider how we are deepening our practice to build social presence. (I put “digital” in parentheses because I could argue that these are the four laws of body language offline too.)

PowerPoint slide describing the four laws of digital body language: value visible, communicate carefully, collaborate confidently, and trust totally.

Using the slide above, I recently invited participants in my Trainer Academy course to translate these laws into practical guidance for an online trainer. This is what one group came up with:

What would you add to this list?

Perhaps that conference won’t be the same—we can’t replicate the chatter at the coffee bar. But I’m excited for that online conference session anyway. I’m going to bring these four laws of digital body language into our conversation about how to build a powerhouse board or better prepare for a disaster. Their success matters.


I released the Nonprofit Learning Playbook last week. Download your free copy here.

The Nonprofit Learning Fall Series starts next week:

9/ 23: Beyond Workshop & Webinars: Tools to Move People to Action
10/7: Designing Accessible Learning Programs
11/9: Graphics and Design in Learning
Save by registering for the 3-part series 

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

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