First round: 1’ per person, go around the circle with talking object (see tip below how to establish an online circle). You can always let the talking object pass if you are not ready yet to speak; it will come back. Each person shares what she or he is thinking, feeling, or doing about the theme, issue or question.
Second round: 1 ’per person, with talking object, go around the circle to share thoughts after having listened to everybody.
Third round: 15-30 mins, open conversation with talking object, making sense of what was said and reflecting together.
Fourth round: 5-20 mins. sharing takeaways and reflecting on the experience from the Conversation Café through the chat. Including the chat is a valuable option when you have multiple parallel Conversation Cafes, sharing in the chat gives the whole group a sense what was discussed in the other groups.
Tip: There is one issue you have to give some thoughts to beforehand. The order of the taking turns in the first two steps. In a face-to-face setting you would follow the logic of the circle. This natural logic is missing in the virtual space (the arrangement of the people on the screens looks different on each individual screen). So, you have to find a way to establish the order. This is worth the effort and can even be fun in the case of using the imaginary ball. One person starts throwing an imaginary ball to someone from the group saying this person’s name. Then that person catches the ball and throws the ball to the next person saying this person’s name. This will be the order; people need to remember from whom they received the talking object and to whom they passed it. Other options to create a sense of a circle: Ask everyone to add her/ his name to the chat, the order of the names appearing in the chat box is your circle. Or prepare a visual slide and invite everyone to add her/ his name. Everyone knows who comes before and after them.
The Conversation Cafe is a wonderful Liberating Structure that works perfectly fine online. It is an inclusive approach giving voice to everyone by using a talking object and following a pattern of talking in turns. This creates a relaxed atmosphere and serenity at the same time.
Conversation Café allows slower rhythm and pace, the weaving of thoughts and ideas, the quality of listening. The group ears everyone's voice and everyone has a say without the facilitator guiding this. The Conversation Cafe process take care of this.