During this season of isolation amidst the COVID-19 crisis, people all over the world are getting back to reading books. If you find yourself wanting to start an online book club, but aren’t sure where to begin, here are eight easy steps to get you there:
1. Identify and recruit potential attendees.
Decide on how many total attendees you’d like to invite, and then start brainstorming names until you’ve finalized who you will contact. Don’t reach out yet, but have their names handy for step number two below. Or, if you don’t have specific people in mind, cast a wide net by posting your idea for an online book club on your social media page.
Tip: Create a group that reflects a variety of personalities and backgrounds — diverse perspectives make for the best book club discussions!
2. Choose a start date, time, frequency, and format.
Having a date, time, frequency, and format sounds so official, doesn’t it? Good! Nailing down these details makes your online book club decision final — you’re doing it. You’re going to actually try this thing. Remember: These details are the very first thing that potential attendees will ask you about when you invite them to a book club.
3. Send your invitations.
Now that you are armed with information on start date, time, frequency, and format, it’s time to invite your potential attendees! Reach out however is most appropriate — a phone call, email, text, neighborhood app, Facebook message, or otherwise. Make sure to gather email addresses from attendees that commit to the book club, as you may need to use these when you set up your online application.
Tip: Given that the online format of this book club might seem unconventional or unexpected for some of your potential attendees, go ahead and address this reality directly. Communicate that you are hosting an online book club as a means to foster connection and community, and though you cannot gather face-to-face, you are excited to overcome the physical distance by using technology in a constructive and creative way.
4. Clarify reading assignments.
Once you have a finalized group of attendees who have said "yes" to your online book club, clarify the reading assignment for your upcoming meeting. It could be an entire book, or particular chapters of a book, but regardless, the keyword is clarify. Everyone in the group wants to feel like a valuable conversation partner, but that is not possible if they don’t know exactly what’s expected of them.
5. Set up your online application of choice.
Now your book club’s details and attendees are on the books, it’s time to set up the online application that will host your discussion. Online group-meeting platforms to consider are Zoom, Skype, Lifesize, and Google Hangouts, of many. There are social media app options as well, but many do not include video capabilities for every single person in the group. Again, allow your decision to be made according to the preference of the majority of your participants.
6. Add your attendees to the online invitation.
Whether Zoom, Facebook, Google Hangouts, or something else, the platform you choose to host your online book club will have instructions on how to set up a meeting and invite others into the meeting. Usually, the meeting creator must add the names (or email addresses) of the attendees. The application usually provides a link everyone can use to join the meeting when it’s time.
Tip: Most online platforms have step-by-step written or video instructions that will tell you how to use their tools. Google the platform of your choice, and see if you can find a good tutorial if you are intimidated by the technology. You can do it!
7. Join the gathering and facilitate the discussion.
Finally, it’s time to host your online book club! Click on your meeting link (you may want to try it out a little early to ensure the technology is working properly), and join the group online. Remember that a book club is not a lecture or a Sunday morning service. As a book club host, you are a facilitator, not a teacher. The goal is not to dominate the time or end up with a total consensus of opinion. The goal is to keep a vibrant conversation going and learn more about your fellow attendees as they interact with various ideas and authors.
Tip: A good facilitator asks open-ended questions (not yes or no questions), and allows the conversation to take various turns, so long as interactions aren't harmful or totally outside of the purview of the themes in the assigned reading. If the group is quieter, have some backup questions ready or sections of material to highlight as particularly interesting. If a shy attendee speaks up, encourage their input with follow-up questions, in efforts to show how much you value their voice in the group.
8. Conclude and set future expectations.
Try to chime in 5 to 10 minutes before it’s time to close, and remind the group that it’s time to wind down. If appropriate, thank everyone for participating and summarize some key insights from your discussion — fresh lessons you learned during the book club that you had not thought of before in your private reading time. Then set expectations for the next book club by clarifying what the reading assignment is for next time. Finally, answer any lingering questions from the group.
Don’t let physical distance keep you from enjoying a good book with friends. Start an online book club, and see just how much more knowledge, creativity, and community is gained by reading books with others instead of going at them alone.