Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Connecting At Conferences - It Is About More Than Chit-Chat and Social Apps

MPI's One + Blog has an article by David Basler where he asks meeting professionals if they are "designing connectivity or just planning meetings"?

He says:
"Let’s face it, we are no longer just planning meetings. We are designing human connectivity. It will take a combination of art, science and magic to be leaders in our field, but with that recipe we will be creating the best kind of meeting interaction—the kind in which humans truly experience and learn from each other and take away relationships that keep the connection going long after the meeting’s close."
Humans are experiential beings, and when we share an experience with others we have a bond from which we can easily build a real relationship.  Everyone says they want to come to a conference for the "networking opportunities", but once they arrive they do not do the things necessary to start to forge meaningful connections. They hang out with their co-workers or hide behind their technology. 

After the conference they do little to follow up.  They are ships that pass in the night with those they encounter at events.

Conference networking is about more than just trading business cards or creating social media links. Too often the schedule has "networking" built in, but there is nothing in the culture of the conference that really gets people to meet and explore in conversations.

Industry expert and MPI Board Member Kyle Hillman added a comment on the MPI blog that said:
"Our attempts to force meaningful connections in the event industry revolve around either the "if you build it, they will network" model or the "throw more technology out there" model. Neither is effective..."
Kyle is right.  Creating a networking culture at an event does not happen by accident and the addition of cool tech tools often is not the answer.  Technology can help, but alone it cannot reach the human-to-human level of a establishing "feelings" about other people.  We desire to "know, like and trust" others, but over the past few years we have allowed the definition of "know" to morph into something superficial.

It takes risks and creativity from the organizers, attendees, vendors, and speakers to place attention of the whole group onto the people and their experiences at the event. This can be difficult as it removes many elements of control from those who are accustomed to being in charge.

Recently I blogged about the importance of "hallway conversations" as a part of the learning objectives at a meeting.  People often say the best part of attending a meeting is the conversation they had in the hallway, but too many folks do not understand how to begin a dialog with strangers.  The discussions with other attendees is an important part of the learning that takes place, but organizers too often leave it to chance.  Each breakout session must have "learning objectives", but the hallway time does not get the same attention.

My "Conference Catalyst Program" is one way to cultivate a connection culture, but I cannot expect every meeting planner to select me as the right option for their audience (it would be nice!).  Yet event without an official "catalyst", there still needs to be actions taken up-front to encourage people to go beyond idle chit-chat to get to really understand one another.  A conference is a mini-society, but there is not nearly enough time over a few days to leave the culture to chance.  Hoping and wishing that the sparks of connections will fly at your conference is not the best strategy and it is not the way "change agents" make things happen.

I spoke to a meeting professional who told me she agreed with designing connectivity in principle, but "was not ready to try anything new" at their organization's summer conference.  Will she be ready next summer?  Maybe the summer after that?  The time is now to take action.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.  http://www.conferencecatalyst.com 


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