One of society’s greatest paradoxes is that we have more connections today than we did in the past but there is less community and conversation.
As a conference organizer, you can seed your annual meeting with experiences that nurture authentic conversations, deep connections and community. You don’t have to sacrifice honest talk for today’s casual chat through digital communications or to sidestep sensitive polarizing topics.
You can design, structure and facilitate conference experiences that foster and reclaim meaningful dialogue in an age of digital disruptions. You can create dialogic conferences that connect people at a deeper level through effective listening and conversation, collaboration and co-creation. You can leverage how face to face conferences can cultivate undisputable conversations and develop community.
Uber-Connected Yet Lacking Communion With Others
We text, snap group selfies and social share even when we are with others. We settle for casual relations like Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and Twitter follows. We keep each other at a distance. With the rise of mobile devices and digital technology, we are always communicating. We seemed to have sacrificed authentic conversations for mere digital connections.
Attend any conference and you’ll see most of the people walking and texting. We’ve embraced a culture where we can be alone together instead of collectively and concurrently in community. One of the loneliest places to be is in a sea of hundreds or thousands of people at a keynote presentation and feel like you don’t belong.
Compared to any other time in our history, we are able to more quickly connect with another person. However, our uber-connected world gives the illusion of community without the demands for it says MIT Professor and author Sherry Turkle. We are along together.
And in today’s society when we seem to have retreated to our tribal corners, with polarizing talk, finger-pointing, blame-gaming and snarky quips, we crave genuine connections and conversations.
Your Conference Must Facilitate Community
As a meeting professional and conference organizer, you have the ability to avoid the illusion of community and foster authentic deep connections.
You can design networking and ballroom experiences that allow participants to connect at a deeper level. You can avoid transactional speed networking with the passing of business cards and where more is more.
Helping your conference participants know and be known by one another should be one of your top priorities when designing and planning your conference. You can create genuine transformational experience.
Creating Transformational Group Experiences
They matter a lot to your industry, profession and society. It’s how we move industries, professions and societies forward—through groups that have real conversations.
Not only should your education sessions offer transformational learning experiences. You need to offer transformational networking and group experiences as well. And we know from education research that the best learning experiences happen in small groups of two or three. Remember this point when you’re designing transformational networking experiences. Start with designing experiences where pairs and triads can converse and connect. Then move those conversations to groups of four to six.
So in a world that is pushing against community for more distant digital connections, you need to push back. You should be designing, offering and fostering transformational group experiences. We have to do the work to keep the values of deep connections and networking that brought our customers together in the first place.
It all starts with you, the reader, offering a better way. It starts with you asking questions and challenging your planning team to lead by example. We need to be involved in our own transformational groups. We need to study their dynamics and what works and doesn’t work. Then we should design transformational group experiences for our conferences using solid group practices and authentic connection principles that we have experienced first-hand.
I am convinced that you cannot lead your conference to create transformational conversational group experiences if you do not yourself live within one. So it does start with you and having authentic conversation within a group experience.
What groups do you belong to that cause you to be transformed? Where and how have you experienced authentic conversation lately and how can you design and foster conference experiences that foster deep connections?