Creating Conference Engagement With These Seven Social Spaces


People participate in a variety of behaviors at a typical conference.

They enter the conference with specific expectations of what they can do at the event, who they can do it with and what’s expected of them.

So how often do we plan conferences with a focus on the behaviors and types of spaces that attendees use?

Seven Social Spaces

The goal of categorizing spaces is to get you to think about what your attendees might be doing in these spaces. And what they might be doing it for. Thinking about the interactions that happen in these spaces gets us to think differently about how our attendees engage during the conference experience.

It challenges us to think about who is in control of designing these spaces. Who controls the elements of service in these spaces? What kind of conversations are attendees having and with whom? What are accepted behaviors of these spaces? How do we incentivize appropriate behaviors of these spaces? What behaviors are rejected in these spaces and how are they managed?

This helps conference organizers design spaces and programs from the point of view of the user, the attendee.

Here are seven social spaces of conferences based on expectations and behaviors. Are you providing all of these type spaces at your conference?

1. Secret Spaces

Spaces that provide for private, intimate communications typically one-on-one or in very small groups. The emphasis is on absolute privacy as often important and proprietary business matters are discussed.

2. Group Spaces

These spaces reinforce the identity of the group. Stroking (recognition, attention or responsiveness that one person gives to another or to another group) leads to a sense of belonging. Mild competitiveness signals hierarchies within the group.

3. Publishing Spaces

These spaces encourage people to publish content from the conference and share it with others outside of the conference four walls.

4. Gaming/Performance Spaces

People use these spaces to play a defined role within a game structure. They experiment through simulation, rehearsal and teamwork to achieve a goal. They practice and repeat behavior in order to perfect the performance. Often bands and entertainers use these spaces for performances to the audience.

5. Participation Spaces

People use these spaces to participate in the conference experience from breakouts to general sessions to informal collaborative spaces to discuss content. It’s about coordination of lots of small group acts that work towards a common goal of discussing and learning content. It’s about providing places where the theory shared from the front of the room is practiced and applied. People learn from each other through a learning commons as they participate in activities and exercises.

6. Observation Spaces

These spaces are used for passive viewing of a linear event as part of a larger group experience. The group may attend an event and observe behaviors and skills and then debrief their observations in a smaller group setting. The traditional lecture falls into observation spaces.

7. Data Spaces

Attendees use these spaces to view, search and seek data to produce new stories and perspectives of the data. Think about real-time industry data that is used to change behaviors and teach attendees different habits.

Hat tips to Matt Locke and Ewan McIntosh for their discussions about social media, technology and learning spaces.

What other types of engagement spaces would you add to this list? Which of these types of spaces is most difficult to program for and why?


  1. says

    Interesting idea. Do you think this concept of different types of ‘spaces’ could also be applied to online interactions. e.g. an ‘observation space’ might be a webinar, a ‘publishing space’ might be Twitter and a ‘group space’ might be a private social network?


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