As important as the plug is to the outlet so the electricity can flow.
As important as the computer programming is to the wireless cell tower so our cell phones work. As important as the water faucet is to the plumbing so we can have fresh water. As important as the heart pumping blood to the brain. As important as human touch is to a newborn child.
I’ve been having some fuzzy thinking in the corners of my mind lately about conferences, community and connections. Those thoughts have come to center stage and gained a more compelling clear focus after weeks of reflection of conference attendance.
I am struck by what I remember the most from my past five conference attendance–my connections with others.
- I recall having dinner at the Virtual Edge Summit with Oracle’s Paul Salinger, Cisco’s Digital Strategist extraordinaire Kelly Graham and Lumen Consulting’s delightful and humorous Desiree Lehrbaum as we talked about virtual and hybrid events and the future of the meetings industry.
- I remember a passionate and energetic conversation with the brilliant Michael Westcott and introspective Paul Salinger as we deconstructed Byron Reeves’ keynote presentation, Total Engagement, and how the online gaming industry would impact work, and virtual and face-to-face events.
- I consider the hallway conversations with American Bankers Association’s Director of Professional Development J P Stephenson, introNetwork’s CEO and Co-Founder Mark Sylvester and introNetwork’s President and Co-Founder Kymberlee Weil on the impact of social media and real time feedback for events and conferences.
- I reminisce of a dinner with Dave Lutz and Bonnie Wallsh as we compare notes about association meetings and share experiences about presenting for conferences.
- I recollect when the Godfathers of #eventprofs, Michael McCurry, Mike McAllen, Greg Ruby and J-Lev, Jessica Levin, first got together at the Grand Hyatt at PCMA’s annual conference for drinks and discussion.
- I could name countless other conference connections as well.
Why do I remember these people and our meetings more than the conference’s content or speakers? What did I experience with them that I didn’t experience sitting passively listening to a conference presentation?
I believe it’s because we were able to connect on an intimate level through personal conversations. In most cases we were connecting on a radical, deep-seated and revolutionary level–even while engaging about the conference’s content.
Connections–when people of likeminded communities and tribes regularly intersect and their lives are better because of that association. We need more opportunities in conference to create and grow these valuable connections.
I envision a community of people who intentionally mingle in settings at conferences and events where intangible nutrients are passed back and forth with each other, creating a type of soul force and special intimacy called a connection. Sometimes, these individuals have developed and maintained online connections and come together offline to pour into each other the resources that they each have and share. Sometimes it is the first time they meet.
Scott Gould talks about a similar concept in his post and video “Are We Building Community or Connections?” He further expands on these thoughts and how to move from crowd to community to connected to committed to core.
Imagine what could happen if conference organizers capitalized on these community connections and became the conduit for more of these experiences. Imagine if conference organizers could help attendees move from the crowd to community to connections to committed individuals to a cause. This is not something that can be created in a speed networking session where you try to get as many business cards as possible as fast as you can. These connections cannot be created in a conference luncheon roundtable that is constantly interrupted by sponsor videos, awards and announcements.
Instead, these connections are developed in discussions, where individuals gather in small groups to gain a deeper understanding for extended periods of time–at least sixty-minutes and in many cases ninety-minutes.
Most conferences are full of attendees dutifully going to sessions, sitting besides unknown individuals, participating in a variety of conference experiences and never truly connecting with another individual. Maybe attending a conference or event, more than anything else, means relating to several other attendees differently. Maybe the center of the conference community is connecting with a few.
I suggest that it’s time to take a hard look at what is being passed back and forth in our conference relationships–business cards, handshakes, eye contact, content–and ask ourselves, what is being withheld that, if given, could change our personal and professional lives. It’s time to consider a radical understanding of attending a conference that centers on releasing the power in each other to change lives. It’s time to see each attendee as an individual that has resources to share and give with others. It’s time to understand our conference community connections in a way that excites us with its potential to liberate, strengthen and encourage just a few closest to us and to touch the deepest, deadest, most terrifying part’s of attendee’s souls with life-giving power, direction and encouragement.
So how as conference organizers and owners do we do that? How do we encourage and facilitate meaningful connections so that we do not live as terrified, demanding, self-absorbed islands, disconnected from community and desperately determined to get by with whatever resources we brought to our island with us?
I have some ideas. I’d like to hear your ideas first. Am I off my rocker for wanting a better way? What do you think?