October 2, 2013 by Jeff Hurt
Relationships can be messy business!
We all have some type of unique relationship with everyone that we know.
We have long histories with some people that include thousands of distinct touchpoints and interactions that shape how we feel about one another. We are very close to some people and not so close to others. We trust some of our friends on specific topics and others on different topics. In times of trouble, we turn to some friends and don’t feel comfortable turning to all of them equally.
Currently we are watching as the web moves away from connecting documents and instead focuses on connecting people. A person’s profile tells us things they care about and their connections tell us who they trust. Those profiles move from website to website with us.
Similarly, savvy conference organizers are taking some cues from the web transformation. They are changing their conference from being about connecting with content or technology to focusing on connecting people. Conferences that place people, more than content, at the center of their design will thrive and outperform their competitors.
For conference hosts and organizers to be successful in the future, they must understand why conferences should be built around people and the behavioral patterns behind this shift. Our social behavior with each other in meetings should be the key feature. Social behaviors are always there motivating us to act. It should be placed in the center of our conference development process. The focus should be on our conference communications, interactions and engagement with each other.
At VCC, we like to call the relationships, connections and community that people form at conferences connexity. We all crave connexity. And we should design conferences that foster connexity.
Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl identify different types of relationships in their book Rethinking Friendships: Hidden Solidarities Today. They defined relationships based on the structure of the network. Look at their definitions and think about the various people you meet at a conference. You will typically encounter all of these types of relationships at your next annual meeting.
People who don’t know each other well and share only a common activity like sports or a hobby.
People who share information and advice, often related to work or a profession.
People who socialize together for fun without sharing a deep relationship. They usually don’t provide emotional support to each other.
People who help each other out in a functional way but not emotionally.
People who display characteristics of both favor and fun friends. They socialize together for fun and help each other out in useful ways.
People who are similar to helpmates and provide a deeper level of emotional support.
People who willingly disclose personal information to each other and enjoy each other’s company. However, they are not always able to offer practical help.
These people display all of the elements listed previously and are the people we are closest to.
Usually, we have less than five confidants and soulmates.
One of the best ways to describe these unique relationships is to consider them as strong or weak ties.
Strong ties are the people you’re closest to—your closest friends and family members. They include our soulmates, confidants and comforters.
These are the people we trust the most. They show up when we need emotional support. They are critical for the health of our well being. Often family members are disproportionately represented in strong ties.
Our strong ties include friends, family, coworkers and neighbors. Family can often represent up to 50% of our strong ties. We often call strong ties those in our “inner circle.”
Weak ties are people you don’t know very well. They usually include people you have met recently and have yet to form a strong bond. We often describe our weak ties as acquaintances.
They can be people you know through others such as friends of friends or 2nd and 3rd degree connections on LinkedIn. Weak ties include our helpmates, favor friends, fun friends, useful contacts and associates.
Our communication with most of our weak ties is infrequent, sometimes going months or even years without direct interaction. We know them by face and name yet don’t know much about them. According to sociologists, we can only keep up to date with about 150 weak ties.
Why should conferences focus more on people and experiences that help them connect than focusing on content? Which are more important to you professionally, strong ties or weak ties and why?
Filed Under: Conference Networking, Experience Design
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