From Strangers To Friends: Bridging Attendee Loneliness With Conference Community

2014.04.01_Lonely Grandma at the Cry Event

Everybody needs to know

Somebody who cares.

Just a friendly face
You can trust to be there.

Are you afraid to be known
And not be a stranger?

Everyone’s connected but no one is connecting
The human element has long been missing
Tell me, have you seen it?
Have you seen it?

Alone by Armin Van Burren (feat. Lauren Evans)

Watch the Alone video.

Are Your Attendees Alone?

How often do the above lyrics apply to your attendees’ conference experience?

What will it take for conference organizers to get unengaged attendees engaged and connected?

How can conference organizers plan for authentic, deep, connections and community?

Attendees that feel separated from others or as outsiders actually feel pain. That social pain is just as real as physical pain says neuroscientists Paul MacLean.

The Bigger Picture

We are hardwired to connect. It’s part of what drives us.

From the moment of birth, we need a caregiver making sure that our biological needs are met. Even as adults, being socially connected and cared for is paramount.

The biology of our brain is built to thirst for connection. Why? As Social author Matt Lieberman says, “Because it is linked to our most basic survival needs….Our need for connection is the bedrock upon which all others (needs) are built.”

None of us are meant to be lone ranger islands in this world.

So how can we help conference attendees transition to participants and co-creators connected to each other?

We need to help them move from

  • Strangers to Neighbors (Like-minded Individuals)
  • Neighbors to Colleagues
  • Colleagues to Trusted Friends

At the beginning of most conferences, the majority of attendees are strangers to each other. Throughout the conference experience, with intentional design, these strangers can transition to neighbors, like-minded colleagues. With the right discussions, time and authentic experiences, they can begin the transition from colleagues and compatriots to trusted and respected friends.

This means that conferences organizers must have an intentional connexity plan to traditional conference living.

Sharing Connexity Strategies

To create authentic connections and community (connexity), we have to share the connexity vision with other leaders. We have to challenge them to be the threads of the connexity fabric, as we are woven into the heart of the conference community. Through the conference’s rhythms and networking strategies we can introduce strangers and invite them to become neighbors.

These connexity rhythms include where you sit at meal functions, where you play at receptions and conference parties, and how you participate in learning opportunities.

These connexity strategies have to do with purposeful attempts to connect with people repeatedly. We challenge conference leaders to invite others to join them.

Strangers become neighbors when they know who you are and you know who they are. At this point, that knowledge is on a surface level only.

A neighbor becomes a colleague when you begin to share experiences through the integrity of your connections. In other words, the authenticity of your words and consistency of your actions create a connection that allows for permission to share life-giving moments through conversations and shared experiences.

Colleagues become friends when you make an intentional investment so that they rhythms of conference life with others sync so that is more than a casual conversation. The connection continues outside of the conference experience. You begin to understand the story of their lives, are listening with intent and find ways to build bridges into their world.

It is then that this relationship investment of connexity truly blossoms. It is then we can answer the brain’s biological call to connect with each other.

What are some tactics we can take to create conference connexity as we invite attendees to move from strangers to colleagues to friends? How do we provide deep, authentic connections and not just speed or superficial ones?

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  1. Jen Pitts says:

    Great post Jeff! One tactic we teach is connecting people before the event. Help them identify people with common interests attending the event, start the conversation online and then take it offline in-person at the event. The goal is that they show up to the event feeling like they are meeting with friends and they have a full schedule to meet the people they’ve connected with online in-person.

    PS – Love the song and video!

  2. Ton Soons says:

    Great post!
    I suggest early acquaintances with the person behind you and in front of you, topic table discussions and topic lunch tables. Also site visits as part of a conference are great success.

  3. […] Hurt’s post, “From strangers to friends: Bridging attendee loneliness with conference community“,  struck a nerve. Not because of what he said, but what I saw. The post included an image […]

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