Feeding Our Need For Community And Connection

Reach Out!

We’re living in a time where we’ve never been more connected with others than we are now.

Yet most of us feel pretty disconnected from our personal and professional networks. Why?

Because we were not hardwired for digital connection. We are wired for face-to-face connections.

Maslow Had It Wrong: Connection Is A Primary Need

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a psychology theory that states people are motivated to achieve five basic needs. It starts with physiological needs such as breathing, food, water, shelter and sleep. It then moves up four additional levels of a pyramid through safety, social, esteem and self-actualization.

Well, Maslow got it wrong.

Dr. Matt Lieberman, a leading social neuroscientist and author of the book, Social: Why Are Brains Are Wired to Connect, argues that our need to connect with others is more fundamental than our need for food and shelter. He describes how infants that are not held by another human grow up disconnected from society.

Lieberman’s research shows that when our need for connection is denied, we experience real social pain. MRI scans show our brains react to social pain just as they would from physical pain. We are hardwired to connect with others and need those connections to survive. When we don’t get them, we feel real pain.

The Drive For Connexity

The rise of people working from home and on virtual teams has left a new void. A hunger for community and connection which we refer to as Connexity. We thirst for a sense of belonging that simply can’t be fulfilled virtually.

By the time we’re 10 years old, we have spent over 10,000 hours mastering the art of making sense of people, groups and our place in them says Lieberman. We rely on nonverbal communication to accurately and meaningfully communicate our message. We need to have it to feel connected.

Conferences Are In The Connexity Business

A growing percentage of your attendees may meet teammates and colleagues face-to-face for the first time at your conference. They’re counting on you to intentionally bake-in networking opportunities throughout your meeting design to help them connect.

Consider creating planned serendipity so they easily “bump” into like-minded people who can share ideas, resources and solutions to their biggest work challenges.

Face it. They’re not coming to get more content. They’re coming to make sense of the content their drowning in. And they like to do that with like-minded individuals, their peers.

How To Feed The Hunger At Conferences

Here are three ways you can help your attendees get what they came to your conference for:

1. Encourage Value-Added Networking (NetWORTHing®)

According to Dr. Lieberman, our brain said, “It is better to give than receive.” And he has the MRI images that prove people are happier when giving and helping others.

So help them network by helping others.

Utilize space on your name badge, mobile apps and community bulletin boards for people to discover how they can be a resource to others. Consider starting all education sessions by having people pair up and ask, “How can I be a resource to you?”

True networking is not about what you can take from your network. It’s focusing on how you can add value.

2. Harness The Power Of Weak Ties

There’s no better way to expose yourself to new ideas, perspectives and information than through networking with people you don’t know well, never met or haven’t seen in a long time. These are your weak ties.

Strong ties, close friends and coworkers that we tend to hang out with at conferences, are living and working in the same spaces as you. They are exposed to the same information you receive.

Intentionally design for your attendees to meet weak ties to hear new options and perspectives. Provide opportunities to step out of the familiar into the unfamiliar to help them get smarter. They may resist at first, but trust me, they’ll be thanking you later!

3. Create Watering Holes

Think of your conference as the gathering place for global villagers (attendees/members) to connect face-to-face to solve problems and generate solutions.

Create unique spaces (watering holes) for this to happen in ballrooms, breakout sessions, hallways, registration, expo and lobbies. Schedule time throughout the day for gatherings to occur.

Wired To Connect

We’re all wired to connect. We’re driven by deep motivations to stay connected to our friends, family and colleagues. As the world becomes more disconnected, let’s make conferences a place where people can get what they’re craving.

What are some other ways you can help feed the hunger your attendees have for connection? What support do meeting professionals need to deliver more networking value at conferences?

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  1. Adrian Segar says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Your post is timely for me because I just finished writing a chapter about connection and its importance to events in my new book (hopefully available towards the end of 2014), which describes many ways to implement all three of your connection-feeding approaches above.

    I think the core way to help feed the hunger attendees have for connection is to build opportunities for it into every conference session. Even plenaries, the traditional repository of inspirational broadcast content, can be made more effective when connection is integrated appropriately into their design.

    And I think the greatest support meeting professionals need to deliver more networking value at conferences is pre-event experience and knowledge that in-session participative formats, when done right, are effective tools for improving conference sessions, rather than some kooky idea that we-tried-once-somewhat-poorly-and-don’t-dare-revisit. It used to be true that “no one ever got fired buying IBM”—but that’s no longer the case. Event professionals need to experience and become comfortable with participative formats in order to continue to remove the common mind-set barriers that prevent them being used to their full potential.

    1. Sarah Michel says:

      Thanks Adrian! I Look forward to reading your book.


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