October 7, 2014 by Jeff Hurt
Improving your empathy is a key to increasing your conference profit.
Many conference organizers and hosts think that empathy has no place in their conference business. They believe that registration systems, schedules, speaker management tools, marketing, social media and conference attendee, exhibitor and sponsor forecasts are more important.
But their view is wrong. At least that’s what author and Lady Geek CEO Belinda Parmar says. They are “unequivocally, unforgivably and irremediably wrong.”
The empathy era is ushering in a corporate revolution says Parmar.
And you need to apply it to your conference planning and implementation.
Empathy is a hard communication skill. Employing empathy can increase trust and trust drives profits says Parmar.
Empathy is also a personal engagement tool. It’s about connecting and communicating with our conference attendees.
Empathy is putting yourself in your attendees’ shoes, feeling what they feel and seeing the conference experience from their perspective. Then you can anticipate what they want, need and require—sometimes even before they realize it.
“People do not know what they want. Empathy is about enchanting people and being one step ahead to give them what they want,” says Judi James, communication expert and author.
Empathy is not sympathetic condescension.
Nor is it a fake, painted clown smile.
Nor is a set of procedures to make conference attendees feel welcome, valuable or comfortable.
Empathy is not an empty-headed exercise in people-pleasing either.
Empathy is often mistaken for sympathy.
We feel sympathy for others. Empathy is when we feel with others.
Too many conferences are planned and ruled by the minutiae mercenaries.
These people only care about logistics, details and stats. They are about controlling things and people.
They often see empathy as a weakness.
The minutiae militia is also the conference systemizers. They bury their own feelings under systematic conditioning. They prefer rules and procedures.
They have no idea how their lists, itemizations and details actually affect the paying attendee.
They are empathy deficit. They rarely think about how their logistics impact the attendee experience. They favor efficiency over effectiveness. They prefer sameness and stagnation over change.
We need conference organizers that can understand both the logistics systems and attendee empathy. Both skills can be learned and developed.
We need conference organizers that adopt strategic empathy.
Strategic empathy is the building of shared emotional connections to motivate people to do things.
We need new methods to embed strategic empathy into the conference culture. We need new ways to help all conference staff, leadership and volunteers to adopt, build and use strategic empathy.
Knowing how and when to deploy empathy skills puts a conference organizer in a position of strength. It allows an organizer and her team to tune into the paying registrant and engage them.
Employing strategic empathy creates a positive emotional connection between you as conference host and the paying attendee. It helps them trust you. And it helps them believe you.
Strategic empathy combines the three pillars of empathy: emotion, reassurance and authenticity. It engages the customer. And when put into practice, strategic empathy pays.
Hat Tips To Ross Shafer’s Caring Counts; Belinda Parmar’s The Empathy Era; and The Social Neuroscience Of Empathy.
What happens to a conference if the conference host and staff do not show attendee empathy? Why is “treat others as you want to be treated” a bad motto for strategic empathy?
Read more about customer empathy and conference experience:
Filed Under: Experience Design
When I hear about conference organizers who ‘sit out’ a conference – either at registration or by wandering the halls checking logistics or hanging out in the conference office, I wonder how they will ever have empathy for what those attending the meeting experience. Empathy seems to go away when someone kvetches — conference organizers seem to believe that they’ve done their job so well that nothing could be wrong and that the complaints about rooms too cold or too warm, or experiencing boring speakers are an annoyance.
Empathy, as you’ve noted, Jeff and in the references you’ve given, is being studied more and is in short supply. I’ve been told by docs that there is a belief in an ’empathy gene’ that makes some (of us) more empathetic.
So my question back to you is how do we help hone empathy skills at industry meetings? in industry writing .. beyond providing the questions and suggestions and references? Or are there people who are so afraid of empathy they’ll never be able to use it in any circumstance?
Oh and I expect, Jeff, you knew I’d say: “What about rolling a mile in one’s chair” or “on one’s scooter” — accessibility is a major part of understanding and being empathetic to what one goes through to experience, well, anything.
Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.
I think we need to focus on the fact that empathy can be learned and developed. The challenge is changing the conversation that empathy is a soft skill to a hard one. And one that drives profitability.
As you rightly identified, it is my hope that all readers will take the idiomatic expression “Walk a mile in their shoes” and apply to a variety of situations including accessibility issues for people with disabilities. Disability is just another kind of difference like culture, ethnicity and gender. And we need to embrace understanding and feeling with all of our attendees including those with disabilities. Then, we can design amazing experiences for them.
Jeff – Thanks. I talked w/ a psychiatrist friend about the belief by some that empathy can be taught. He – and others that teach at the same university – are not convinced so. It is believed by many that acting empathetically can be taught; actually _feeling_ may not be. I guess we’ll learn more as studies continue.
Re designing experiences: I am hopeful that in an inclusive world (WOOHOO SCOTUS! .. oh wait.. another inclusion issue) the experiencs we design for meetings will be created to not keep people apart by their physical abilities or by their gender or gender ID or titles/rank in organizations or by anything that calls attention to differences that makes people feel left out. Today, in a conversation w/ the Chair of ASAE’s D&I Cmte., we discussed the difficulty of helping others understand what inclusion really means.
I think empathy leads to inclusion. How could one be empathetic and not want to include all?
Oxytocin, the cuddle drug, is a hormone our brains release when we hug someone, enjoy being with another or love someone. It is also the basis for empathy. Ironically, it is also released in dogs brains when they are around their owners, smell their owners or look into their owners’ eyes.
Here is some of the current research that shows empathy can be developed and learned. Your psych doc and friends are buying into outdated myths!
Lessons From Ninjas And Neuroscience: Empathy Can Be Learned PDF doc (2013 research)
Applying Empathy and Mirror Neuron Concepts to NeuroLeadership PDF
You can train your brain to release more Oxytocin and become more empathic. Also, Barry-Wehmiller University part of the company of Barry-Wehmiller, offers a course on becoming more empathic to its employees. Claremont University has also researched and offered more findings on how to become develop empathy.
Empathy is a skill that can be taught, trained and honed. Read more at EmpathyEra.org
And there’s much, much more.
This can also translate into vendors and them learning to walk a mile in their client’s shoes…
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