Fostering Planned Serendipity At Conferences

2014.10.28_Chance Encounters by Russ Rowland, on Flickr

Some people call it luck. Others call it fate.

Whatever we call it, serendipity is a wonderful thing.

We’ve all experienced it at a conference. That happy accident or surprising discovery when you sit next to someone at a session who deals with the same work challenges as you.

This new serendipitous connection introduces you to other like-minded participants and before you know it, you’re meeting up for dinner.

You leave the conference with new connections that will continue to grow and tell your friends and co-workers it was the best “networking” experience you’ve ever had at a conference.

Every meeting organizer wants this outcome for their attendees. Networking is the most intangible and high-value benefit to the conference ROI equation.

What if we could actually plan for more serendipity at our conferences?

It doesn’t have to be an accident or coincidence. We can design experiences that lead to this outcome.

Mere Exposure As A Serendipity Accelerator

The more I see you, the more I like you.

In social psychology circles, this is known as the mere exposure effect, where people develop stronger preferences for things (or people) as they become more familiar with them.

We see mere exposure at work in advertising. It’s why we see the same TV commercial or the same magazine ad, repeated over and over. When a message is well designed, as exposure increases, buyer preferences begin to tip in favor of the advertiser.

Think of the possibilities for leveraging mere exposure to accelerate like-minded connections to win over a loyal raving attendee who can’t wait to return to your meeting next year and reunite with their network?

Leverage Mere Exposure To Accelerate Serendipity

Here are three ways to better leverage mere exposure to trigger more serendipitous connections and conversations at your conference.

1. Design Problem-Centric Learning Tracks

When learning tracks are categorized by the attendee’s problems to solve and session rooms for each track are within close proximity, mere exposure increases. Suddenly, the same people are navigating the same corridors and gathering around the same break tables and networking hubs. Conversely, if learning tracks are sorted by job function, organization type or more disparate criteria, participants are more likely to bounce around from one track to the next. Mere exposure decreases, meaning fewer chance encounters.

2. Leverage Venue and Destination

Ask the hotel or meeting venue for their ideas to help accelerate connections. Ask them to offer group seating in restaurants and lounges. Leverage the CVB to collaborate with local restaurants for drink or dinner meet-ups on the conference free night. Negotiate to have a percentage of the bill donated to your foundation or a charity. Create “Recharge” lounges throughout the property utilizing round tables or soft furniture with power strips and water stations to encourage literal and metaphorical reconnections.

3. Find Your Tribe

Design roundtable experiences that are problem-centric. One proven model is Solutions and Ideas For (insert problem). Go a step further and recruit participants as facilitators. Create a cheat sheet with instructions for the facilitators. They should identify the purpose of the discussion, ensure introductions/participation and guide the conversation. Elect a scribe to capture the key talking points for sharing beyond the small group discussion.

What other ways can you leverage mere exposure to increase chance encounters at your conference? How have you seen “planned serendipity” work at your conference?

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  1. OHMIGOSH, Sarah! It was like you were reading my mind! This is EXACTLY what we have planned for at the Certified Speaking Professionals (CSP) Summit in January – where connections are paramount! I am currently putting together a facilitator cheat sheet and will share it when done. 🙂

  2. Sarah Michel says:

    What can I say Kristin…Amazon Sisters think alike! 🙂 So excited to be your wing-woman (sister) for the CSP Summit!!

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