The Crisis of Connection

We’re lonely. And not just a little lonely. We’re experiencing a global epidemic level of loneliness.

Last week, the U.K. appointed Tracey Crouch as the Minister of Loneliness after the British parliament released a five-year study on loneliness that found more than 9 million people in the country reported they often or always feel lonely.

Across the globe, loneliness is fast becoming one of our most serious health epidemics and is a greater predictor of early death than obesity, smoking and excessive drinking.

So what does this mean for those of us responsible for organizing and executing conferences and events?

A lot!

There has never been a more important and serious reason to bring diverse people together face to face so they can share fears, joys and challenges. We all need to experience belonging and acceptance in order to feel like we’re part of a community.

The Need to Belong

Author Brené Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest For True Belonging, describes belonging as a spiritual experience when we feel “inextricably connected” to others and that power is grounded in love and compassion.

Sadly, our members and attendees are experiencing a crisis in belonging because that inextricable connection to others has been severed. We can’t ignore the fact that our world is in political and ideological chaos. We’ve segregated ourselves into “just like me” buckets living in continuous feedback loops. This sorting leads us to make assumptions about others which in turns fuels disconnection.

As sorting rises, so does loneliness.

There has never been a more important rally call for the work we do: to design meetings to welcome and accept people as they are and consciously bake in opportunities to expose them to people not like them.

We must break down the walls of disconnection if we have any hope of healing loneliness.

Face-to-Face Connection

Study after study has proven that social media is helpful in cultivating connection when there is an intent to create real community, but there is no substitute for in-person interactions. To obtain true belonging, real connection and real empathy requires meeting real people in real spaces in real time.

Face-to-face connection will bolster attendees’ immune systems sending positive hormones surging through their bloodstream and brain leading to living longer.

As you think about designing your next opportunity for face-to-face connection, here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Promote Unlikely Allies

 Rethink the way you design your networking opportunities. Instead of focusing on getting like-minded people together, intentionally design for people to break out of silos and meet people who come from different companies, functions and demographics. This is also the best way to get exposed to new ideas, attitudes and perspectives, which can lead to new possibilities. It’s also a really good vaccine for loneliness as people are hard to hate when close up.

  1. Leverage Good Facilitators

The role of the facilitator is to make conversations, points of view and beliefs easier to share with others. Rethink the way you’re structuring your meeting to allow for more facilitated conversations to happen. One-way communication no longer works. If you’re serious about wanting people to feel like they belong and are welcomed into your community, you need to allow space for people to speak their truth and participate.

  1. Practice Radical Hospitality

Radical Hospitality means to welcome people just as they are. To dive deeper to cause a disruption and make someone feel fundamentally honored. It’s palpable when you experience it and it’s a super power when you deliver it. Ask yourself, when you see someone different, do you see a what or a who? Work to embrace otherness instead of sameness.

With millions of people experiencing face-to-face conferences, meetings and events each week, we have a unique opportunity to make some small shifts in the way we design them, which could have some dramatic results in the battle against loneliness.

Can we really afford not to?

What would it take to implement radical hospitality at your conference? How could you promote social equity at your next meeting? What ideas are sparking for you to help your attendees feel “inextricably connected” to others?

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  1. Sam Horn says:

    Sarah: What an insightful, inspiring and useful article. YES to creating conferences that are communities where connections and contributions are encouraged and faciliated. It’s what we all want, need and deserve to combat the loneliness and isolation that have become epidemic. Kudos on this timely article.

    1. Sarah Michel says:

      Thank Sam for your encouragement to write this post and your validation that we need to address this as an industry serving people.

  2. Outstanding summary and suggestions to cultivate connections. I share your passion, and also appreciate your timely words.

  3. Mary Kelly says:

    This is a GREAT article! I spoke about this recently – that associations are in a unique and wonderful position to bring people together. As organizations use talent from all over the world, the need for connecting becomes more critical. I talked about a new position- the HCO – Human Contact Officer – and their job is to being people together and create meaningful moments.
    You connect people so well!

    1. Sarah Michel says:

      Thanks Mary for commenting and for your great work! LOVE the idea of a HCO in EVERY organization! I would love that job.

    2. Sarah Michel says:

      Thank you Colette for reading and commenting!

  4. Sean Glaze says:

    Thanks so much for this article, Sarah –
    Love the emphasis on being intentional about creating interactions and radical hospitality as both an event planner and as an attendee!
    Every person has a story, and often our greatest moments are hidden in the strangers around us…

    1. Sarah Michel says:

      Thanks Sean, I totally agree!

  5. Susan Hammond says:

    “Small shifts in design for dramatic results to combat loneliness.” Compelling and pragmatic article. Thanks for the heartfelt inspiration, Sarah. Your article has broad application even beyond conference planning.

    1. Sarah Michel says:

      Thanks Susan!

  6. I love your article, Sarah! And I would like to hear even more about radical hospitality. Do you have any resources, examples, etc. that I can check out? I realize I might be asking a silly question because you might be referring to a mindset or a way of being or a set of behaviors, not a tactic.

    1. Sarah Michel says:

      go to our site and click on “brain Candy” and scroll down to Webinars and you’ll see I did a webinar called “Developing Conference Radical Hospitality” last year and I believe you can download the recording. When I was researching to create that webinar I found the best examples and books about it in the religious/churches sector. Progressive churches that are growing are practicing radical hospitality. I think it’s time for the meeting industry to embrace it too. Hope that helps!

      1. Fantastic! I will check it out. Thanks Sarah!

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