With education accessible online 24/7, networking has become the primary reason people choose to attend your conference. And the opportunity to connect face-to-face is too critical to be left to chance.
Early-career professionals want to meet seasoned colleagues who J can help them get ahead. Experienced professionals desire to tap and amplify their existing network. And suppliers want conversations that will accelerate deal making. Today, everyone turns to events to make connections with like-minded people who will share knowledge, opportunities, and ideas that will help them do their job faster, better, and easier.
Organizations that host conferences are in a unique position to deliver two things that attendees crave and value most — connection and community. The high-tech industry coined the word “connexity” to refer to the merging of these two concepts. In your conference-experience design, you should be intentional about fostering community and creating connections, rather than adding connexity to the meeting as an afterthought.
Our pursuit of individualism and the emergence of virtual teams and telecommuting have left us hungry for human connection, which can't quite be satisfied through digital or online interactions. When attendees meet a person who shares some know-how in the buffet line or is seated next to them in a session, that is exactly why they came to the conference — it's magic.
Your conference should be designed so that these serendipitous moments happen more frequently. What if you could guarantee connexity for all attendees? If you positioned your conference as the gathering place for your global village and intentionally created “watering holes” where your attendees shared best practices and new ideas?
Here are three easy ways to pump up connexity at your next conference:
1 Make it easy to find like minds. Instead of creating conference tracks by job function, SIG, industry, or specialty, consider a track methodology around significant problems to solve or opportunities to seize. Like-mindedness is defined by your attendees’ pressing priorities, not necessarily by the demographics that you collect or the committees that you created years ago.
2 Bring networking into the session rooms. Rather than cramming every concurrent session with end-to-end lectures, panels, and Q&A, instruct and coach your presenters to incorporate at least three small-group discussions or networking activities into the session design, and set up the room accordingly. Crescent rounds work well for programs that alternate between speaker presentations and table talk. Even if you need to maximize seating at every session, put the networking-friendly seating up front and use the back 25 percent of the room for theater seating.
3 Pay special attention to two groups. Make igniting connexity the No. 1 priority — by involving as many veterans, staff, and volunteer leaders as possible — for those participants who are attending for the first time and/or are the only registrants attending from their organization. Develop a plan to reach out to them shortly before the conference to offer assistance with their connexity.
Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, velvetchainsaw.com.