In a world where a simple handshake gesture can elicit terror for some while simultaneously triggering intense relief and joy in others…
Houston, we have a problem.
Eighteen months on into this global pandemic it’s safe to say that most of us have experienced some, if not all, of these awkward moments:
One person leans in for a hug, the other leans out.
Someone moves in close to speak, the other takes a step back.
One human can’t wait to meet in person while the other is unable or unwilling.
The vaccine conversation shows up and suddenly a flowing conversation converts to polarization and frustration on all sides.
What is an event professional to do?
The truth is, the future of our events is a prickly pear and that’s not because of your duty of care/health & safety items, nor the technology, nor the show flow/speakers, etc. (although these are all extremely important components. Experts in these areas are everywhere, just browse my LinkedIn colleagues to see for yourself.)
Navigating the interpersonal human element of our conferences is going to be our biggest mountain to climb (whether we realize it or not) because the underlying awkwardness of constant micro-moments of perceived rejection loom in the wings.
“It’s showtime folks – let’s see how many people we can make uncomfortable today!” Said no planner ever.
In my view – the most important work needs to happen around asking, and grappling with, the following questions:
How do we address the awkwardness, call it out, and name the challenges openly and transparently?
What does progressive, inclusive, safe gathering look like for all in attendance?
What are the ingrained structures in place so that we can ALL have a productive and enjoyable experience?
How do we create an environment where everyone feels valued, considered, and heard?
And what do we need to thoughtfully communicate ahead of time and throughout the event so that we can create an incredible experience for all?
Hint: Google can’t help.
I believe these core considerations, born out of collaborative conversations will be what separate the amateurs from the true pros.
Here are some more items for you and your teams to consider:
Define the WHY and the central purpose of the event and then work backward around how you want the attendees to FEEL?
What does success look like?
What do attendees and stakeholders want out of this experience? Don’t know? Ask them! (Hint: Do NOT ask for people’s opinions, those are in abundant supply. Rather, ask for people’s lived experiences.)
What should we consider that we are not seeing and why?
The baseline of successful future events will be grounded in curiosity, empathy & above all, proactive inquiry.
Trust me when I say, doing the hard work on the front end to dig deep will be more than worth it in the end.
About the Author:
Julie Danaylov, CSEP, RVP is a passionate event professional with over 14 years in the industry. Julie is the lead Event Coordinator with Singularity Media Inc, Co-Founder of A2D2 Inc, Volunteer Chair of Professional Development 2020-2022 at the MPI Toronto Chapter, Volunteer of the MPI Toronto DE&I Taskforce, and sitting Board Member of UMANO Canada. Julie has received a number of awards for envelope-pushing work within the performing arts, events & entertainment industry.