To build connection and engagement at events — give up control!

build connection and engagement How can we build connection and engagement with people with whom we work?

My wise consultant friend Naomi Karten tells a short story about a client’s unexpected reaction. Frank had a bad experience with an earlier information technology project, so Naomi’s team gave him three possible approaches to a major system design and a list of the pluses and minuses of each.

“The plan was to let him select the approach he preferred in hopes that he’d gain more trust in us as a result…”

“…Frank jumped up, shouted, ‘How dare you develop options without my input!’ and marched out of the room…”

“…Instead of his seeing the options as giving him a say in our efforts, he may have seen us as preventing his input into the very idea of options. We saw ourselves giving him some control. He may have seen us as taking it away.”
—Naomi Karten, The Importance of Giving Others a Sense of Control

At traditional conferences, attendees choose from predetermined sets of sessions chosen by conference organizers. Think about your experience of such events. Have you found that much of the time, none of the choices supply what you actually need and/or want? Sadly, we’re so used to this state of affairs, we accept it as normal.

An alternative

Conferences don’t have to be designed this way. Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve discovered that peer conferences, where participants determine the choices, provide a much better fit between the wants/needs of the attendees and the conference program they construct on-the-fly. This leads to significantly greater connection, engagement, and satisfaction.

Sometimes, giving people a limited number of options is not enough. Giving up control over the choices at your conferences by handing it over to the participants — using proven process, of course —is one of the best ways to build trust, connection, and engagement at your events.

Photo attribution: Flickr user kt

Upcoming #eventprofs chat with author Naomi Karten

Although I’m the #eventprofs Twitter community manager, I don’t usually mention our weekly Twitter chats on this blog. But I’m making an exception for next Thursday’s chat (12-1pm EDT), because I’m such a fan of our special guest: Naomi Karten.

[Full disclosure: Naomi was a key influence in persuading me that I had something worth saying in print, which led to my first book: Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love. I owe her a big debt for that. And she also co-facilitated, with Jerry Weinberg, my 2002 Problem Solving Leadership workshop, from which I learned so much.]

Naomi is an incredible presenter (she has spoken internationally to more than 100,000 people), specializing in customer satisfaction, managing change, strengthening teamwork, and improving communication and presentation skills. She has published eight books, including the classic “Managing Expectations: Working with People Who Want More, Better, Faster, Sooner, NOW!” which will be a focus of our hour together.

So please join me and Naomi on Thursday (12-1pm EDT) as we explore with you how to work with difficult clients (who may think of us as difficult too!) to create win-win business relationships.

To be reminded of this and upcoming #eventprofs Twitter chats, follow @epchat on Twitter. A schedule of upcoming chats is always available on the #eventprofs wiki. And here’s a great explanation of how to participate in Twitter chats.