A teacher recently advised our daily meditation group to seek “connection free from attachment”. This is a wise practice for me. But what does it mean in the context of meetings? Surely we sometimes become attached to people we meet? Isn’t creating and strengthening attachments one of the desirable functions of meetings? So what is the relationship between connection and attachment when people come together?
We all have different responses to adversity, and none of them are “wrong”.
I write this post a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, sparked by the personal experience of an old friend, psychotherapist and author Nancy Leach. She shared the following:
This was the journey
I thought I had successfully managed my emotional wellbeing through almost a year and a half separation from my daughter and grandson, who live in California. I was deeply sad at times, but phone calls, texting and FaceTime usually took the edge off and so I carried on. I was grateful that I and my Toronto family were safe and well, and that I not only love my husband but like him and enjoy his company. The addition of an 8-week-old puppy just before Christmas kept us both incredibly busy and provided many moments of unbridled joy.
Then there was an emergency in the extended California family and in response I hopped on a plane. Twelve hours and two flights later, my daughter and I fell into each other’s arms. I was not surprised to feel a tsunami of love and relief; I was well aware that I was suffering without physical proximity. But I expected the pain of the past year to resolve itself quickly. I’m someone who feels intensely, and I tend to mine feeling for insight, so I figured I was pretty-much in touch with my inner state.
It therefore took me by surprise, when a few days later we stopped on the road to talk over the fence with a neighbour. “You must be so happy to be together after all this time” said she. A lump suddenly appeared in my throat and tears came to my eyes. “How was it to be in airports?” she asked, to which I replied, “It was a little crazy, but I didn’t care…” Deep breath as I struggled to let the grief move through me. “I would have walked here.” Sheltered in the soft and deep silence of a redwood forest and in the company of the two I had missed so much, my very cells were releasing the cumulative sadness of more than a year.
It wasn’t until at least a week later that I felt I had fully “metabolized” the loss of a pandemic shutdown. My daughter is of very similar sensibility and often conceptualizes and better articulates an experience we share. She commented that it was almost as if she had been gaslighting herself, telling herself she was okay when she was not.
Of course, we need to “carry on” even when conditions are far from optimal. But I’m sharing this because I wonder how many of us have convinced ourselves that because no family member has been incapacitated with Covid or we haven’t lost our job or aren’t devastated at the impact on a vulnerable child we are doing okay. My “suffering” was but a small fraction of what so many people have endured, and I simply didn’t realize how much ground I had lost.
Well, what is ground but an illusion? The deeper message is one that is always with us, but we don’t always want to acknowledge. When we investigate the nuances of our suffering, we come face to face with the reality that any certainty we feel about life is an illusion. Throughout our lives, our hopes, dreams, plans, even parts of us that identify with a certain narrative or condition must die. In these small deaths is a reminder of the fragility of the “self” we have so painstakingly built over this lifetime – and the reality of the impermanence of all things.
We don’t like to be reminded of our death and despite the passing of each moment, sadness or joy, we cling to all vestiges of what seems to endure. But in the end, we cannot change the law of impermanence; we can only strive to make peace with it. As the worst of the pandemic restrictions ease, I hope I won’t be too quick to put that insight behind me.
Here’s why this sequence is an important consideration for modern meeting design, and how it’s enhanced by Conference 2.0 designs.
Why should customers buy from you?
Sometimes, business value grows out of the barrel of a gun. When you have a monopoly on a product or service, you can charge as much as the market will bear. But when competition exists, you must use different strategies. For example, you can play race-to-the-bottom: squeezing your suppliers for rock bottom costs that, hopefully, are lower than your competitors. Or, you can differentiate what you offer in many other ways: better service, more options, faster delivery, longer warranties, superior customer support, etc. Thousands of books have been written about how to profitably and consistently market and sell. And, except perhaps for the most cutthroat commodity markets, the ability to build and maintain good relationships with your customers is a key component of most techniques. This ability is even more crucial in today’s markets, because of four factors:
The increased complexity of products and services.
The increased variety of products and services.
The increased speed of product and service development.
The increased transparency in many marketplaces caused by online customer reviews and feedback.
The first three factors make it harder for potential customers to evaluate whether a specific product or service is a desirable fit for their needs. The last amplifies any deficiencies (perceived or otherwise) that may exist, any of which could prove fatal to sales.
In this new business environment, creating and maintaining good, trustworthy relationships with your customers becomes crucial.
Relationships are the new impressions
In the good old days, the more people heard about your product through broadcast marketing (impressions), the greater your sales. Today, business value, especially for non-commodity products and services, is becoming increasingly linked to the strength and quality of buyer-seller relationships. Traditional marketing can’t manufacture relationships, which are built through conversations between you and potential customers. Some of your conversations will turn into relationships, and some of those relationships will lead to value for your business.
Not all meetings are alike
Meetings provide wonderful opportunities for conversations. But, for two reasons, some meeting environments provide better opportunities than others.
First, for all but very small meetings, the number of conversations doesn’t scale with event size. For example, at a one-day, two hundred attendee event you can’t have more ten-minute conversations than you can with a hundred in attendance. In fact, at a large conference it’s often harder to find the people you really want to talk to than at a smaller, more focused event.
Second, Conference 1.0 sessions don’t foster conversations. Conversations only take place in breaks and socials. Compare this with Conference 2.0 designs, which excel at providing opportunities for relevant conversations
How Conference 2.0 designs support conversations
I’ve quoted Howard Givner before and I’ll quote him again. (Why? Because he made this highly positive remark about one of my conferences 😀.)
Why is Howard’s experience a common one at Conference 2.0? Let’s take Conferences That Work as an example. This conference design starts with initial roundtables that not only provide a structured forum for attendees to meet and learn about each other’s affiliations, interests, experience, and expertise but also effectively uncover the topics that people want to discuss and share. Within a couple of hours, every attendee has the initial introductions and information necessary to go out and start the right conversations about the right topics with the right people. Other Conference 2.0 designs encourage fruitful conversations by giving attendees the ability to meet around topics that they choose during the event.
The bottom line: Conference 2.0 formats routinely lead to more meaningful conversations, which in turn lead to more relationships, which in turn lead to more business value.
Does Conversations => Relationships => Value make sense to you?
Airline miles and relationships have something in common.
Recently I needed to fly to a conference, and reviewed my airline miles to see if I could snag a free flight. The spreadsheet I use to track my miles said I had plenty on American Airlines, but when I logged on to redeem an award the miles had vanished. Somehow, twenty months had gone by without flying AA, and the 80,000 miles I’d accrued were lost for good. I checked my email and, yes, there they were, the ignored warnings of upcoming expiring miles. An opportunity lost.
In the same way, human relationships we’ve built up over time will eventually disappear without renewal. Unfortunately, maintaining a relationship doesn’t come with an official eighteen month activity requirement, and you don’t get reminder emails. Maintenance requires conscious activity to regularly reconnect and add relationship miles to my account. Living in rural Vermont, physically distant from most of my personal and professional friends, sometimes it’s hard for me to make the effort, and my lack of action puts at risk the kinship we’ve developed.
The good news is that relationships, unlike airline miles, have no fixed expiration date. There’s always the possibility that we can revive relationships by reaching out and making contact. If we can’t meet face-to-face, telephone calls, and online contact will help, though I believe that without occasional face-to-face meetings, all but our most intense relationships will slowly fade.
My lesson of lost miles reminds me to continue to work on my relationships. I don’t want to lose them too.
Are some of your treasured relationships fading? What are you going to do about it?
Photo attribution: Jpatokal from Wikipedia Commons
I admit it I do not have a good reaction when someone talks about the return on investment (ROI) from attending an event.
My initial internal response is a rant:
Do we ask for the ROI when we buy tickets to a concert?
How can you evaluate the ROI for learning something new or seeing something in a new way?
And my favorite: So, what is the ROI on a wedding? (Please don’t respond with an analysis of the average value of wedding gifts versus the cost of the wedding. I’d probably argue diminished responsibility at the subsequent trial.)
In some ways, my reaction is alarmingly similar to the message of the brilliant formula for the MasterCard advertisement:
[List of mundane items with $ assigned] [Intangible item – Priceless!]
The delicious subtext: Forget the money, whip out the credit card, and go to the event anyway!
The morning after OK, it’s strong black coffee time. Whether the benefits are intangible or concrete, we all know that there is some kind of calculation that goes on when a potential attendee decides whether to attend an event. I’ve written about how existing event ROI methodologies are a noble attempt to quantify this calculation and give it as much respectability and logic as we can. So, enough on ROI; here’s a core component of Conference 2.0.
Conversations => Relationships => Value
In Part 2 of this post, I explain why this sequence is now an important driver of modern meeting design, and how it’s enhanced by Conference 2.0 designs.
“Why do you want to go to this conference?” is a question that you’ve probably been asked at one time or another. The real Question is, of course, Is it worth the money and time invested in having you attend? It can be a hard question to answer. Especially when the event in question has no or few predetermined sessions, like the peer conferences I design and facilitate. So how can we measure and improve event ROI?
Improving Event ROI
Probably the most exhaustive methodology of planning and evaluating event ROI has been developed by Jack Phillips and Elling Hamso. It’s long and comprehensive, and here’s a summary of it.
According to this methodology, one of the components involved in evaluating Event ROI is the degree of Relationship Learning, which Elling defines as follows:
“Relationship learning refers to the building of affinity between people, getting to know others, trust and liking. All forms of peer learning benefit from the strength of personal relationships, it is the foundation for subsequent information, skills and attitude learning in the peer relationship. Relationship learning may be measured in much the same manner as other forms of learning. At the most detailed level, individual relationships of trust and liking, for example, may be scored on a scale from very low to very high, or more general reports of relationship learning may be collected.”
How peer conferences improve event ROI
Well, this is exactly this kind of learning experience at which peer conference designs like Conferences That Work excel! Here’s how Howard Givner described a recent peer conference:
Conversations, and the subsequent relationships, are very important. Doc Searls, co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, wrote a great article about their pivotal role: Building a Relationship Economy. Well-designed peer conferences provide an environment that encourages and supports a rich abundance of the initial components of the following sequence:
“Value” here means the kind of business worth your boss is thinking about: more prospects, new sales, increased customer satisfaction, etc. All the things that translate into funding for your paycheck, profit for your company, and a happy boss.
So, when your boss next asks you The Question about the participant-driven conference you want to attend, take a deep breath. Tell her you expect to make many more business relationships at this event than you would at a conventional conference. Relationships that will turn into solid business value for your organization. Communicate exactly why you want to go. Explain that participant-driven conferences improve event ROI because they are much better than traditional meetings at building sessions around the content that attendees really want. Good luck!