After 16 months of social distancing, many are ready to get back to attending live and in-person conferences.  From local networking events to multiday industry events, people are headed back to meetings. But nobody wants cliquey in-person events.

If you are planning an in-person meeting, you know that you cannot leave the human experience to chance. We learned in the last year that we can deliver content via virtual platforms, but it is hard to bring networking and shared experiences to the online arena. This is why people are ready to flock to conferences, but their expectations have changed. A meeting without good networking and human connection is not longer okay. In 2019 we could hide behind a great venue or powerful content. But not more.  People are expecting a great experience.

Cultivate Great Experiences – No More Cliquey In-Person Events

Yet the amazing experiences of being in person will not happen by accident. I recently attended an industry event that was the most boring gathering I can recall in a decade.  There were about 50 people present, and everyone sat with their old friends.  I only knew three people at the event, and so I observed. For over half of the gathering people sat at tables with co-workers and old friends, and there was nothing inviting to a newcomer. There was no program, and as I stood on the sidelines, almost nobody talked to me.  Yes, I could have gone and joined a table of strangers (as that is what I would normally do at an event), but the vibe was so cold I decided to see if anyone would show me hospitality.

If left to chance, you probably will not have great experiences. The vibe of a cliquey in-person event will rise up and many people will feel left out. Cultivating experiences means mapping out the whole agenda, and treating the coffee breaks with as much attention as you plan for the educational content.  We all know most people site the “serendipitous hallway conversations” as the best part of a conference…. so plan for spontaneity.

Everyone Is Out Of Practice When It Come To Networking

This experience got me thinking. How many companies and associations will host events in the next few months without giving any thought to how people will be lead to engage?  This is not just about introverts and extroverts, as everyone is a little out of practice when it comes to attending in-person meetings. Studies have shown that those who go to space, Antarctica, or are in solitary confinement are socially awkward when they return to the greater population.  In 2021 this is everyone.

People will be turned off quickly if they have a crappy experience. Thus, meeting planners have more at stake then ever before when it comes to planning meetings where everyone feels welcome and included. The organizations that are known for being “Cliquey” (is that yours? Do you know?) will suffer when their first meeting happens and people feel they are on the outside looking in.

Engage Speakers Who Will Set The Tone For Networking

For 15 years I have been known as “The Conference Catalyst”.  My role at events is to teach the power of human connection, and I show groups how to use the conference as a human laboratory to better connect. When I speak, we kill the cliquey in-person events.

I am not saying you have to hire me (although I have some good ideas on getting attendees to experience the whole conference in a fresh way), but you should choose speakers who will lead by example and foster more networking, sharing, and community.  A speaker who speaks and heads to the airport is undercutting the conference.  People need to see the speakers networking and being part of the little society that exists onsite during and event.

There should also be messages that undercut cliques.  When you talk about the elephant in the room, the elephant leaves. Meeting planners who work to crush the cliquey behavior of attendees will see meetings where more people feel included. Everyone knows that those who feel included (and had a positive experience) are more likely to come back next year.

Wishing Everyone Happy Experiences At In-Person Events

As you plan your first event, or as you attend one coming out of the crazy year of lockdowns, I wish you all happy experiences that are inclusive, fun, and engaging. I hope your first conference is anything but a cliquey in-person event.  If you are a participant, find ways to engage and take ownership of your experience.  If you are a planner, make sure you are aware that this will be different than events before 2020, and your curating the conference can and will make a difference.


About Thom Singer

Thom Singer works for Stanton Chase, a leading executive search firm that specializes in helping companies and associations place key hires. He is also a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies / EmCee
After a successful career in sales and marketing, Thom Singer became a growth leadership speaker in 2009. A decade later he has brought his high energy presentations and action-oriented content to over 900 audiences. Thom knows that as the speaker or master of ceremonies he has a responsibility to set the tone for a strong conference attendee experience. Known as “The Conference Catalyst” he creates an atmosphere of fun and interaction that lasts beyond his presentation.
Thom earned his Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) in 2014 and is committed to the business of meetings. He is the author of 12 books and is the host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast. On his show he has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, business leaders and others with a focus on discovering how the most successful people get farther across the gap between potential and results.
At 50 years old Thom decided to reinvent his life and make age 50 to 75 the best years of his life. This meant saying yes to things that scared him, and trying new things. Since that time Thom has jumped off buildings, took up running (and lost 30 lbs) and began performing stand up comedy.