GUEST POST — We are delighted to have How to Work a Room author Susan RoAne contribute this guest blog post. You can read an excerpt of her book in the May issue of Convene.
How can professional planners create conferences, meetings, and events where everyone interacts, connects, and converses? This isn’t a new question. I wrote How To Work a Room 25 years ago, and revising it for a Silver Anniversary edition gave me an opportunity to assess and address what’s changed and what hasn’t since I wrote the original.
- People basically haven’t changed. We have our concerns, our needs, our wants, our worries, our desires, our foibles, our passions, and peccadilloes.
- Technology has created a sea change that’s altered our lifestyles, options, opportunities, and behaviors.
- There are new online rooms to “work.” Most associations have LinkedIn special groups, Facebook pages, and Google+ Circles for members to join and connect with each other.
- The percentage of people who self-identified as shy increased from 80 percent in the 1980s to more than 90 percent, according to the Stanford Shyness Clinic.
What’s a Meeting Planner to Do? There’s a smorgasbord of possibilities for planners:
1. Prepare all attendees, not just first timers. Some long-time attendees would also benefit from receiving a Top Ten Tip Sheet in their pre-event materials on how to approach, enter, and exit conversations graciously. Feel free to share my How To Work a Room® Infographic.
2. Offer a pre-con webinar on best practices. Help your attendees prepare in advance to make the most of a trade show or conference.
3. Enlist the staff, board, CEO/executive director, and executive staff to be part of the “Welcome Wagon.” They can make sure that newcomers and old timers are greeted, welcomed, and introduced to others — and are thereby “modeling” the desired behaviors. All three groups may need some host training as they, too, may also fall into the 80-to-90-percent-shy category.
4. Recruit a greeting committee from all generations of the membership or company. (That’s one way to start packing the pipeline with future leaders.) Be sure to invite some of the people you think are shy; they will be your best “greeters.”
5. Keep icebreakers simple. I had a group of global financial managers for a Silicon Valley firm pick a partner and share “One Thing Nobody Knows About Me.” Partners shared those stories that were interesting. The best was one was from the CFO of one of the divisions. When he was driving his pregnant wife to the hospital, the baby decided he was ready to meet his parents. Dad pulled over to the side of the road and delivered his first child. That created many lively conversations!
6. Add a “Getting to Know You” lunch or dinner without a speaker, report, or award program. I often hear (and have said) that there often isn’t enough free time for unstructured socializing and conversation at events. People attend meetings and conferences for a variety of reasons — one of which to meet, converse, and connect with their colleagues. Anything you implement to make that happen will be valued and appreciated.
Susan RoAne is a professional speaker who has spoken for Fortune 20 to 500 companies, universities, industry associations including several times for PCMA. She is passionate about sharing the practical strategies and techniques of “working” rooms, networking and building relationships so that every person is comfortable in any room. She can be followed at twitter.com/susanroane and found at www.susanroane.com.