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Let’s Make Meetings Human Again

Let’s not get so lost in the tech razzle-dazzle and easy engagement “wins” that we forget just what meetings are supposed to be all about: people.

In the midst of the year-end spate of predictions about what will be shaping the meetings industry in the new year, something in an IMEX 2018 trends report made me stop and think. A lot. IMEX picked up on what Alex Williams dubbed “the new age of anxiety” in a New York Times article earlier this year. Whether we’re actually any more anxious than people have been in other eras is certainly debatable, but given our always-on, always-connected, FOMO-based, social-media saturated, 24/7 news-cycle, tweet-infested reality, we’re anxious enough that the #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike hashtag is actually a thing.

People are stressed already just by life these days, not to mention having to do two weeks’ worth of work to afford the time away to go to your event. Then add in a healthy wallop of travel craziness—TSA security lines, unforeseen baggage fees, flight delays, that kid kicking the seatback since Chicago—and people are already anxious and stressed by the time they get to registration.

And meeting professionals, you’re not helping by offering up packed agendas, breaks that don’t actually give people a break, a diet of sugar and caffeine and carbs that have people bouncing around like so many crazed kangaroos, and late nights of partying that aren’t really zeroed out by a 6 a.m. fun run or yoga class by the pool.

Let’s reward them with a more human experience. Let’s unpack the agenda a bit, replacing the mindless zipping from keynote to session to lunch to session to reception to party with a more thoughtfully human agenda. I was talking with someone recently about good experiences at events, and he mentioned the church camp he went to, where the kids learned a lesson, then were sent off to contemplate how to internalize that message and bring it into their everyday lives. We can do that at meetings too, build in time and spaces and the tools people need to absorb, dive deeper, and actually learn, not just tweet a sound bite or take notes that will never be looked at again.

Especially in this new age of anxiety, we need pockets of meaning and connection. We need sanctuaries where our souls can detox from the constant dopamine drip we get with every social-media “like” and every step up on the leaderboard. so we can  We need to experience what it is that brings that deeper satisfaction—and I think meetings are the perfect place to do just that.

Sure, you can do a sugar-high, dopamine-pumping meeting and people will love it. You’ll probably even get great evaluations. But then your next meeting will have to be even more of a sugar-high dopamine pumper now that you set that expectation. And if your goal is to provide that pocket of meaning and connection, that deeper dive, you’ll probably fall short. After all, blowing someone away is the exact opposite of pulling someone toward meaning and connection, isn’t it?

Let’s stop chasing the quick hits and easy wins and think about what really matters—and how we can bring that into our meetings. There are some good ideas to get us started in the Purposeful Meetings white paper authored by Janet Sperstad and Amanda Cecil.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of collective wisdom this industry has to tap into. How can we make our meetings more mindful, and more human? What would a truly human-centric meeting look, smell, sound, taste, and feel like?

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