There is nothing that is more moving or inspiring than when training session attendees feel a sense of kinship with one another.
Unfortunately, creating those moments can feel really daunting.
As a company that exists in the mental health space, our team works hard to create experiences that build trust and connection in our workshops, training sessions, and even during keynote speeches. Along the way, we’ve learned that doing so is actually much more straightforward than it seems.
Humans need a sense of connection to feel safe, and only when we feel safe can we be open about our challenges. Sharing authentic challenges and experiences creates a bond that will be felt for years after a single event.
Even if your event is focused on human resources or public policy, the same applies. In an age when loneliness is the norm, creating a sense of connection among attendees is a way to make your event unforgettable.
From the hundreds of events I’ve been a part of or attended, here are four key things I’ve learned about how to make your event unforgettable by fostering a sense of connection among audiences.
Encourage a different seating plan.
Break people up that know each other, and try to group them based on actual interests, like hobbies or big goals they’re working towards. By mixing people up, you can create a game of challenging attendees to figure out why they are seated where they are, sparking an inquisitive push to learn more about those they are sitting with. Mastermind Talks, one of the most sought-after entrepreneurship events in the world (it has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard), does this with incredible results. This can work for meals, plenary sessions, or workshops. Try it, you’ll be amazed.
Shine the spotlight on attendees.
The primary focus of events doesn’t always have to be linking a bunch of keynotes and workshops to the theme. In fact, most people will remember the moments of connection they had long after the event is done. To do this over a meal, for example, have a card as the centerpiece of each table. A question that is both really challenging but also very freeing, like “If you woke up one day and forgot your entire past except for one memory, what would it be and why?” Invite one member of each table to share theirs one at a time, and encourage them to take as long or as little as they need to do so. The results will be extraordinary.
Focus on the little things.
I’ve seen countless tears and hugs among strangers after they write a letter or postcard to themselves as part of a reflection exercise during a conference. A dear friend of mine, Blake Fly, has become somewhat famous for hosting “Thank U Parties” where he has 30 people over for dinner and asks them to write three thank you cards: One to someone they haven’t spoken to in a long time, another to someone that’s helped them a great deal in the last year, and one more to themselves. It’s so simple… it’s just three thank you cards! But creating the opportunity for that reflection and then inviting people to read theirs aloud is powerful.
Curate speakers and hosts who are open themselves.
By doing so, you create an environment where the attendees feel safe to speak up and be themselves. Ensure the mouthpieces for the event welcome a philosophy of openness and vulnerability and are excited about creating this kind of connection. They need to be a champion of this.
In the end, remember that the stories of your attendees are as interesting as anyone else in the room. Celebrate them and their stories. Creating specific opportunities for them to share and connect in unique ways will ensure that your event will be memorable for years to come.