Those closest to the planning and execution of meetings can often get caught up in the endless minutia and details, losing sight of the human impact they’re creating. The focus becomes almost entirely on the mental (mind) and sensory (body) experience of attendees. What’s missing is the conscious awareness of the heart (spirit) experience. It occurs. You can’t avoid it. It occurs without conscious intention, and its impact is usually either negative or neutral.

We hear all the time about the mind, body, spirit connection in our personal lives and how critical a good balance is to our well-being, longer life spans and quality of life.

The meetings industry is a bit behind in taking this concept to heart.

Maybe it’s because our culture tends to equate “spiritual” with “religious” and shies away from anything that might cross the line between business and religion. Metaphysics as a philosophy, however, embraces the spiritual as an inescapable presence in everything we do, and the sooner we become aware of this truth, the more balanced and harmonious our experience will be.

Let’s get ‘experiential’

“Experiential” has been a hot term in meetings for several years. It comes from the marketing principle that people become brand loyal by having a live brand experience. This experience has five components:

  1. Awareness
  2. Connection
  3. Identification with the brand
  4. Trust (or faith) in the brand
  5. Advocacy and loyalty

These elements of brand (or meeting) experience happen in that order, and if one step is aborted or does not naturally occur, the following steps are forfeited.

When we focus on pushing information at attendees with intensive scheduling and lip service to bilateral collaboration, it’s no wonder attendance sputters. We continue to struggle with generating an attendance of at least 80 percent in non-mandatory events, or establishing a strong franchisee-franchiser emotional bond, or measurably increasing employee morale.

Attitude is everything

Metaphysics teaches us that how we choose to think shapes our experience of the world around us or, to put it another way, attitude is everything. Most meetings focus on the first step, awareness. They put tremendous effort and investment into ensuring attendees are aware of meeting dates and times; speakers and sponsors;, exhibit hall hours; networking opportunities; new programs and products; organizational change; industry trends; and all manner of completely valid information. But awareness is not a shift in attitude and without a shift in attitude, the true effectiveness of meetings is lost.

Meetings bring people together. That’s where the second step, connection, can really happen. It’s critical to understand, however, that physical proximity does not ensure a connection. All you have to do is pay attention to people sitting next to each other on a plane, actually in physical contact, and who, for hours, manage to not look at each other, or even speak.

Connection occurs when we come to know and understand our shared purpose. This means that those holding meetings spend more (yes, I said more, not just equal) time listening to attendees as opposed to informing and demonstrating.

Listen, and learn

Considering the enormous investment most organizations and corporations make in meetings, this may seem counterintuitive. When hundreds of thousands of dollars go into ensuring just the right message, and an environment is created to maximize sponsor dollars and generate buy-in on information that should be of self-evident importance for business success, why would the organization spend precious time and money for a “touchy-feely” potentially negative or disastrous series of attendee input sessions?

Why would organizations that have built annual marketing plans, budgets, product launches and training programs even entertain the idea of possibly discovering the need to adapt or redirect those plans based on attendee input? How would they explain it to the investors?

The answer is simple: Listen to attendees because their collective experience and wisdom is greater than any one presenter. Answers to tough organizational or industry challenges don’t always come from the top. In fact, they often come from the front line. Get that input early enough and it becomes part of your annual planning, not an after-the-fact add-on. This has been proven repeatedly.

If an organization waits until there is a rift between itself and attendees — often caused by organizational arrogance, fear or apathy — it’s absolutely more difficult to hear attendee input. It’ll be filled with frustration and layers of resentment. Even then, though, organizations willing to listen to hard feedback and meet it head-on have been transformed.

Happily, round-table discussions, panel discussions, audience polling (pre-event, on-site and post-event) and even social media discussion groups are on the rise.  Where they are used effectively, attendees walk away with a tremendous level of ownership and sense of belonging.

This is good for business. It is also good for the soul.