Connecting With Participants in Tough Times

by Melinda Colon

The last year has caused many of us to stop and reevaluate various aspects of our lives. Your event attendees may be experiencing those same emotions as we navigate local, national, or global crises. It’s important for us to find ways to recognize the trials that our event attendees face to help give them a sense of community during tough times. This may be uncomfortable and require purposeful language but whether it’s fires, COVID, job loss, or political unrest you can create a safe and fun space for learning and help meeting attendees and planning staff feel connected.

Be Thoughtful

What’s happening outside the “walls” of your meeting? Consider the external context that participants will need to “turn off” to focus. Depending on the way the circumstances are potentially affecting your meeting attendees and their safety, your response should be proportional. Consider: 

  • Messaging: Send an email and post a message on your web site expressing your organization’s support, sympathy, empathy, outrage, or simply an acknowledgment.
  • Provide tips: Whether it’s during the event or through pre/post-event messaging, it’s never a bad time to give insight or tips from your organization to help your attendees endure trying times. These tips can focus on self-care to more practical career advice or links to helpful websites. Stay focused on helping your attendees feel seen, heard, and supported.
  • Facilitation: Having a conference emcee or facilitator welcome everyone and say a few words about the challenging circumstances some attendees may be experiencing sets the tone for a supportive and accepting environment.  
  • Cancellation: In some cases, the correct course of action to take may be a cancellation, especially if the event is in-person and there’s a risk to health and safety. For a virtual event, consider cancellation if the national mood and morale are significantly disrupted, like in the case of riots. While you can’t predict these scenarios, you should establish a small team that can make a decision quickly and as a meeting planner, offer definitive options with clear pros and cons for cancellations.

Be a Safe Place

Weave a forum or outlet for attendees to share and express concerns in a way that works with your content, such as having a session or a moderated discussion group. This shows your commitment to recognizing the hardships that your participants are experiencing while ensuring that difficult topics are discussed in a productive way. 

Make sure your event has a Code of Conduct in place so that it is clear to all participants that your event is a place they can share in a respectful and inclusive manner. A code of conduct can also encourage your attendees to act civilly since there are clear consequences for being inappropriate. We’re happy to share our Code of Conduct template with you.  

Be Community Leaders

Events do not take place in vacuums; they take place in, around, and for communities. Instead of being a bystander, below are some ways you can take an active role in and around the community your organization has built: 

  • Set up Optional Donations: When weather or fire disasters take place, provide attendees an opportunity to give to colleagues impacted. Alternatively, have your attendees vote on a charity to donate funds raised from a raffle.
  • Incorporate your response with your organization’s mission: You can collect donations (financial or in-kind) that are still connected to your organization’s mission. For example, an education organization’s donation can be directed to replacing lost school supplies and a healthcare organization designates its donations to replenish medical supplies.  
  • Host free networking events: Networking is a great way to expand your community and get support from those in your circle. If your industry is experiencing an economic downturn of job loss, host accessibly-priced networking events to bring your community together and strengthen those channels.

We want those who participate in our events to feel valued and recognized under any circumstances. If your attendees are going through tough times, providing validation of their experience could be the point of connection they need to feel heard and remember the impact of your event.

Want to learn more from Melinda?
Email her at colon@collaborativecommunications.com.