5 Ways Face-to-Face Events Are Like Family Reunions

January 13, 2012


This week, I attended my fourth Virtual Edge Summit and my second PCMA Convening Leaders. The two events were collocated with one another at the San Diego Convention Center. As I made my way throughout the event, I kept noticing the same thing: people embracing one another in enthusiastic hugs.

I noticed the hugs just about everywhere: in the hallways, on the elevators, on line for coffee and in the session areas. I made the realization that members of an industry comprise a family – and with our busy schedules these days, the “family” may see each other a few times per year. Or perhaps, a few times every five years!

Let’s consider how face-to-face events are like family reunions.

1) Scheduled time together.

At a family reunion, there’s the luncheon, picnic or perhaps a tea party at grandma’s house. There’s the obligatory group photo. Face-to-face events are largely defined by their scheduled activities: sessions, demonstrations, meals, classroom learning and evening networking events.

2) Unscheduled time spent in smaller groups.

A face-to-face event is wonderful at creating serendipity and somewhat random encounters: running into an old colleague while walking from one session to the next; meeting a like-minded professional on the food line; bumping into your former boss on the elevator.

While an event’s scheduled activities are valuable, a lot of enjoyment comes from the meetings and interactions we have during the unscheduled activities, which we tend to experience in smaller groups. Family reunions are similar. The one-on-one time with a cousin or aunt are great, as you reminisce about the “good old days.”

3) Nothing’s the same as face-to-face.

Families have Skype, Facebook and email to stay in touch. Industries have blogs, online communities, Twitter and Google+. All of these tools are very effective for keeping up with one another and staying in touch.

But nothing can reproduce the experiences, dynamics and value of meeting face-to-face. I’ve developed relationships with others online, but it’s not until I spend time with them face-to-face that I truly feel like I “know” them. Industries, like families, need to convene face-to-face from time to time.

4) You realize how quickly the kids grow up.

Kids grow up way too quickly. Go two years without seeing a young niece, nephew or cousin and you may not even recognize them. With business moving as quickly as ever, our friends and colleagues may get promoted or switch jobs without us knowing (although LinkedIn does a great job about letting us know!). It’s at events that we can see how the kids (and colleagues!) are growing.

5) It’s hard to say goodbye.

It’s hard to say goodbye at the end of a family reunion. After spending 2-3+ intense days at a face-to-face event, it’s equally tough to say bye. You’ve spent hours speaking, learning, (hugging) and socializing with a close-knit group of individuals. When it’s time for everyone to head to the airport, you wish that the event lasted one more day.


I had a great week with “family” in San Diego. For some, it’s my hope that I’ll see them again during 2012. For others, I may have to wait for 12 months. Perhaps I’ll combine the face-to-face event with a family reunion – Convening Leaders 2013 takes place in Orlando.

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