Listen From the Heart to Better Engage Attendees

At last week’s Xperience Design Project, participants were reminded that that there’s power in silence and that listening can create memorable moments for both associations and their attendees.

“I cried.”

That’s usually not the response people want to hear when they ask you how a conference was, but that’s what I keep saying every time someone asks about my time at ASAE’s Xperience Design Project last week.

But I mean it in a really good way.

In his Idea Accelerator session, Brooks Thomas, a senior advisor on the social business team at Southwest Airlines, brought me and many other attendees to tears with a heartwarming reminder that listening from the heart can lead to some of the most memorable interactions a company has with its customers. Or, in the case of associations, with their members and meeting attendees.

To illustrate his point that “our hearts talk long before we form words,” Thomas didn’t utter a word during the first 30 minutes of his session. Instead, he communicated using videos, one-sentence slides, screenshots of Tweets and Facebook posts—made all the more compelling by a superb playlist that ran throughout.

Thomas reminded the association professionals in the audience that what they do matters and that “hospitality in the digital age is a powerful thing.”

Here are three takeaways from his Idea Accelerator for anyone involved in planning and executing association meetings:

The simplest things you do in your job are important to others. You may not think twice about responding to the attendee who tweeted, “Help! I lost my iPhone,” and telling him that it was turned in at the lost-and-found desk, but it matters. That simple response likely made his day, and it shows that your association is listening. Those little things add up—and go a long way in boosting attendee engagement. “By always listening, you’ll never miss the opportunity to make an impact,” Thomas said.

People always share what they feel before they share what happened. Because of this, meeting planners need to be mindful of the feelings—both good and bad—that their events are generating. And if people do express complaints, it’s important to not run away from them but rather to be curious. According to Thomas, complaints often “reflect the values that the complainer holds.” When you understand this, you won’t try to avoid hard conversations with complainers. Rather, you’ll see them as opportunities to learn and improve.

The good your attendees do deserves to be amplified. By listening and observing, you will be in a position to showcase your members and attendees “doing their best stuff.” Thomas said Southwest often finds out about the cool things their employees and customers are doing by being present and simply listening. And then, when they come across those good things, they share them, which helps to create a stronger community and even inspires others to do good work. “Doing good is contagious, and the world needs an epidemic of good,” Thomas said.

What has your association learned from listening to its members and meeting attendees? Please share in the comments.

(Chris Williams/Zoeica Images)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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