Guests mingling at a recent event

by Elizabeth Busch

Depending on your personality, meetings and events can serve as either super exciting opportunities to socialize professionally—or anxiety-inducing experiences. Even the best events, those with celebrity speakers and open-bar receptions, can bring panic attacks for people who get nervous in groups.

An attendee’s initial interaction with event staff—be it at the airport or in the lobby of a hotel or conference center—is incredibly important. 

And it’s the job of an event planner to ensure that all attendees feel comfortable and welcome. (As if we don’t already have enough on our plates!)

 I’ve been planning events for decades now, and have seen attendees that revel in the experience, and others who hide in corners, reluctant to socialize. Back in 2008, I partnered with the brilliant Anne and Beckie to form The Event Studio, and during that time, I’ve come to realize that event attendees typically embody one of three personality types.

 1. The Airport Personality. Think back to the last time you were rushing through JFK or LAX and you know what I’m talking about. This is the type of person that is trying to guard himself or herself from the outside world, and wants to get in and get out as soon as possible. People who exhibit this personality at events are usually the ones who aren’t super interested in socialization.

 2. The Work Personality. A person in this frame of mind is more open than the Airport Personality, but is still a bit guarded. They may laugh and engage in conversation when necessary, but they aren’t going above and beyond to make connections.

 3. The Home Personality. People who embody this personality are those who are open to new experiences, excited to meet new people, and feel a sense of safety, even if in a new situation.

 My goal is to help every attendee at every event we plan feel comfortable enough to let his or her Home Personality shine through.

How, you ask? And is that even possible? The answer is yes. Here are a few ways to help attendees let down their guard and engage at your next event. 

 Make check-in easy

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 An attendee’s initial interaction with event staff—be it at the airport or in the lobby of a hotel or conference center—is incredibly important. It is this interaction that will help set the tone, atmosphere, and general vibe. If you can, I recommend combining hotel check-in with meeting check-in.

 Some hotels are open to this, while others are not. If you are experiencing some resistance, see if you can set up a small registration desk near the hotel check-in desk. That way attendees can get a feel for the friendly faces associated with your event without having to search through (what feels like) miles of conference hallways to find where to register for an event they already may be nervous to attend.

 Focus on family dining

Instead of making a dinner experience include passed hors d’oeuvres or tables with six or eight people, try asking a hotel or conference center if you can use bigger tables and serve food family style. This can really help a person’s Home Personality shine through. If you have to say “pass the carrots,” that means you’re talking to someone you may not have otherwise, prompting an organic connection.

Try fishbowl seating

Station an event worker at the door of the dining room and have them to hold a fishbowl filled with table numbers. Every time someone walks in, have him or her pick a number from the bowl. That way, people won’t sit in cliques. More mingling will happen, and that’s bound to lead to more connections.

The Event Studio (TES), founded in 2008, is led by its three co-founders Elizabeth Busch, Beckie Jankiewicz and Anne Frey-Mott who met while building Inc. and Fast Company’s storied event business. We firmly believe live experiences make lasting connections and move business forward, and have built our business over the past 10 years doing just that for clients ranging from enterprises like Genesys and HP, to publishers such as Fortune and Bloomberg Business, to household names like Airbnb and Lexus. We bring inspiration to the table.