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Did you know the word ‘serendipity’ was coined in 1754 by writer and historian Horace Walpole? It was born out of an English variation of the Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” which was about three princes who made discoveries they were not looking for whilst out on their adventures.
The word ‘serendipity’ is heard occasionally in the conference world* with hosts and organisers recognising the importance of serendipitous interactions at their conferences. These bring joy, a-ha moments and encourage a lasting sense of community among participants. It also allows for discoveries they may not have been looking for.
Followers of our newsletter and blog know our passion for infusing every meeting and conference with intent and purpose. It’s why we are such big fans of Priya Parker’s work around the ‘Art of Gathering’. But is it possible to be purposeful and still allow for serendipity at your conference?
It’s not only possible, it’s critical.
It might sound counter-intuitive to ‘plan’ for serendipitous moments at your conference but leaving it to chance is doing your participants a disservice. We believe it’s all about creating the right environment that allows for serendipity to occur.
Simple ways to enable serendipity at your next conference:
Ensure participants arrive with their happy hats on. A positive mood usually means people are more open to new and unexpected experiences. You can do this by assigning them a fun task before arrival (E.g. Watch a YouTube video or read an entertaining Twitter thread that they can share and discuss as they register. Or participants could be asked to wear something unusual / quirky that puts a smile on their face as they’re getting ready that morning and helps break the ice upon arrival: “Hey, that’s a great twig / summer wildflower in your lapel!”)
Use music wisely and sparingly and generously, all at the same time. A carefully curated playlist executed at the right moments can be a crucial enabler of serendipitous moments among your participants.
Include elements of surprise during the programme. When participants think it’s time for a coffee and muffin, instead take them outside for a 10-minute mindfulness session in the sunshine. When they think it’s time for happy hour, inform them they’ll be making their own cocktails and mocktails in groups first.
- Team UC
* Arguably, serendipity is much easier to achieve at a live event than a virtual one but some of the technology we’ve seen indicates that online serendipity is not far off.