Why do we love to attend events?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a knowledge seeker, a tech-savvy networker, an introverted professional, or a brand fanatic—we all experience the same excitement when registering for an event.
Although we live in a strongly connected world where information exchange occurs faster than the blink of an eye, we still prefer face-to-face interactions.
So what’s the reason behind why people attend events?
Numerous reports and research papers have tried to find the answer to this question. In an attempt to explain the irresistible character of events, both analysts and researchers came up with a list of arguments.
One of them revolves around the knowledge transfer that takes place during events. We see content as the central piece of a successful event. Both the quality of the topics and the authority of the speakers represent a determining force that drives people to register.
Another argument involves the access to an immense pool of contacts and networking possibilities. One of our main drives as attendees is to engage with other attendees and build meaningful connections.
The third reason why events are so irresistible has to do with the destination’s uniqueness. Apart from exchanging knowledge and pursuing potential prospects, we attend events to enjoy the local flavors (both literally and figuratively) of a place.
All of these arguments seem legit.
But doesn’t it seem like something’s still missing? It’s as if we barely scratched the surface of the real motivations that guide professionals to choose events as an interaction environment.
Motivation to attend events
Apart from trying to understand the reasons behind what makes events successful, researchers have included another category that defines these motivations through the lens of age.
Millennials like to network more and require a different setting than Generation X. At the same time, Generation Z is driven by other factors completely separate than Millennials when deciding to attend events.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with searching for a way to explain the motivations behind attending events.
However, we’re overcomplicating everything and searching too hard without actually understanding the basics first. Saying that we like to attend events because of the educational content or the networking opportunities is the same as saying we use marketing to help people make rational decisions.
Obviously, both learning and networking at events are important key drivers of attendance, and it has nothing to do with our age or area of expertise.
This something is strongly embedded in our DNA.
We like to attend events because, well, we’re humans.
Interaction is a natural component of human behavior, and events are irresistible platforms for engaging in face-to-face interactions.
Let me explain what I mean using an analogy.
Social disruption with social networks
It’s astonishing how social media changed our culture and interaction dynamics. Some people consider it a form of social disruption, while others worry about the effects it may have.
But we’ve never stopped to consider that we’ve actually been using “social media” for more than 2,000 years.
How, you might wonder?
As Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist, explains in one of his books, many of the ways in which we share and consume in the internet era are built upon the habits and conventions that date back centuries.
Social media users will not only passively consume information, but also engage in creating it. As a result, we’ve built a shared social environment and a sense of membership in a distributed community.
Considering this, Standage asks the following question: “What makes doing all this so enjoyable and compelling, and therefore so popular?”
The answer has nothing to do with the evolution of technology or the internet.
As Standage notes, “The compelling nature of social media, then, can be traced back in part to the evolution of the social brain, as monkeys and other primates evolved over the past 35 million years; in part to the exchange of gossip following the emergence of human language, around 100,000 years ago; and in part to the origins of writing, around 5,000 years ago.”
To share and to communicate is human.
Throughout history, we have evidence of people exchanging information (writing on walls or stones) and having an unstoppable interest in gossip.
The only difference that online networks and social media achieved is to scale up and reinforce this biological tendency humans have for communication and sharing.
Attending events to connect with people
The same way social media unraveled a basic behavior people would naturally display, attending events comes as a response to our compelling need of getting together.
As Simon Sinek points out in one of his talks, although our tools and our environments are constantly evolving, we as humans remain the same: Our actions are driven by the same basic motivations.
Just think about it: What did our ancestors to increase their chances for survival?
They came together and built basic social structures to ensure security and access to food. Subsequently, these initial configurations would take the form of bigger societies, adding more complexity and a higher level of organization.
There’s never been a culture or historic society that would reinforce solitariness. Hermits were an extraordinary phenomenon, and only few would adventure to stray away from their groups.
Although we’ve evolved and our environment and means are drastically different, our basic needs have remained the same.
Our nature conditions us to surround ourselves with our peers, exchange ideas, and build communities based on needs on interests.
Following this theory, attending events presents itself as a part of who we are.
The same way our ancestors would meet in agoras to listen Greek philosophers, we meet at conferences and conventions to hear industry leaders and great speakers.
Nowadays, we have access to online environments and the possibility to become virtual event attendees. We have the same privileges as live guests: to hear outstanding speakers and learn valuable insights. And now we have the opportunity to engage with great professionals through social media platforms.
However, we'll refuse to choose the comfort of our home or office while engaging online with other people and content. We prefer to attend events and enrich ourselves with live experiences.
The possibility to learn, get to know great professionals, and enjoy unique destinations are all decisive factors that influence people to attend events. That’s why we, as event planners, must focus on providing the best content, networking, and experience possibilities for our attendees.
But it’s also important to consider the deepest motivation level that pushes professionals to register and participate in live experiences.
The need to get together and interact with peers constitutes the backbone of the entire event industry. It's an innate part of the human psyche. No matter how more sophisticated or technology-backed events will become. The inherent need to attend and form groups will never change.
Knowing this, we as organizers should stop chasing the latest meeting format and interactive technologies. Instead, we should focus on creating genuine experiences that will potentiate and harness the human basic tendency of getting together.