How can you change the quality of attention at events?

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” – Mary Oliver

Receiving attention is a powerful feeling. Many of us experience it in our personal lives on a regular basis but it’s the same when it comes to our professional lives. When we are appreciated for what we offer, when we are called back to do a job because of our skills, etc. it feels really good.

My work as an event host sees a fair amount of competition. There are many doing this work and the ease of getting events is low. So it can be challenging to find the right client for the kind of events one wants to do. But I have been lucky to get the kind of events I want to host and to already have clients who call me back every year for their events, where I have the freedom and autonomy to create an engaging and authentic atmosphere. Despite that, there is still a part of me that gets swayed by the spotlight. Sometimes when a “big” company reaches out to me for my event hosting services, I feel a little flattered and without fully seeing if things are in alignment, I accept their offer.

Recently, I got to be part of a big event where I was one of the event hosts. I was assigned to one of the side-stages and my work was heavily supervised with almost no room for creative freedom and I was not allowed to interact with either the audience or speakers. My only “job” was to announce the names and short bios of those who were going to come up on stage. I felt like my time or gifts were not utilized well at all.

During coffee break, while mingling with those attending, I met people who were more interested in their phones than having a conversation. Worse, I met some who seemed only interested to network with those in positions of power or could open doors for them. Nothing wrong with that but given that I was surrounded by mostly such people for so many hours, I began to feel drained.

What is going wrong, I wondered.

The event had great speakers who had shared valuable content and yet there was something missing in the conversations that I heard happening during coffee break. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then suddenly I ran into an old friend. We had worked at my first TV job—he used to be the producer of the TV show I was working on. He’s always been very demanding, from others, but also himself. We hadn’t met since I left the TV station more than 3 years ago. So, the already surprising meeting was made more special by the fact that he still works for that TV station. To me, he is the representative of a world that I truly appreciate but left. Working for the local media really is about passion because they do not have the kind of resources that bigger networks do. One person ends up doing the work of ten people and only those with an incredible amount of passion and dedication can give their 100% to this kind of work. No fancy crew to help you out. Anyway, I started speaking to him and listened as he passionately described life with his newborn child and how excited he was to be a father. He spoke of the responsibility but even that was touched by his sense of pride and joy at being a father. He then asked me about my life and as I told him, I could see him listening attentively. That’s when it hit me. What was dissatisfying for me in the exchanges at the coffee break was the lack of attention and deep listening. It’s not the content of the conversation that determines the fate of it; rather it’s the willingness of those in it to listen and respond to each other. That day’s event and many events on a regular basis lack the space to create this kind of emotional depth and authenticity.

That conversation was enough to fuel me and remind me of why I love the work I do. It helped me finish the event with a good attitude and when I left for home that night, I made sure to let my friend know that his attention had brightened my day.

This story is not just a personal one but it has lessons for the event industry. Can you imagine the quality of an event where we are able to bring in the kind of attention that we reserve for meaningful things? The need for glitz and show would fade as people would remember an event for not just what it taught them but how it made them feel.

The other observation I had was that my friend was there on behalf of his TV station to make a quick coverage of the important event. In a way he really was an outsider in that place. Which actually made me appreciate him so much because he brought a freshness to the conference setting. He seemed to represent the outsider perspective that can be incorporated into a conference to break its monotony.

Have you considered that the biggest shortcoming of many “professional”, “business-oriented” conferences is that they are such a bubble? An echo chamber? No more than the voices of the chosen ones can be heard.

A way to revolutionize events could be to take the attendees out of their comfort zones. Events could grow if we could create agendas in which you get to hear both from the people you’re likely to agree with as well as the people you won’t agree with. For example, at a business conference, I would make sure to feature a few people who haven’t had financial success in their lives but have perspective to share from their life experiences. An event can be rounded off, made more multidimensional by including perspectives that are unexpected and perhaps by extension, often unwelcome. Can you imagine the power of inviting a teacher who has devoted their whole life to shaping young people despite a not lucrative salary (at least this is the situation in Poland) to give a talk on passion, drive, inspiration? That would be like mixing two worlds—the one of business meetings with the one of school meetings—run by different kinds of intentions and aspirations. I believe that would really wake up the audience, get them to focus and help change the quality of attention at events.


Now I will write something about myself. I like to be with people – but I don’t like it when the atmosphere is tense. That’s why I’ve learned to shorten the distance and make it bearable. Sometimes it’s even friendly. So much so that I host the largest conferences and panel discussions in Poland, and increasingly abroad.

My specialities are technology, environment and business. I am also a legal advisor (but that’s a longer story for another time). I have created dozens of radio and TV programmes, including a talk-show in English. I studied at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. And I love the United States. 

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