In-Person, Sensory Overload – it’s a thing!

It’s been some time since we have been able to have in-person events and diving back in after a year can be a little overwhelming. Read how Emma King feels about the overloading sensation and how we can consider protecting against it.

Emma King

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with my business partners and carried out some workshops with our Senior Leadership Team. It was fantastic to see, hug and collaborate in person, and our team energy was buzzing!  

It was great to socialize, eat & drink together and connect in ways that hadn’t been possible in the past two years. Let’s face it; there IS nothing better than an in-person connection; however, it also brought up some emotions that none of us expected, and the event industry needs to prepare for. It was, for many of us, complete sensory overload. 

  1. Anxiety over contracting COVID – Downtown mandated while we were in Chicago that Friday, they would return to 100% mask-wearing when inside, unless eating or drinking. That caused many of us with kids who are unable to be vaccinated and those on our team who cannot be vaccinated to be very anxious. 
  2. The Travel – We had several individuals who drove or flew in for the gathering. While this underlined that travel is now possible, that our team was committed to showing up, that expedited potential exposure, if it had been for a conference, many of us felt we would not have shown up, but for our company, we did. 
  3. There was complete sensory overload – Personally, after our first 3hrs of meetings, I had to go back to my hotel room and decompress. Being 200% focused, reading a room, laughing, working in teams, making team decisions was so much easier in person, but many of us reflected it was also overwhelming. Again, we wanted to be present! At a conference, we thought, “would they?”. 
  4. It was LOUD – We went out for dinner, and I had a tough time focusing on the conversation and found myself lip-reading, not so easy if you are wearing masks at a conference, and not helpful when networking or getting to know your peers!  
  5. SO many people – On Friday night, we let our hair down! We thought ahead and booked a private area and had drinks! It was a great night, but outside of our intimate space of 14 people, there were many people we didn’t know, whom we didn’t feel comfortable with, and who also eating/drinking and therefore not masked up. This conundrum exists and will continue to exist in a conference setting. 
Stressed overwhelmed african businesswoman feels tired at corporate meeting, exhausted black female boss suffering from headache touching temples at team briefing, stress at work or migraine concept

As I drove home, man – I haven’t missed that traffic either, I reflected on the need to adjust the way we think about hybrid and how we think about the in-person experience. 

  1. Create Micro Experiences for your in-person conferences, where people can connect with confidence limited to 10-12 people. We had a private room for the cubs, while until the 7th inning, it was a no-hitter – this decision was a home run! 
  2. Hire a COVID Compliance Officer (we have one on staff). Arrange for Onsite Testing using Rapid Antigen Testing so that should somebody feel anxious and can take a test without needing to track down a local testing station. 
  3. Don’t make meetings mandatory; always provide a hybrid meeting link for those who don’t feel ready don’t miss out or pressure themselves into something that will impact their ability to be mentally present in the meeting. 
  4. Provide safe places, calming places for people to go & chill & relax, help support their need to decompress without leaving the conference floor. 
  5. Allow people to excuse themselves and take some me time, or if you see somebody antsy and unable to settle, give them a job to do, like writing on the whiteboard for you! They will welcome the productive distraction. 
 

We are already talking about our next meet up; we are a virtual company. We all work remotely, that’s the #futureofwork, and we can’t wait to be in person again because our #companystrategy is buzzing. Still, we also recognize the need for #mentalbreaks and #empathy in a #newworkplacedynamic.

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