Professional events can be intimidating, even for extroverts. You open the door to a giant hall, and there is a lot of pressure to make connections that will last or lead to something important. Adding to the daunting atmosphere? Often, the layout of the conference.
In big rooms with scant furniture, you might feel out of your element. Hotels and convention halls are often spacious to accommodate many people, but the scale can be overwhelming and uninviting.
As an event organizer, you'll want to make people feel at home among strangers and encourage conversations that go beyond the surface. Look no further than the ancient practice of feng shui to make it happen. We spoke with Kim Colwell, an interior designer and feng shui consultant, to learn how to help people network confidently and comfortably in a more welcoming environment.
1. Create a Warm Entrance
“It all begins with the first impression as you're walking in," Colwell says. “Create the mood right from the first step."
One of the simplest ways to ease the flow of registration: Make visible signs that reassure attendees they are in the right place. This could mean placing a branded banner right outside the front door. Then, just inside the entrance, make sure that the registration desk or a greeter is stationed within the line of sight. “The more you can have things directly across from you when you walk in, the better," she says. This way, people will start the day confident and feeling like they belong.
Here's a feng shui tip you might not have heard before: Place focal points, like the registration table, on the left of a room. Similar to how we read from left to right “the best flow comes from the left so going to the left feels more comfortable."
2. Strive for Balance
Balance is one of the central tenets of feng shui, and an intuitive concept for laypersons to put into practice. For instance, Colwell recommends arranging a lecture hall's tables symmetrically. “The more balanced it can be on both sides, the more harmonious it will feel," she explains. This sense of order calms the mind. “When you are in an environment you are relaxed in, you have your best shot at feeling the most confident and utilizing the event for networking."
The idea of balance also appears in more complex ways in feng shui: There's a color for each natural element. “Indigo blue would conjure up the water elements, whereas white would be the metal element and fire would be represented by red and purple. Wood would be green and Earth would be yellow. You can bring in representations of each of those colors to balance feng shui in the space. That could look like candles, or the way you're doing your lighting to represent fire, or a fountain to represent water."
With each natural element represented, people will not only feel more harmonious and relaxed, but also transported from the typical stifling atmosphere of fluorescent lighting and rigid folding chairs. They'll pay better attention to lectures and make more comfortable conversation surrounded by reminders of the outside world.
3. Give People Options
Make your professional event inclusive of the many people who will be there, Colwell says. This includes attendees with disabilities or new mothers who need to sneak away to breast pump, as well as both introverts and extroverts. She recommends a “three-tiered approach" for large groups to mingle, smaller groups to sit and have more intimate conversations and booths for privacy.
“Have a combination of areas where you can stand in the room and network, and then have seating that's more introspective, where you can go and feel comfortable to sit with your notebook and make calls. If you have the opportunity to have a couple of tables to sit around with a group, that's good too."
If you have a choice, Colwell recommends something besides the large round tables often found at conferences. “They don't lend themselves to intimacy: You feel you are exposed regardless of what you're doing," she says. “Whether you're by yourself and you don't know anyone, or you are with the people you came with, you don't feel intimate. So, a space where people can gather and talk things through is different from sitting in a brightly lit room where everyone is exposed."
Overall, you don't have to spend a fortune to set the right mood. Just be thoughtful. “We've all been somewhere where it was a drudgery and it didn't make us excited to be there," Colwell says. “But we've also walked into events that make us feel like this is going to be fun. The way to do that is to make people excited with people greeting, colors and flowers. Even if it's a modest space without a big budget, you can make it feel so warm and inviting."