Wednesday morning I set out for the Tel Aviv port with the mission of seeing what would happen if I combine Jeff Pulver's Social networking breakfast with the Free Hugs Campaign.
I put together a few dozen "Free Hugs" tags, put them out on the table, put one on myself, recruited Jeff to the campaign, and we were all set for the Free Hug Social Networking event.
It didn't work out amazingly well: only a few people chose the tags, and a few hugs were exchanged, but not enough to significantly change the ambiance. Well, what did I expect?
It takes a while for the movement to catch on, and it takes a while to change group dynamics. Honestly speaking, there's only so much warm and fuzzy feeling you can infuse to a networking event. But it was a fun experiment. And it's all about fun, if you ask Jeff.
Over the last few months, I've been working on adopting hugs as the standard greeting in some of my communities, rather than the standard kiss on the cheek. It makes a difference in the group dynamics. It takes some guts and it takes some persistence, but my finding is it is worth it when it comes to creating a warmer group atmosphere.
If you are a community leader, to be effective you need to create a group people want to belong to. For voluntary groups, one of the major obstacles is preventing people from leaving. Although it seems trivial, greeting people with a warm hug can make a huge difference. You might be saying to yourself that this doesn't make sense in some contexts, but I have had success with the Green Party (political) group, which is a pretty serious context.
Think about how you feel as an onlooker, sitting in a coffee shop. A couple of people are at a table, and they are joined by their colleagues. As each one arrives, everyone stands up and hugs everyone (with a huge smile, because it's almost impossible to hug without smiling). You want to be a part of that.
If you aren't convinced, just watch the videos.... Free Hugs Campaign.