If you've ever been to an EA conference, you know what I'm talking about.

There is an overwhelming emphasis on "1 on 1s". 

These are meetings that are booked at a specific time, with another person, through Swapcard (or whatever the conference software is). Each is exactly 30 minutes. 

Conference venues quickly end up being designed around "1 on 1s". Two-person tables. Isolated corners. 

This is a bad idea. 

First, there is the obvious formality. Soul-crushing. Blocks a real connection with the other person.

It becomes a business meeting. "How can I extract the maximum value out of you?" Here's our agenda: we are going to talk about these three things together."

Focusing on 1 on 1s forces dehumanizing interactions. You could be getting into a wonderful conversation -- but then they have to go. "Sorry, I'm meeting someone else in ten minutes".

What's even more dehumanizing is, the rigid 30 minute sessions force you to start ranking people. Now it's a race to meet the "most successful" people. You're forced to plan out your entire conference before you've even left your bedroom. 


Reject 1-on-1s, and return to humanity. 

Return to a genuine interest in randomly meeting other people. Return to being friendly, warm, and fun.

The best people I met in the strangest of places. 

Waiting for the toilet. 

On the stairs. 

I waved at a guy, thinking he was someone I had met earlier. He wasn't. But it turned into a long, fascinating conversation. 




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Valid - but for what it's worth, I get a lot of real connection out of them. And I've never raced toward anyone just because they're successful, and I accepted every meeting request. 

Serendipity is good, but it would be very strange if trying to aim for conversations you like didn't improve the resulting conversations.

Don't underestimate the loss of being stuck in conversations for longer than you wanted. There are a lot of personalities who benefit from a time limit. 

I strongly disagree with the sentiment that 1-1s are dehumanizing, as I have found that most of my 1-1s have been friendly, warm, and fun even though they were mostly confined to 30 min.

Something else I can recommend is taking a walk around the block with someone instead of sitting at a table facing each other. This makes it more casual and less formal.

Overall I understand your idea that 1-1s can seem too business-like but my impression is that there are a few tricks to approach them in a way that is more fun.

Regarding your example of meeting the best people in the strangest places, I also make sure to add randomness to my conferences: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ixdejJKnonBmaiF4T/add-randomness-to-your-ea-conferences

Yeah, I like your idea of going out for walks too. I did that with one attendee last time.

I've also found going for walks during 1-on-1s to be nice, to the point that I do this for the majority of my 1-on-1s (this also has the side benefit of reducing covid risk)

I think 1-on-1s have their uses, but at the EA conferences I went to this Spring, I did find myself  wishing that there was more space for unstructured group conversations (e.g., possibly physical spaces where you could go and sit if you were open to conversations with strangers). 1-on-1s can be very intense, and since my aims were somewhat vague, I think I could have gotten value out of meeting and chatting to more people casually.

Like others, I empathise (quite a lot, for reasons stated by Amber) with the gist of this post, but have met a lot of interesting people in (planned) 1-1s. 

I'll just point out one specific point: 

You could be getting into a wonderful conversation -- but then they have to go. "Sorry, I'm meeting someone else in ten minutes".

I think this is a good and prosocial thing to do, and doesn't dehumanize but instead shows respect for the other conference attendees you have meetings with. 

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