How to Turn Your Event into a Little Community
In order to run a successful event, you need your attendees to become engaged with the experience. Having a good time isn’t enough. You want them invested in your event so they spread the word and come to the next one.
The best way to engage a person is to build a relationship. As a brand, it’s tough to create that connection. It’s possible, but you have a much better tool at your disposal: Your other attendees.The best way to engage your event attendees is to foster relationships. Click To Tweet
By fostering a community atmosphere at your events, you can help your guests become engaged by building relationships between them. You can give them something to come back to: Other people, smiling faces, interesting conversations, and friendships.
When you focus on community-building, you get these important benefits:
1. People get excited about attending. They spend more time looking forward to the event, talking about it with other people, and encouraging their friends to come along.
2. People become more engaged during the event. They participate in more activities, pay more attention during presentations, and talk more with other attendees.
3. People maintain relationships between events. Attendees keep in touch outside of the event for personal or professional reasons. (Plenty of marriages have sprung from events.) This amplifies the value of your event because it’s useful even when you aren’t hosting one.
4. People are more likely to attend the next one. The attendees look forward to more events because it gives them opportunities to engage with the rest of the community.
Today, let’s talk about building that community atmosphere. How does an event organizer create a community
Start your community-building early
Have you ever played one of those cringe-worthy icebreaker games in an office or college? Remember how awkward and uncomfortable everyone felt?
That’s what happens when an organizer tries to force relationships. No one is going to make friends with another person because they listed three mundane facts about themselves. Everyone just rushes through those “games” to get through their turn.
Communities of people take time to form. They can’t be rushed. A group of people will only become familiar if they are given time to coalesce organically through repeated positive interactions.
An event is the perfect setting to bolster a community, but a key way to keep your attendees engaged (the main goal of most organizers) is to put that community in place before the event day. That way once everyone shows up, they’ll have a foundation of relationships to build upon.
Here are some ways you can build a community before your event day:
- Create an online community spot, such as a Facebook group or Slack channel.
- Send out regular emails to your soon-to-be attendees with lots of value.
- Follow your attendees on social media and engage with them.
- Highlight your guests through interviews, articles or videos (focus on people).
Create some organic “non-event” events
We once met an event organizer who left a display of free cigars on the patio during a conference. She arranged to have some of her speakers step outside at prearranged times for a casual smoke. Like clockwork, attendees would follow the influencer to the patio and puff a free cigar, even though they weren’t regular smokers.
In this instance, the attendees felt they were getting some personal time with the speaker. The cigars were just an excuse to be on the patio. It was a little event within the event that felt organic, but was really a ploy by the organizer. Genius, right?
You don’t have to be that manipulative, but the trick is to help people have a good time without overtly influencing their participation.
For instance, it’s not uncommon for a multi-day event to schedule mini-events outside of business hours, like a “Dinner for Database Administrators” or “Happy Hour with Wedding Makeup Artists.” Conventional wisdom says to throw these mini-events on your itinerary, blast them out over email and social media, and hang signs in the lobby.
But those could feel forced, which erode their effect on your community-building.
Instead, try something more organic. Have a speaker announce that he’ll be having dinner at a nearby restaurant and anyone is welcome to join him. You may have organized the whole thing (including the reservation), but it will feel like a natural community occurrence to your guests.
(Note: In some cases, scheduling these types of mini-events is absolutely important, especially if you have lots of people coming from out of town who need to nail down their itinerary. Mix scheduled and organic mini-events until you get a read on what your community prefers.)
Have fewer, smaller events
When you’re surrounded by a sea of strangers, it’s easy to become anonymous. You can sit alone, fiddle with your phone, and silently take in the experience.
But you probably wouldn’t meet anyone. That’s exactly how event attendees at massive events with guests from all over the world behave. There’s just too much going on to become invested in anything.
If you want your attendees to get to know one another, try hosting smaller events. An intimate setting will give everyone the opportunity to introduce themselves without feeling exposed. They’ll have the chance to interact in a low-pressure environment.
Having smaller events means you could have them more often. It’s tough to make relationships with people you only meet once a year, but friendships can form if your attendees see each other every quarter or every other month.
This piece of advice isn’t for everyone, however. In some industries and professions, people expect a big event. As always, it’s important to know your audience.
Give them experiences, not things
Many events give their attendees some type of swag. It might be a water bottle, a T-shirt, or a pocket calendar no one will ever use. The organizers think they’re adding value to the event, but more often than not, these items just end up forgotten.
These days, people are more concerned about experiences and memories than material benefits. (The science supports it, too.) Instead of another pen, they would rather you put that money into the production value of the event.
Take whatever you would spend on swag and spend it on an interesting exhibit, an exciting presentation, or an influential speaker who requires a bigger fee. Or you could add more unrelated perks, like an hour of open bar, free appetizers, or a discount on hotel accommodations.
Remember this: Your goal is to make your event memorable so your attendees go home, tell their friends, and come to your next one. A plastic water bottle will not accomplish that.
If you want to make a community, you have to join it
You can’t build a community without being a part of it yourself. Eventually, the community will take a form of its own and evolve in its own way. But in the beginning, it needs a leader. It needs someone to introduce people to one another, encourage participation, and drive the experience.
Unless you have the cash to designate a community manager, that has to be you. Don’t be afraid to engage personally with your attendees. They need your direction.
If you plan early and create a personal, organic experience, you’ll foster a healthy community that will be engaged with your events and drive much of your marketing.