Veteran speaker Simon Salt has a theory about what makes an event successful. The secret sauce, he says in his post, Why Events Fail…and how to fix them, is community:

“The outcome of building a strong community is that when they come together in real life you end up with a stellar event.”connected-people-ii-1164703-1280x960

Live Versus Virtual Events

The craving for community is part of what keeps live events relevant, even as various forms of virtual gathering continue to gain momentum. There’s nothing quite like face to face interaction to cement a link with someone you normally only see online or talk to on the phone. There’s no online experience that quite compares to being in a room with people with whom you share something important.

Another Way to Create Community

Salt argues that, for an event to benefit from this, community building has to happen outside of the scope of the event itself, and I do agree with that.

However, there is also huge opportunity to build that community within the events themselves. Some of this happens organically, as attendees share experiences, listen to the same speakers, and chit chat on breaks and during social activities.

In a standard speakers/workshops/networking program, however, community building benefits can be unevenly distributed. Good networkers and extroverts do best, while those who are more reserved, shy, or less skilled tend to get the short end of the stick.

With a little clever planning, events can be leveraged into far more powerful and equitable tools for community building. The trick is to be very intentional about fostering connections between attendees, and to the higher purpose that brings them together in the first place.

Introduction activities, trust building activities, small group dialogues: done right, these are tools that can transform a group into a community. They guide attendees to a deeper level of connection with one another. They also plant the seeds of meaningful conversations: conversations about why they are each there, why the focus of the event is important, and how they can support each other to be successful.

When attendees support each other in pursuit of worthwhile goals, it’s powerful. It’s something you can build a community around.

How To Get More Out of Speakers, Socials, and Breaks

This is not to say that the traditional elements of event programming should be tossed out. Participant-based programming is not a replacement for speakers and unstructured networking. It’s a complement to them:

  • Imagine how much more impactful a great speaker becomes when her talk is followed by small group discussions about how each member of the audience might apply it to their own situation.
  • Imagine how much more effective a networking break is when all the people there have first participated in a short get-to-know-you session with each other.

Imagine how attractive an event becomes when it delivers on the heartwarming promise of the old song,

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

Through strategic use of participant-based programming, event organizers can create that, making our events irresistible in the process.