My wife and I spent the past few weeks at the World Cup in Russia.
Players might take home a trophy, but the real winners are fans. Not all the fans mind, but those who go home feeling a stronger sense of pride, who made new friends, who feel an integral part of the group.
This isn’t just true for football (or, sigh, soccer), but for any kind of in-person community events.
Much of this happens naturally. When you drop a group from home into a foreign environment they naturally feel closer to each other (a good reason to host events in a different environment). When you have the presence of other tribes around, they feel closer still. When they go through joys and hardship together, it bonds the group ever tighter.
But most community events do none of this. They force people to sit through 6+ hours of talks to spend an hour or two talking to each other at lunch or at the afterparty.
Or, worse yet, they force everyone to say their name and an interesting fact about themselves (please don’t ever do this).
If there is one great lesson from the world cup (and there are many) it’s to make feeling a powerful community spirit the priority. People can learn anywhere, but they can meet face to face with other people in their tribe only at your event. That’s what the event is about. Don’t waste this rare and precious opportunity.
Give attendees interesting problems to solve in different groups. Have experts on hand not to give lectures, but guide their contributions. Celebrate the successes, commiserate the failures after each project. It can be related to the topic, but it doesn’t have to be.
Teach members about the history of the community and where it’s going. Ensure first-timers know what the community is about. Help nurture stars.
Make it easy to wear group symbols (or, better yet, let them choose from several depending upon what sub-group they best identify with). T-shirts work best, but they’re not the only option.
Have tangible results. What is the tangible outcome of the event people can share and hold? What can they feel they have had a hand in creating? Put something in the hands of attendees they can walk away with. Create artifacts which re-appear at every event.
Have awards for best contributor, best newcomer, top group, and personality of the year etc…
Experts are just the excuse people use to justify going to an event, they really come to the event to feel a part of the community (or not feel left out).
The goal of an event is to send people home feeling the strongest possible sense of pride in the group.