Do you want to learn how to confidently build your event on a strong foundation and methodology that goes beyond all the trendy headlines, engagement tools, latest technology, and is fundamentally timeless, practical, tried and true, that we, at our own agency, have seen great results with? There are three steps and they sound surprisingly simple, but are actually deceptively difficult to truly apply.
1. Know what they need
2. Know what you need
3. Find the overlap
In order to know what “they” need, you first have to know who “they” are. Think about “they” as a broad perspective. Don't think about just the attendees, the people who register, or buy a ticket. Think about everyone: your speakers, your sponsors, your volunteers. As we like to say, everyone from standing on stage to standing room only. Anyone who's having a negative experience or doesn't understand their purpose or role in the event is going to slowly break down the whole event's ecosystem, so you need to broaden your perspective on who “they” are.
Now that we know who they are and have broadened our perspective on that, let's talk about identifying and serving their needs. We can go very complex on this. We can send out fantastic surveys with conditional logic and use cool tech to do it, but it can really be broken down fundamentally to the simple principle of asking people what they need in conjunction with discerning from their perspective what they truly need, even if they're not communicating it.
Let's say we're hosting an event for people that are either coming from a rural area, out in the country, or joining from a coffee shop. In both of these scenarios, they're probably not going to have the strongest internet connection. This would directly impact the event experience we create. Maybe we won’t have as many PDF downloads or we’ll compress the PDF so they download quicker for the internet connection that isn't as strong in the country or the coffee shop. Or maybe we shorten the live event program and have more asynchronous content so they can watch it on their own time and don't have to worry about missing out. We could even have a recording available right after the live event. See how thinking from their perspective can really have a practical impact directly on the event? If you don't know your attendees, who they are, either through demographic information or just simply by asking them, it will probably create a very disjointed and un-customized experience.
We mentioned demographics there. But what does that mean? You can look up the definition of demographics and there's also psychographics, and all different kinds of graphics, even just normal graphic design kind of graphics. But really, all this boils down to is just knowing people, and who they truly are. You can do this through a lot of secondary research like looking at past event data, which is your biggest gold mine. If you've ever collected data at past events, make sure to break that out and look through it in-depth. We can also look at JSON data like behavior on your social media content. What posts perform the best? What has the highest click-through rates in your email newsletter? That helps you start really painting a picture of who your audience is, what they care about most, what behaviors they might have in their lives, and where they might be tuning in from. All of these things can come together so you can craft a truly holistic experience of knowing their needs, not just at a surface level or just what you want to sell them, but what is really impactful and meaningful in their lives and meeting them where they're at.
Now that you know what they need, the next step is to know what you need. You don't want to treat people like numbers. Treat them personally and really focus on meeting their needs. At the same time, numbers for you have to make sense. You have to support your mission. You have to support your organization. Make a profit if you're a for-profit or sustain your mission if you're a nonprofit. So when thinking about what you need, have a holistic approach. Don't think just about, "Oh yeah, we’ve got to sell a bunch of tickets." Or, "We want 5,000 people to show up." Really think about your whole organization, your leadership, your team, and even yourself. What do you all need out of this event? It usually goes far beyond what you think at first glance. The best way we find to do this is hosting a workshop where you can bring all these people together into one room or online and use a virtual white boarding tool to get everyone's ideas out there. Give everyone an equal voice. You’ll be surprised how many times someone from maybe a lower level in the company has a really meaningful, powerful idea that no one would've ever heard because they would not even have invited them into the meeting. Broadening who you invite to that event planning workshop or meeting can be so powerful.
Now that we know what they need and what you need, the last step and the most exciting part is to talk about the overlap. Where do those things come together? That is what creates a truly meaningful event experience. There are three important components. To find the overlap, we look for a shared foundation, mutual revelation, and opportunities for co-creation.
Fundamentally, shared foundation is looking at where are we both coming from that's the same? Where do we share the same perspective, knowledge, or experience? How can that similarity be celebrated? Let’s use an example of a company that makes project management software and maybe experiencing a few issues with their power users. They are having a hard time with the software. In order to address this, the organization is going to host an online event for members only and power users. The first part of finding the overlap is looking for places where there is a shared foundation. We are looking for places where both the event organizers, and the attendees, and not just the attendees, but everyone involved in the event, are coming from the same shared experience, same knowledge, or same perspective. We're looking for that so we can celebrate it together. Since the people attending this event are already power users, they have a higher than usual baseline knowledge of how to use your software. The organization, the event organizer, since they created the software, also have full knowledge about the software. There is a great shared foundation, that both parties really know a ton about this software.
The second part of this finding the overlap step is looking for areas of mutual revelation. Mutual revelation is fundamentally looking for places we differ and where we are coming from. Perspective, knowledge, shared experience, where do we differ, and how can those differences complement one another? We are going to celebrate the sharedness and we're going to look for areas that we can complement one another in our differences. For example, these power users of the software might not be very vocal on the community forums and on the organization's end, they might want to build more features for the power users but aren't hearing from them. So there's a gap there that can be closed with mutual revelation. It will benefit both parties to close the gap.
That brings us to the third part of finding the overlap step, which is co-creation. This is the most powerful and often most overlooked step. It's also the toughest to get right, but the most rewarding when you do. Co-creation should first and foremost be natural. It can't be contrived or forced. It should be a natural result of the previous two steps where you celebrated the foundation and you're complimenting each other with mutual revelation. This co-creation step is going to be natural inspiration for everyone to come together and co-create a better and brighter future together. So back to our software company example. Since both parties have the shared knowledge of a deep experience with how to use the software, but have an opportunity from the revelation around what features are most important, it's probably a natural next step to have part of your event be creating a roadmap together on what features should be prioritized over the next quarter so that power users can inform the organization on what they need and have their voices heard about features they want and need. You've now co-created a bigger, brighter, better future together.
The reason this methodology is so powerful for events is because it comes directly out of shared human experience. This framework can be seen in a lot of different areas such as teams, at your workplace, and even in romantic relationships. Think about a romantic relationship. How does it start off? First you probably share some sort of foundation. You're attracted to each other. You see each other at the same places often. You have a shared activity or hobby and you celebrate that together. In doing so, you lay the foundation for getting to know each other better. How do you get to know each other better? Through mutual revelation of emotions, of thoughts, and of insights which helps close a lot of gaps in your knowledge about one another. You become more deeply connected and find ways where you complement each other. The highest level of co-creation in a romantic relationship would be in marriage, starting a life together in this new committed co-creation that is going to span many, many years. Then the cycle starts all over again. Once married, the cycle starts over where you work from your shared foundation of marriage to work through your differences to create a joyful life together. Throughout that journey as well, you have a lot of intimacy and love for one another usually culminating in co-creating an actual human together.
That’s what makes this so strong as an event framework. It's not just a contrived thing in the event world. It comes out of human experience and is reverse engineered to help create that very human connection and that very human gathering of an event like it should be. That's also why we personally at our company really lead with the idea of hosting people, not events. We focus on everyone from standing on stage to standing room only, the holistic perspective, the human perspective, the relationships. By doing so, we create an environment where everyone knows that they're beloved and that they belong, so they have a positive experience that goes way beyond anything they've ever felt before at any other event.