Events as core to building community

This is a reflection on my years doing events as part of my community building efforts. The world has definitely flipped, but maybe some of my reflected thoughts and processes are helpful to others.

Before covid I spent years doing real life events, mostly conferences but also plenty of meetups too. I put a lot of thought into these events and, honestly, they've been life changing.

There were many things I definitely didn't want them to be, but at the center of it I knew that they had to be a valuable part of the communities I ran. I didn't want to run events then forget about the community until the next event happened.

Pre-covid, I feel, this is how people often treated events. You were forgotten about until the next event. And of course the next time you had to part with some money. This always troubled me and made me think carefully about how I approached things.

Not all events build community

There is so much you can learn about creating events from participating in them.

Pay attention and learn from real life experiences. No book or course will ever be able to teach you this.

In my early days of tech I went to a few events where I felt a part of them and truly felt energised by the experience. Then I went to a few that were disappointing, like totally disappointing. Not only did I waste my time and money, but my confidence as a person dropped too. This set me off on a casual journey of learning about what made good events.

I personally live in a world where I love to learn how things are done by studying things in real life. When it comes to events, for me, the best way to learn about them is to research, attend, speak or volunteer for them.

So this is what I did. Out of curiosity I would research, sign up or volunteer at events and closely watch every little detail. I quickly started seeing that the good events were ones that had a real community behind them. The ones with community gave me a positive experience and made me feel like I belonged.

Learning from others

I developed a habit of lurking on some events. I was curious as to how some were more successful than others.

I would ask myself questions, for example:

  • what was their website like?
  • did they have some kind of community behind them?
  • who were their speakers?
  • how did they go about sourcing speakers?
  • what were their sponsorship packages like?
  • did they sell speaker slots?
  • if I attended, what was my experience on the day?
  • did I meet or keep in touch with anyone?
  • did I feel welcomed?
  • were there opportunities to feel like I belonged?
  • how big were the events?
  • how much money did I think they were making?
  • what kind of formats did they do?
  • what communications were they sending out?
  • if I made an enquiry, how would they respond?
  • what was their code of conduct?
  • were there any videos of previous talks available?
  • what about photos?
  • who was actually talking about the event?
  • how did they give back to their community?
  • did they have free or cheap tickets for under represented folk?
  • how did they make me feel?
  • what ticketing system did they use?
  • how can attendees keep in touch?

These questions would naturally send me on a journey of learning how events were operating. Most of the time I never had a full picture, but gathering mental notes, here and there, really helped build up my own personal knowledge base.

Over time I would end up building my own set of ideas for the events that I wanted to create. I would take these ideas and adapt them to the things I was building. I would always add my own spin based on things that were important to me.

Creating events where people feel like they belong

Here's the thing.

Anyone can put on an event. Anyone can make it look appealing and have 'wonderful keynote speakers'. But not everyone seems to be able to create an event where people feel like they belong. Where they get real value and a buzz. And when it is over they are exhausted yet energised by the whole experience.

People may not remember all the activities and talks, but they will remember how you made them feel.

This is what will keep people coming back.

The tricky part is that there is no quick solution to achieving that feeling of belonging. It's not something that can be forced unnaturally through speakers and marketing.

Belonging comes from building relationships, trust and understanding of your people, which is essentially community building.

Examples of how I personally feel like I belong at events when:

  • I feel comfortable in my surroundings
  • I've spent time (on or offline) with these people before.
  • The people are my people
  • I have some kind of trust in the people the content is relevant
  • I feel like we have a similar vision
  • I am valued
  • I'm not a number
  • My input is acknowledge
  • The event experience is circulated back into the community

Creating events that contribute to creating a long term vision + value

I'm a sucker for efficiency and long term value of any work I do.

I know I won't make a real impact with one off and short term activities.

The value of some meetups and events is being in the moment and experiencing it.

However, often growth comes in creating a valuable and long term investment in the learning and building of community.

For me this has also worked well by combining it with a long term vision, that way the people who are onboard are all (hopefully) heading in the same direction.

Communities that I tend to get involved with seek change. Not only does change take some time, it also requires doing the work of communicating, over and over again.

Creating long term value with events:

  • Give your people opportunities
  • Build trust and relationships
  • Study your people
  • Deliver what you feel they need and want
  • Always look to give maximum value
  • Don't just ask for feedback, have constant and ongoing conversations
  • Try new things
  • Commit to a vision
  • Repurpose and reuse activities and content

Creating events that bring possibility

Much of the communities that I have created have been about bringing change and possibilities.

I once ran a coworking space. Many people there believed in the possibility of being and working for themselves and/or in collaboration with others. The events I put on really brought people together and helped them building trust with one another.

Ministry of Testing was all about seeking change for the industry. We invested in new voices through the community. We engaged with them online, then gave them opportunities to volunteer, facilitate or speak at our events. We gave them a voice and a connection, and the possibility to change the industry and advance their own career.

People will switch off if they can't see the opportunity that an event could bring them. You may be surprised at how well people tune in if people believe in the vision and the possibilities it brings.

Having a common alignment is powerful. It helps people come together and make amazing things happen.

😊 Thanks for reading.

How can we build better communities?

We are on a quest to learn and explore what makes great communities.


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