The best events are like small towns

As someone who’s lived in Brooklyn, NY for the past 14 years, I’ve made a realization that many other New Yorkers have too: NYC isn’t just a big city, it’s a network of small towns based on intellectual interests. I spend time in the intellectual small towns related to technology, visual communication, a handful of musicians, co-working, story telling, event production, and innovation. When I go to events related to these areas, I know lots of different people, whom I’ve been seeing for years. Like neighbors in small towns: I’ve seen their evolution, I know their friends and associates. They know the same about me. We frequently have heard each others names uttered by others. Just like a small town.

We meet our intellectual small towns at events; events that have been curated for our communities based on issues we think about, people we admire and see as leaders. These events that have formats and rules that are catered to our values and needs. For example, when I go to a tech event, there is an opportunity to Tweet along through hash tags and WiFi provided. If I go to a story telling event, everyone’s phone has been put away and the drinks are plentiful. If I’m at a visual communications event, there is paper provided and some visual board for me to interact with. The rituals of my community are available to me at a level where I can both expect and assume the tools for those rituals will be there. When indoctrinating a new person into our “small town,” we are able to go down the list of the better events and explain the rules and the layouts with confidence because these events are almost always the same on those fronts. And the critical thing is: we all count on our events to see each other and to re-enforce our community.

What does that mean for event planners? If you want to be well respected within a certain demographic, it’s best to think of yourself as a government official for whatever intellectual community you are organizing an event for. Here’s a checklist for considerations:

  • What sort of internet should be available?
  • What social media concerns should be dealt with for the day? Pinterest board? Twitter hashtag? Something new?
  • What sort of materials will be expected? Does your community draw? Develop? Craft?
  • What sort of areas do people typically network around? Coffee? Recharge stations? Bars? An activity?
  • Does your community require interaction with speakers or do they just want to listen?
  • How active should your social media evangelist be during the day?
  • What sort of presentation formats are common in this community? What usually goes well? What new format could work? (Panels, presentations, interviews, open mic for questions, Twitter questions, etc?)
  • What sort of entertainment will be expected?
  • What sort of food and or drink is typical? Do you need a bar sponsor?
  • Does this community interact with sponsor booths outside the room? Or are they considered crass?
  • Are sponsored breakouts expected? How willing is this group to be marketed to in those sessions?
  • Does this group expect to receive gift bags?
  • How does this group typically like to dress?
  • How do you ensure that your graphical look and feel is consistent and helpful throughout the event? Is it in a style that your group prefers?
  • How much networking should be available? Should it be prompted?
  • What did people in this community say about previous events? The good, the bad and the ugly?

You’ll find that if you’ve created the right event that people will come regularly. You’ll also find them wanting to interact with your community more often, both online and in person. Many may even start to identify themselves as someone who goes to your event when people ask about their interests. In that way, the village you create for the day will live on.

Anything else you’d add to the list?

small-town

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One Response to The best events are like small towns

  1. Jaki Levy April 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    I’d add the following items :

    1. Hashtags – provide clear guidance on what the “official” hashtag for the event is, and what the lead ways are for interacting online will be.

    2. Clear signage – people need to know where they checkin, what the schedule is, and where the bathrooms are. Have these available in multiple formats (people directing traffic), printed signs with big letters, and at the welcome. Think “flight attendant” and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

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