Some of the most memorable events are fondly remembered not for the scheduled activities, but instead for the people that show up. Having guests feel like they’re part of a group goes a long way. A sense of community might be just the thing that convinces attendees to come back again and again.
Fortunately, achieving that friendly vibe isn’t just down to luck. Of course, there’s a bit of chance involved depending on who shows up, but there are also lots of tried-and-true tactics you can borrow from the pros to help conference goers feel like they’re truly part of a community.
Let’s get started on our top five tips — and don’t miss our bonus one at the end!
Display live social conversations
Have you ever seen one of those screens that shows people’s posts on social media in real time? (I saw one in a hotel lobby once and was so impressed that I ran out to Instagram something so I’d show up on it, too!). They are actually really easy to set up – just use a program like Social Screen and it’ll do most of the work for you.
The one thing you do have to prepare on your end is a hashtag, so that the program can pull together all the content people are posting using that hashtag. Let attendees know what the hashtag is, and encourage them to get sharing on their social media channels. Display the screen in a place lots of people will walk by so that everyone knows it’s there. Don’t forget to include instructions for how they can be featured on the screen!
Not sure how to create a hashtag? Here are some good guidelines to get you started. You can always pull in the help of experts if you need to.
Keep it fairly small
We think under 100 people is the magic number. Sure, some people will tell you that bigger is always better, but they’d be wrong (in our humble opinion, of course). Really big events with thousands and thousands of people are often incredibly overwhelming. It can also be hard to get to know people, because everybody is busy running around trying to meet as many contacts as possible. On top of that, you really are just one little person in the big crowd there.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — especially if you’re one of the people making money off of all those admission tickets — but it’s not very conducive to creating a real sense of community. That’s why we recommend keeping your event reasonably sized. The ideal event is big enough that you’ll meet lots of new people, but small enough that you get a chance to talk to a good percentage of the attendees.
Use your contacts — and their contacts, too!
You know about six degrees of Kevin Bacon, right? In theory, they say everyone is connected to the actor with six people or fewer.
Today, you can play a more modern version of it and see how many steps away from Mark Zuckerberg you are with your Facebook account. Check it out here – I’m 3.17 degrees away from the Zucks and 2.92 away from Sheryl Sandberg. They say the average is 3.57 degrees away from anyone (I assume that includes Kevin Bacon).
So, where are we going with this? You’re probably just a few people away from getting in touch with just the right people to come to your event. Take advantage of your contacts, and see if they’d be willing to invite people from their contact list too.
Even if you don’t know them, you’ll already have at least something in common (both knowing the same person). It’s also a great way to get to know more people involved in similar activities and with similar interests and goals. If the aim of your event is to get networking done, then this is even more reason to get networking beforehand!
Communicate with your guests after the event is over
Sending your guests a follow-up thank you message after the event is a common courtesy. It can also be a good way to foster a sense of community, as you can take the opportunity to help people stay in touch after the event. You could do things like offer a list of everybody’s contacts on LinkedIn so that people can connect there. Maybe you have the information from the event registration and can compile the list yourself. You could also create a spreadsheet in Google Docs and have people add their own information.
For any communications you send out after the event, keep a friendly tone and phrasing. You can definitely use language to further drive home the idea that you’re going for an inclusive group feeling here.
Call all speakers and guests by name
Calling people Mr., Ms. or Mrs. Smith can create a very formal feeling. Instead, call people by their actual names, and make an effort to remember them, too. It helps people feel like they matter, and that’s a key step to creating a real community. It can be a bit tough to remember everybody’s names, so consider having name tags on hand to make things easier. You can also use some tips from Forbes magazine to get better at remembering names.
If you’ve followed our tip from above and have a relatively small event (under 100 people), then you could also review the names on the guest list ahead of time in blocks of 20 people. That way, when you meet your guests in person, their names will already be familiar and will probably have a better chance of sticking.
BONUS TIP – Invite people to participate
A big element of making people feel like they belong to a community is feeling like their opinions are valued. Encourage people to participate and make their voices heard. If your event guests know their is a space where their thoughts and input are welcome, they’re much more likely to get involved. Once people get involved personally, they’re more likely to feel like they’re part of the community and a valued member.
Thanks for sticking with us until the end of the article. There’s one thing all of these tips have in common — they really don’t require a huge amount of effort on your part. With just a tiny bit extra, you’ll be able to create an event where people will feel like they’re part of a community rather than just another face in the crowd. Not only will a sense of community help make your event a success, but it’ll also help encourage people to come back if you decide to have a repeat event.
If you’re interested in learning more handy tricks to help make your event a success, why not click on over to our infographic? We’ve rounded up 50 ways you can pull off the best event ever. Most of them are simple ones like this list that you can put into action nearly instantly. We hope you enjoy them!