A friend was over for lunch the other day and she got herself some ice from the dispenser on our refrigerator door. Our dog quickly ran over to her and sat, looking up at her expectantly. My friend was confused until I explained that in our house, every time you get ice you have to toss a few cubes on the floor for the pup. For some reason, it is Pepper’s favorite treat.
It’s such second nature to all of us in the house that we don’t even think about it. But of course, when someone new comes in it isn’t at all apparent that when you get a glass of ice water you need to throw ice cubes on the floor.
We all have these little quirks in our homes, our organizations, and our events. There’s the chair that only the boss is allowed to sit in. There’s the unpublished karaoke afterparty. There are the receptions that you have to go to if you want to advance your career. There are the receptions you don’t know about unless you are on a special list. All of these things that you only know if you’ve been around for a bit and have figured out the codes.
I see it a lot when we assess events. Part of my job is to go onsite and attend our client’s events and provide recommendations for improvement. This usually means I’m acting as a first-time attendee. I’m navigating a new schedule, a new crowd of people, and a new set of “house rules.” Sometimes it’s easy to figure out the little quirks. Sometimes it’s frustrating trying to keep up. Probably a lot of times I don’t even know what I’m missing.
When we work to bring people together intentionally, we have to think about how to explain the house rules. Even if you do a good job with your “know before you go” email, that is probably mainly focused on logistics. Remember we want to activate the Belonging tier on Maslow’s hierarchy, and to do that, you have to radically welcome people in.
When you go on your site visit, find out what the local breakfast favorite/hangover recovery dish is. Ask about the mom & pop stores and the neighborhood coffee shop. Learn some local stories to include in your promotions and interview some hometown heroes if you can.
If your event is in the same city year over year you have a great advantage here. You can publish a list of attendee favorites, and have people vote and submit their own tips. Everyone likes to be seen like, and feel like, an insider.
And for the real story, ask some of your long-time attendees to write their own insider’s guide to the event. Consider a version for students, first-timers, sponsors, and other cohorts. You might even be surprised what you discover yourself.
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