Episode 7

Published on:

5th Oct 2023

Cultivating Communities that Work

What separates a community from an audience? How about the role of in-person events in fostering rich, meaningful connections? Inspired by our enlightening conversation with Emily Thompson, co-founder of Being Boss, we try to answer these questions and more. It's all about building a community that's more than just about content consumption or product purchasing.

Key Topics and Takeaways

0:02:02 - Building and Maintaining a Thriving Community

We talk through the difference between a community and an audience and the importance of not getting in your own community's way. If members don't communicate with each other and build relationships without the leader's presence, it's probably not a community.

0:08:11 - In-Person Events and Community Building

We explore how creating a sense of low stakes can help foster relationships, and how Emily and Kathleen of Being Boss organically created a community by sharing conversations through podcasting. We consider leadership vs being a member of a community, and how events can provide insight into the impact of the work being done. We also look at the differences between in-person and virtual events, and how virtual events can open up geographical access to community members.

0:21:28 - Online Interactions' Impact on in-Person Events

We consider the impact of self-editing online and its relation to meeting people in person. How have the younger generations grown up with the presence of social media and how does that affect the value of in-person meetings? We explore how the future of work will shape our engagement with each other and the role of safety and vulnerability.

Want to dive deeper? Take our free 30 minute training, Community Event Mastery. Access it here.

Next episode:

Intentional Event Design with Rachel Coddington

This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Welcome to Make it Kickass, where we help leaders of growing communities bring their people together with purpose and lasting impact. Join us as we explore how to make events engaging, exciting, energizing and profitable so that you can build a healthy, sustainable community. I'm Isaac Watson, founder and lead strategist at Kickass Conferences.


And I'm Nessa Jimenez, operations Manager, at Kickass Conferences.


Now let's make it kickass together. Hello everyone, we are back with another episode of Make it Kick Ass. Hey, Nessa, what's up?


Hi Isaac.


We are having a little follow up conversation after the last episode, which was our interview with Emily Thompson, co-founder of being Boss and the founder of Almanac Supply Company. Really really great conversation about community and how she was able to build and move her community from being online only into one that thrives off of in-person events. I thought that was really fascinating great topics and things like that. So we have some kind of follow up points we want to cover. But this is your flag if you haven't listened to that episode yet, to go back and listen to it first, so you get all the context, because you know how much we love context, yes, and then all of our discussions will make sense. So, pause, if you haven't heard it, go back. Listen then. Go back and listen to us, continue to talk anyway.

So, Nessa, one of the big things that stood out for me was when we asked Emily how she defines community, and this is something that is near and dear to my heart, because I mean, the work that we do is all centered around community building, and I'm curious for you what stood out, that I'm trying to think about this from the frame of, like, the clients that we typically work with or people we have conversations with who think they're building a community, but maybe they aren't. Actually, they're a little disillusioned by it. So, like what are the? What was the big takeaway for you, right?


So so community was the keyword here and I think community versus audience was really like the crux of the issue. Right, a lot of people are building an audience, thinking that they're making a community, and then they're disappointed when the audience behaves like an audience and not like a community. And when we talk to people who are struggling in that and when we see people kind of fail in building communities or engaging communities, like that's really the problem, like stepping back to the very center, the very core of the thing, like do you actually have a community or do you just have an audience that consumes your content or buys your products, and then like that's it, like that, that's as far as it goes, right. So I I I really appreciated Emily taking us through like that definition and making that distinction, because that's like the first thing you should be checking if, if you're struggling with your community, keeping your community engaged and growing and connecting, like maybe you don't actually have a community.


Right, I think something that came up for me she's the word gatekeeper when we were talking about it about not gatekeeping your community members and not getting in the way of them being able to talk to each other. I attended a conference a while back and heard a talk that was ostensibly about building community. I don't want to name names because that's just not a nice thing to do, but the speaker was talking about how they were cultivating community through a newsletter that was essentially an advice column, and I was listening to this and I was thinking, you know what? There's something, something off about this, and the more that they talked about their, their community, their community and how they would take reader questions and then, you know, pick and choose which ones they want to answer and then and get reader advice and then pick and choose which ones they were going to send out in the next newsletter. I was like that's, that's not community, that's just an audience that is being gate kept to to interaction. It's not even interacting with each other, it's just funneling the content up to the person who's writing it and then funneling it back down out to the people reading it. And I mustered up the courage to talk to this speaker afterward and I kind of called this out in a gentle way and they said actually no, you're right, that is absolutely.

Gatekeeping was the word that they used and in their context they said but honestly, it's better that way, because it allows me to exert some influence on the quality of the advice being given, because not all advice, especially around relationships and dating, is good and and that works really well.

And so that kind of led into this conversation about okay, well, how, how could you actually cultivate community within this group if you wanted to do that? So use that as an example, because I think it's really easy for people, especially as you're building an audience, to think that you have a community. It's a fun word to say, it's just in our vernacular, it's, it's something that we just kind of it's a default word in a lot of cases, but more often than not, I think the word is used incorrectly when we should be using market or audience or consumers. And so I think that, just keeping in mind that, like we are, we when we're cultivating community, we're giving space for those members of the audience to communicate with each other, to support each other, to start to build those relationships that go on without the leader of the community.


Yeah, and that was and that was a big one for me and you mentioned it near the end and I'm glad you did, because that, to me, is the number one sign of knowing the difference. Like if your community quote unquote, falls apart the moment that you walk away, that's not a community.

That's an audience right, like if they're, they're doing fine and together. When you're there but you leave, maybe you're not posting for a couple of days and all of a sudden, like everything's gone, yeah, that's not a community. Because they're not. It needs to exist without you. I think. Ultimately, if your community needs you to be there, you need to be constantly like managing it and like in the day to day and always like babysitting it in a way. That's not a community.


Yeah, I think related to that it's and we talked about this a little bit in the episode is the need to kind of pull your own ego and your own priorities out of the equation. This, you know, community can do wonderful things to benefit a business or professional pursuit. We heard that with Emily's examples of how it kind of leveled up being boss as a business entity and brought in revenue and things like that, but that was, that was a byproduct of it, that wasn't the end goal. And so I think that, if we can, as leaders, we need to kind of back ourselves and our own egos out of the equation and and basically give space and and create an environment that that encourages other people to contribute and to rise up and to lead on their own and and connect with each other in a more human way than just being like I'm the leader. Here's what we're talking about. This is my product that I'm selling.


And community building is a much longer term thing than even audience building, because audience building does take time and investment, and you know it's not an overnight thing, but community, I would say, even more so. It requires an even bigger investment, a bigger dedication to making it happen. Guys, it'll take a lot, much longer time to maybe see those byproducts that you were talking about and then that Emily mentioned. So something to keep in mind as well. Like you want to build a community, but are you in it for the long haul and why, really? Why do you say or do you think that you need to build a community? Right, right, and I think that's a good thing to do yourself, because if you're not willing to put in that time and effort and that work and just accepting that, that it's, that's part of the process, like, maybe you shouldn't be doing this, maybe your time is better spent continuing with that audience or, you know whatever, doing something else.


I think that it's. To me it's about really understanding yourself and your needs and your goals, for whether that's a passion project In the case of Emily and Kathleen when they started being boss in in the case of Tara, making the decision to close down her community and move into something that was more sustainable for her, it takes a lot of self-reflection and acceptance of an understanding of what we need as individuals, and that goes for the leaders as much as it goes for the members of the community. And so I think, like community is formed in all different kinds of ways, I think in Tara's case, she has a couple of core friends. With this kind of low stakes, you know, expectations can take the pressure off relationships which, in you know, for her personally and for her work environment and the way in which she chooses to and needs to engage with others, works really well. Right, she's found the equation that works for her, but she's also not seeking to create and lead a community that does that. Right, she's shifted her priorities.

I think in the case of Emily, this was I mean, you heard her talk. Her and Kathleen started this because they were doing, you know, skype calls on their own, talking about business, and then they were like wait, a second, other people might find this useful. Let's just like share these conversations, essentially through this magical new thing called podcasting. And then that organically grew. It was not a designed thing for them. They were just like you know what, let's just put this out there into the world. The world aided up and as a result, they were like oh, I think there's something here. Let's, let's gather some people together in person. And it just grew from there. And I think that, at the core, the two of them understood when they started that they needed this for them.


They needed to have these conversations, and I think what Emily was speaking to was that being a community where there were probably other people out there that needed to be a community member, and those aren't necessarily the same thing. You can lead a community and not be a member of it, and I think too many people think that that is an automatic, like a given, and that's not. You can be really good at creating a community for, for you know, creating a space for people and you not be part of that community?


So I think I'm thinking about what Emily and I talked about in our session. At podcast movement, where we were, we used a diagram that showed kind of your market, which is the group of people. The big circle is the group of people that could possibly be interested in what you have to offer. And if your audience, which are the people who have said, yes, I'm interested in what you have to offer, and then within that you can build a community, which is a subset of your audience, that is, the people who are engaging with what you have to offer or what you're trying to cultivate, and then, and by building that community, you're helping them connect with each other and you're creating something that is bigger or more impactful than just what you are offer or service or what your goal is. Essentially. I think, as we think about community building, especially like in the online entrepreneur space, people tend to gravitate when you say community to oh, I have a membership program.




And that can be a community, but the mere act of creating the membership program and enrolling people in it doesn't mean you have one. I think that's another example where people often use the term community when it isn't actually one.


And, for me, something that I really enjoyed was when she brought up the fact that events can be a source of feedback and it's a good way of understanding the impact of what you're actually doing, because she mentioned how they make the podcast, but until they did the events, that's when they actually understood the impact of the work that they were doing in the conversations that they were having and I thought that was beautiful.


Yeah, I loved the anecdotes about people meeting in the elevator and starting a business project together or just feeling coming people coming out of the woodwork and really kind of connecting and building friendships that are lasting beyond, beyond the life of the podcast and beyond the life of you know, beyond that moment in time.

It was interesting to me during that conversation was I was thinking about you know, I had interviewed on the Access Ideas podcast and we got into a bit of a conversation, but I was going on and on about in-person events and how magical they are, and Yana, the host, said well, wait a second, what about virtual? Like virtual events are still right? And I think, yes, absolutely, and Emily spoke to this as well right, that, like the online community is a critical piece of it and the in-person events have this special role that they play. What I think is really interesting is that, at least from what I've seen in my experience and maybe I'm wrong in this a community will often, especially in the modern age, a community will often start online and then it will move to in-person through a segment of that community. Right, because obviously not everybody's going to attend.

It rarely goes the other way. You can have a community start in person and then continue to gather in person, but I have not seen a successful in-person community transition to an online format as a means of growth or deeper connection. Does that make sense?


That does make sense and that's really interesting, because I actually haven't thought about it in that way. So I'm trying to think like is there?


Yeah, I'm sure there are examples, but I think more often than not because of the geographical accessibility right Like Emily was talking about all the people that she's met across the world.

We've seen this with our clients, with online events and how that just opens doors, virtual doors, to people who are not living within a specific country or geographical area. That kind of access is useful and great and beneficial and it expands your reach. And in-person events can't really achieve that same thing, because there's so much more involved in participating in an in-person event when you're halfway across the world. But I still see, like more often than not I see an online community that then gathers in person as kind of a first-time thing to deepen those connections and to take things to the next level with that segment of the community, and I think that that's a really. I mean, this goes back to the marble run analogy that we use in our work about events as a momentum giver to the steel ball that runs through your fantastical machine of community, and I think that in-person events will always hold that kind of gine sais quoi, of human magic, I think, and you can create elements of that through online gatherings for sure. There's just something special there.


Yeah, and talking about that something, I think for me that something is it has a beginning, a middle and an end, whereas virtually it doesn't necessarily ever end or even have a beginning.

It's just like a kind of thing that's there.

It's like social media, for example it's never ending, right, there's always something new, whereas part of what makes an in-person event special is that, oh, we're only here for this amount of time and then it'll be over, and then we have to go back to whatever we were doing.

And that limiting lends itself to a special appreciation and an energy that you're not getting when you're posting every day on social media again and again and again, right, and consuming, and it's exhausting. And you're right when you say that virtual communities they do use events as a way of deepening that relationship and they still maintain the virtual presence, right, it's not like they stop being online, but the events keep that relationship deeper, like if you do an event once and then you never do it again. Eventually that magic, that thing kind of fades because it's been so long and I forgot what it was like, where new people have come in, that they've never experienced it before, so they don't have that frame of reference, right. And so you see these communities coming back every year, every other year, and it's kind of to refresh that magic that they experience.




All right, and lastly, wrapping up, before we finish here, I really like that you mentioned I think it was you that mentioned it, maybe. Thank you authenticity online versus authenticity in person, and you said that and you answered that question and I immediately was like, yeah, cause it's much harder to bullshit people in person. You know, it requires a level of effort that is not necessary when you're just making a post and writing like whatever story I want you to believe, right? And that's another element of that, that magic of in person, where, if, if you're trying to weave a tail, you're going to have to work much harder at it when we're meeting in person, versus that like filter that we have online.


Yeah, yeah, I think even even in the most intimate online communities there's a level of affectation, or digital posturing right, or presentation making. We have a tendency and I think this is just internet culture to purify ourselves as best as possible, put our best foot forward, because a lot of it is a sink. We can edit ourselves in advance and compose the best version of what we want to say, and so it's a lot easier, even if we're not like, if we don't have bad intentions. I'm not saying a lot of people are going around catfishing or anything, but even if you have the best of intentions, there's an inclination to self edit and hold back. Or, you know, especially in like business communities, right, like there's a little bit of competition, there's that expectation.


I think that you do that especially and looking at it generationally, because I started having access to the online world like at nine years old, but it wasn't what it is now right, and thinking about Gen Z and these younger people that are they really did grow up with, like social media and all these things, there is an expectation of like, yeah, you have to edit yourself, yeah, you have to Photoshop, yeah, you have to be, as you know, as shiny and whatever is possible and make people think that like you're, oh my God, the coolest thing ever.

But I think that also leads to younger generations being less enthusiastic about meeting in person. I've noticed this Interesting Like I have like my little cousins who are like 19 and 20 and they talk about that they don't wanna meet people that they know online because they know like, oh God, you know, like all this bullshitting that we've done, that's expected. Like I can't sustain that you know in person. And so it also makes me think about how does that affect events then as we move forward and Gen Z is now more like in the workforce and all that stuff, and how?

does that influence how we meet and what it means. Because if you also if you're not used to meeting people in the real world first, what does that mean then? Right, like, how does that affect how we meet, how we wanna meet people and how we do that, and what that means to us? Like, does it have the same value to a younger person that it does to us millennials and older? That that was just the norm?


I think you just opened up an existential can of event worms Because I don't know, and at risk of becoming the boomers talking about the millennials, but us being millennials talking about the Gen Zs. That is a great question. I think that there is a lot. I think some of this goes back to this quote, unquote conversation culturally about the future of work and how we engage with each other, what in-person office time it looks like versus working from home or working remotely. I think a lot of that still has to play out, but I think the part of it is fueled by the younger generations tendencies toward staying online. It's safer there, right? They can hide in a more beneficial way, right, like they don't have to be vulnerable, they don't have to be authentic.

I don't know that I have a good question or answer to that question with regard to events. What I think, what occurred to me, though, as you were getting into that, is that we talk about this affectation online. There is still an affectation in person, but it manifests in different ways, right. It's how we dress. I'll be the first one to tell you that I painstakingly curate my wardrobe To give the vibe that I wanna give at things right.

Which is also a coping mechanism for being highly introverted. But there are the ways in which we talk to people at events, at conferences in particular, I think about. There is still some self-censoring and editing and things like that that happen. But I think that when you are in-person and I don't know how to swing this back over to the Gen Z question, but I think that when you are in-person it is a lot harder because there's so many more social cues, there's body language, there's energy, whatever you wanna call that.

I talk about this multi-sensory experience of the in-person event and the fact that it's synchronous. You are all there at the same time doing the same not the same thing, but experiencing the same things. It changes how we relate to each other and it's provides for more human connections, because there's multiple connections. It's like, oh, the AC was really cold over here, so I moved over here and then by chance, I met someone who was a friend of a friend, like they're much more serendipity and circumstance in that that I think we have yet to find ways to replicate that in an online environment.

I guess.


Yeah, and I think I know you say that you didn't answer the question, but in what you said I think you did answer the question.

So what I'm hearing from you is so, first of all, 100%, it is absolutely truly true that as long as there have been human beings, human beings have we been trying to gussie ourselves up with our clothes and our makeup and the way we present ourselves? So what I hear there is that the way we do it, virtually that's just the manifestation of the same thing, and we've always been able to get through that right and make connections with each other regardless of that. So I heard that. I also hear the fact that in-person events, since they are ephemeral, they are not eternal the way that what you post online is. There is a kind of liberation and safety in that, where it's like, yeah, we're just here for a couple days and then it's gone, you know, it's over, like I'm not worried about this is the way I'm worried about whatever I'm posting, that it might get me canceled or whatever right, right, and like you know people don't hold that as like.


people may remember what you say to them, especially if you make an off-color comment or, you know, say something mean or whatever, but it's not like in the paper of record for your life, right Like, in the way that social media is for some reason, which is so funny because so much of you know, I was a very early Twitter adopter. Rest in peace. And it was the longest time. I treated Twitter as just like dream of consciousness shitposting right, right, right. It's worthless drivel, it's just a way to put my thoughts out right Like. And yet that somehow is now canon in my life because it's Right.


Because, yeah, no, you're right, because that shitposting that you did 10 years ago, that can come about you in the ass and destroy your life because somebody decided that they wanted to. You know, we see this all the time, right, like people are getting, they're losing their jobs, they're getting canceled because of stuff they tweeted 10 years ago. Right.


Because apparently we are not allowed to learn and grow as human beings. Yes, right, right.


Yeah, no, but that's the number two that I see there, where you're talking about it's not the fact that events are beginning, middle and end that lends itself to a little bit of more freedom. And then, lastly, what I hear you're saying is that it is now the responsibility, now more than ever, for events and event producers to create spaces, not safe spaces, but that's what I was going to say. But what I mean is creating an environment where people feel comfortable to show up, right.

I think, now more than ever, that's what people want. People are not wanting to show up to events where they're not feeling included, they're not feeling welcome, they're not feeling seen. Especially I think we mentioned this in maybe last week's episode how post-pandemic people are really reconsidering the things that they're showing up for.


That's exactly what I was going to say. Is that, especially in the context of work events, right? Because it's not. I think that's the whole reason that our industry is in this state of what's going on, because I think we culturally have been forced into a massive re-evaluation of values and priorities across everything that we do.


Right, all right, well, I think we answered that question. We solved it. Yes, yay.


We have simply identified the problem. Yes, we are not the first.


Thanks for listening to this episode of Make it Kick Ass. We hope you found it entertaining and helpful. If hosting a community event is on your radar, visit geteventlab.com to take our free 30-minute training called Community Event Mastery. That's geteventlab.com, or use the link in the show notes. Make it Kick Ass is hosted by Isaac Watson and Nessa Jimenez. Post-production audio by Chris Nelson at Mittens Media. Our theme song is Feel it by Dojo for Crooks. Make it Kick Ass is a production of Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and design agency serving leaders of growing communities.

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About the Podcast

Make It Kickass
Community Event Mastery
Make It Kickass explores how leaders of growing communities can make conferences with impact, gatherings with purpose, and an attendee experience that knocks their socks off. We uncover the strategies, tactics, and tools we use every day to bring our clients’ conferences to life. If you've ever wanted to host a life-changing conference, this podcast is for you.

Find us at kickassconf.com or geteventlab.com

About your hosts

Isaac Watson

Profile picture for Isaac Watson
Isaac Watson is the founder and Executive Producer at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. Isaac helps community leaders develop and deliver transformative events for their audiences and inspire them to build a better world.

A maker and introvert at heart, when he’s not working his magic behind the scenes in event strategy and production, he’s usually at home in Vancouver, Washington working on remodeling projects, gardening, cooking, learning to sew, and building LEGO.

Nessa Jimenez

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Nessa Jimenez is the Operations Manager at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. She coordinates the day to day work with our clients and vendors, keeps all of our projects rolling on time and now edits and produces the podcast.

Nessa lives in and works from Puerto Rico. When she's not working, you can find her reading a book or trying to figure out how to keep her plants alive.