Episode 8

Published on:

9th Oct 2023

Intentional Event Design with Rachel Coddington

If you've ever wondered about the inner workings of events like XOXO, World Domination Summit, Sneaker Week, and the One Motorcycle Show, you're in for a treat. Our guest this week, Rachel Coddington, shares the deets on how small teams can manage such large events and handle controversies with grace and poise.

Guest Bio

Rachel Coddington currently works alongside the vibrant minds at Instrument, creating more meaningful experiences across disciplines and skill levels. Her passion lies in formatting moments of togetherness to be accessible and inclusive- which frequently means integrating technology with a more thoughtful lens. 

She has spent the last 10 years creating and managing events, both independently—XOXO, World Domination Summit, Sneaker Week PDX, One Motorcycle Show—and through Design Week Portland as their Managing Director. She prides herself on creating seamless, entertaining, incendiary events with enthusiasm, skill and experience.

Key Topics and Takeaways

0:03:58 - Event Curation and Experiential Design

Rachel touches on two key aspects of event planning and curation. First, she emphasizes the importance of supporting event curators by taking care of logistical details, such as speaker arrangements and accommodations, to allow them to focus on content and experience creation. Second, Rachel underscores the significance of deeply understanding event attendees. This involves not only their interests but also their physical, social, and psychological needs, such as catering to introverts, individuals with social anxiety, and parents with children.

0:17:50 - Security and Inclusion at Events

We talk about XOXO's response to an online harassments campaign targeting one of their speakers. Rachel walks us through the security measures put in place, including the identification of key individuals and potential threats. We also look at extra steps events can take to create space for attendees when an event touches on difficult topics.

0:33:28 - Managing an event team with honesty and empathy

Rachel shares how she strikes a balance between empathy and reality when managing an event team within a large event agency like Instrument. How do we show compassion for a situation and provide what is feasible while being truthful about the company's needs? We also discuss the pros and cons of working for an agency, vs being an independent event producer.

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

Next episode: Building and leading strong event teams

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

Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Welcome to Make it Kick Ass, 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 Kick Ass Conferences.


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


Now let's make it kick ass together. We are back in action with another episode of Make it Kick Ass. I'm Isaac Watson and I am joined by Nessa Jimenez, my faithful and ever intelligent counterpart. Yes, hi everyone and the third trio of this conversational triangle my metaphor is falling apart. Rachel Coddington is here with us today.


I think you meant to say like the third leg of this tripod.


Third wheel what Great.

Yes, I'm a third wheel here definitely I kid, because Rachel and I have known each other for many years. We often refer to ourselves as event besties, and so we have a great rapport, and I'm hoping a lot of that comes through on this episode for you today. Let me give you a little bit of background on who Rachel Coddington is. She currently works alongside the Vibrant Minds at Instrument, a digital agency creating more meaningful experiences across disciplines and skill levels. I can read Her passion lies in formatting moments of togetherness to be accessible and inclusive, which frequently means integrating technology with a more thoughtful lens.

But before that, she spent 10 years creating and managing events, both independently with clients ranging from XOXO, the World Domination Summit, sneaker Week, pdx and the One Motor Cycle Show, along with a lot of others, and as the managing director for Design Week Portland, which for several years was a week-long festival of independently organized design focused events with a lot of really core, fantastic programming. She prides herself on creating seamless, entertaining and incendiary events which we will talk about, but she does so with enthusiasm, skill and experience. I can guarantee you that Rachel Coddington does not mess around. I've seen this firsthand. She also gets things done. She is an absolute inspiring force. It's a damn shame she's not actively working in the event sphere anymore. But without further ado, rachel Coddington we are so happy to be here.


Hello, I'm so happy to be here, yay.


Okay, so I like we met. I didn't remember exactly how we met each other. There's probably a story there. We'll leave it for the show notes or something but we met years ago and I knew that you were involved in XOXO. Maybe it was through World Domination Summit. It was Design.




Oh, maybe it was Design Week. That's right. I think what stood out to me about the things that you were working on at the time is that they were so intentional and the word curation was thrown around a lot, and I think it is still to this day thrown around as a way of approaching events. But I'd love for you to talk a little bit about your experience working with these clients and in working at Design Week Portland, and how you approach this curatorial aspect in creating an event experience for people.


Yeah for sure. So curation is such a funny word because I don't consider myself to be a curator at all, or I didn't for many years because I wasn't curating the conference speakers or I wasn't curating specifics around the content. But in reality, curating an event experience is an absolute thing and that's what I was doing. I just didn't know the word for it, so I think it's too pronged like. The first thing that I became very focused on was making sure that the folks who were curating were not bogged down by other details. So like if someone was, for example, Andy Bale from XOXO, one of the best curators of the universe, when he was curating an event, I wanted to make sure he wasn't bogged down in the speaker hospitality side of things. Once he found someone, he could hand them to me and I could handle all of the details, the billing and the accommodations and how did they come on site and what were their needs, and all of that stuff could be handed over so that he could keep his own mind focused on the actual curation process. That was one end of it, and then the other side of it was curating the rest of the event, and I mean I've spoken about this to anyone who will listen for 10 years.

But 99.9% of that is understanding your attendee and understanding what they want out of an event, because the people who are attending a tech conference for two days that has five speaker tracks is a very different person than someone who wants to go to four different design events in Portland Oregon and is bringing their kids with them. Those are just two distinctly different attendees and so a lot of the hard work that I had to do in these situations was to understand the attendees. So the people who are curating are frequently the ones who understand their attendees as well. So it means kind of being in lockstep with them to listen carefully about the people they're curating so you can understand why the attendees will like them and then you'll understand the attendee a little better. So just really close relationship with those higher level curators to get all that info. I just talked a lot.


No, that was amazing. What are some of the other tactics you would use, especially? I'm thinking I love this because you were often working on the on the experiential design part of things, like you were saying how, what are some of the other tactics you use to create spaces that were inclusive and intentional?


Yeah. So obviously it's sort of like creating that profile of an attendee in your mind and understanding, like, not just what are they interested in, which is, I think, a lot of the time where folks stop with experience creation Like what will they be excited about mentally? But it really goes so far beyond that. What do they want physically? Are these attendees introverts? Are these attendees folks with social anxiety? Are these attendees folks with mobility considerations? Are these folks with children? Would it be useful for them to have an experience that also caters to their children?

And then, beyond that as well, it's like psychological safety. Are you communicating to them the security system that's in place? Are you communicating to them who the other attendees will be and how they can engage with them? Are you communicating to them the simple things like how to get into the space when you show up? Here's where you go. Here's a map that outlines that there are stairs but there's a ramp to your left. Or, if you need an accessible entrance, here's where you go.

All of that information is not going to be important to every attendee, but it'll be important to somebody. And then, also, thinking through, like you know it's not so. It's not enough to just say, lunch will be from 12 to 1. Some people will want to know how long does it take for me to walk to the nearest food place? Is there food available on site? How much does it cost? What are the menus of the places that are available nearby? I mean, again, this sounds like an over over extension of information, but the truth is, this is what makes people feel safe and this is what makes people be able to focus on the great things you've curated. So the tactics go beyond just understanding who they are, from a mental perspective, or an interest perspective, or an industry perspective. Well, these are, all you know, designers who have been in the industry for 10 years or longer. That's great. And who are they as people? What do they need beyond that? And that's where you get. That's where you get the good stuff, that's where you get the juicy stuff.


Yes, like reach to the choir because, like I know, you two already know you're like yep, so I'm like yes, yes, yes.


Do you want a job?


No, Thank you so much for the offer. But yeah, I think that that's when you get really meaningful responses from attendees. You know, that's when people say I've never been to an event that was so thoughtful for XYZ, really For XYZ reasons. A lot of it's signage, I mean truly these are things where it's like not everybody's going to need this stuff but, boy, the folks who do are so appreciative of it, and I think also it just creates an environment where, well, I mean I'm going to. Let me just jump to this part.

The next level of this is on site reactions to things. Half of the vent planning and production is planning. Half of it is reaction when you're on site, and so I have prided myself for years and years about this. But if you can pivot on site to someone's request, you are a next level. Event producer is one thing.

If you send a survey afterward and say how was your experience? And people say it was terrible, I use a mobility device and I couldn't get anywhere, it's like, oh, that's terrible, next time we'll do better. That's a different approach and it's a whole different experience for that person. If they were able to contact an event coordinator and say you know, I use a mobility device and there are bikes blocking the entrance to this particular thing, and then, within 20 minutes, someone goes and moves those bikes. That person's experience is completely different. Yeah, again, it's a single person, but then you've moved those bikes for anybody else who might need to go through there Like you've. You've created an experience that's then more accessible on many levels for many folks. So and I truly believe that, like, accessibility and inclusivity is not about singular people, it creates a better experience for everyone. So, when you make those changes, you're creating a better experience for anyone who's going that direction, heading that way, whatever, metaphorically and specifically about the bikes.


Right, because, not necessarily because one person mentioned it, but maybe there's like 1020, 30 other people that like they're affected by it but they're not going to say anything, for whatever reason. Right, like exactly conscious of that. Like don't wait for the quote unquote squeaky wheel Right. Like be there and ready to like respond to things as you see them.


Yeah, and some stuff, like one XOXO, there was a closing party happening and ahead of the closing parties and folks were like I'm going to the airport right after this closing party, like is there any way I can like leave my bag somewhere? And we thought about it for a second and we're like yo, everybody would like this. So many people are bringing their backpacks Even if they're not going to the airport. We should have a bag check. And within 45 minutes we had a perfectly working bag check system like masking tape on the ground and like post it notes on suitcases. But you know what it worked and we, you know, we socialized it to the Slack channels and people were like, oh my, this is a game changer. Like, thank you so much. I always like to have a change of clothes, but I never have a bag check or whatever the things were. It was like it enhanced the experience for everybody. So it's like, yeah, act on that stuff.


Yeah, and I think that speaks to the importance of the pre planning, right Cause if you were, if you were busy like scrambling to get things finished, that you hadn't fully planned in advance, you don't have space or capacity to address those kinds of things. And so by by building out your planning process in advance and and being as thoughtful as you can, you're giving yourself that buffer to then make those extra moments special for people.


And so I have year over year events.

Like you know, xoxo is this community where people came for every year of XOXO they would attend.

It's like, all of a sudden, you're also building a volunteer base that cares, like those folks who you listened to and you know, had a heartfelt moment with and then acted on their request. It's like they're coming back next year to volunteer and they're going to be the ones who go go over the bend, over backwards, to help you. Also, you know, like that's my other big thing I always talk about with events is like building your bench, from the volunteer to the sponsor, the $50,000 sponsor to the attendee, to the volunteer, to the dude who's moving the trash in the park. Like every single person should be on your team because it lightens your load year over year and throughout the course of the festival. Like people believe that you're a part of their team and so they'll be a part of yours and you just. It creates a community for what's happening and you don't have a lot of time. Events are short, so build it quick. People be with you, they'll help you out. It's the best.


And for context for people that might not know, can you explain to us what is XOXO and?




Portland and like your role in those two.


So XOXO is this. They call it like an arts and technology festival sometimes, but really what it is is it's it's a four day event where folks who live and do business on the internet and have community and social lives on the internet but folks who primarily exist on the internet they come together for this, this highly curated event, and it started out really specific for the intersection of those folks and so it was focused more on, like, the business aspect or the living, the life, online business or you know like what, what that looks like. But then over time it really became a social justice conference and it talked a lot about the challenges of inclusivity and accessibility and it became a much deeper experience. But it's so much more than a conference. The talks are very much one part of it, but they had independent game designers come from across the world. They had, you know, independent board game designers. They had musicians, they had I mean, truly they had tracks and tracks of incredible content happening.

So it was not just a talks experience and folks could actually opt into just the festival side of it, so they could come, because there was always a limitation on size for the conference talks, but they opened it up wider for folks who just wanted to attend, for you know the food and the music and the games and the, they had live podcast recordings, that kind of stuff. So there were a couple of different ways you could attend. But I mean it is like. I mean there's nothing quite like it. It's pretty incredible.


And how big is the team on something like that?


Well, when I first joined, it was just two men with a ton of volunteers Andy Bale and Andy McMillan. They brought me on I want to say year four, year three or year four, and they were like we need production support. And I was a bright eyed, bushy, tailed young event producer. I really hadn't done very much and so I was like I'll do it. And I joined their team and I did. I mean when I say I did everything, I mean I did everything from booking the venues to organizing speaker hospitality, all the way through to volunteer management and paying every last bill. I mean every single last thing I did. And it was so fun and so energizing.

But as time went on, I sort of insisted that we increase the team and because their expectations for production levels were really high. So I was like this is silly for us and they had a great budget. So I'm like this is silly for us to not have a more diverse team, a team that can handle all these different pieces. So year over year we brought on more and more folks and so by the end we had a team of about 12 core producers and then we also had 150 plus volunteers who helped us on site. So big, big team.

You know, Super dope team loved it.


So talking a little bit more about XOXO. Over the years, as it grew, as you mentioned, it turned into about social justice and and inclusivity and all these things I want to talk about a little bit about controversy. So one year, one of the speakers that was invited was Anita Sarkeesian and this was happening like at the height, I want to say, of what was Gamergate. And for those that don't know like I don't even know how to explain Gamergate Just a bunch of dudes that are mad at women for existing idiots in gaming, exactly.

So it was like a really targeted and like really gross like harassment campaign against Anita and a few other people. But yeah, she was invited to be a speaker at the height of this whole thing that she was dealing with. So I wanted you to tell us a little bit about how y'all, as event producers having her at this event like how did that affect the work that you did? How did you deal with all of that and making it a safe place?


I mean it. That was to be fair. The height of Gamergate was the year before I came, but I can talk to you about the systems that were developed the year prior and we continued on forever. A lot of it has to do with really tight security, unfortunately, and even though it's a, it was an inevitability that it had to be that way. Folks we the security team we worked with was really incredible and they were able to sort of present themselves as friendly parts of the team to the attendees, but then they were also eagle eye razor sharp on who was coming in, what their credentials looked like, all of that, and then, in addition, we had plain clothes security guards near the green room as well. So it was kind of a multi tiered approach. But essentially it taught me how to deal, how to like create a security plan, and a lot of that has to do with identifying who the key members were, the noisiest members of Gamergate like. Who were those people? What did they look like? Were any of them local? Printing out photos of them, having the security go through that, going through in detail any weak spots of where you know that we're fencing might be weird or where things might, you know, fall apart and just going through that over and over, not just with security, with volunteers and with venue management and saying like, hey, this is actually a real situation.

And the year before I came there, one of the Gamergate folks showed up at the event.

It wasn't violent, nothing happened, but you know, he came, he showed up and so it was not a, it was not like for not, you know what I mean. Like this was an actual concern. And then, in addition, we just did a lot of monitoring on Twitter and a lot of monitoring around the channels that we knew Gamergate folks were active and we just pay the attention to hashtags and like we just kept folks on the lookout for us. You know, like we had teams of people paying attention to that and if anyone was mentioning like well, we're going to be there, we're going to show up, it's like we noted who it was, and so I mean it took a lot of sleuthing and we continued that over the years to just pay attention, not just with Anita but with any other folks who were involved in any controversial areas. Like we just made sure we were paying attention to hashtags around those speakers too and watched what was happening. And very luckily. We just never had any issues actually come through. But we were prepared.


Boy oh boy were we prepared, and I think that goes back to what we were saying earlier about that preparedness aspect, doing the planning in advance, thinking of these contingencies.


Yes, super clear plan, if you know, like essentially like emergency contact plan, like if something happens, here's what you do. You stay here and you call these people and they go there and you know, have making sure that folks understand what their roles are, so that everyone doesn't get spun up in the exact same way and everyone is not just running To a spot or running to action in a way that's not helpful, but saying like, okay, if you're the person who received this information, you do this. Then people persons A and B do this, so you know that's being tended to. You don't have to worry about that anymore. Your role is this defining those emergency plans was a huge, huge part of what we did and it really worked.


Yeah, incidentally, that was the year that I attended XOXO myself and I was really kind of taken aback by how thorough and prepared everybody was. That was even I mean, I was still freelance producing at that point. That was just pre kick ass conferences. They really stood out to me.

The other thing that stood out to me and I don't I don't recall if this was the year before you were brought on, I don't know if you have the context for it, but while we were there, they had actually announced from stage in advance that, because of some of the more difficult topics that were going to be covered from the stage I don't remember if it was specifically Anita's talk or if there were other speakers who were dealing with this as well they had actually brought in a handful of I believe there were. There was at least one professor from Portland State University who works in gender studies and behavioral counseling and such, as well as a couple other people that were trained in kind of I don't know what you would call it crisis, not necessarily crisis management, but people who were basically made available to the attendees as people that they could talk to if they need it Right.

And I remember thinking at the time, while that wasn't something that I felt that I needed, I was like, wow, these people really have thought of everything.

Like to think like, like you, they have literally created a safe space where and I want to say that some of the themes are on the talks included rape and maybe some suicidal ideation like those are heavy things and sometimes that's either going to be triggering to people or it's going to be stuff that people want to talk about or share their own experiences and sort of make people available who are trained in having those kinds of discussions. We're huge, huge Um was.


I don't know if that carried on through as part of the, the stuff that you were offering in but it didn't In in some ways, like, essentially, how that morphed over the years was that we just had very particular Slack channels that were dedicated to certain things, and it was like we had folks who were available to talk with someone if they needed it, or we just had these smaller groups that were, you know, specific to past trauma and experiences, and then folks could say like, oh my gosh, I just watched this talk and it was really triggering to me because of X, y, z, like, is anyone available to talk about it? And then we that we were able to build community around those things, and so we had a ton of people at XOXO that were well versed in these things. We're well versed in trauma responses or trained in those kinds of, you know, therapy or counseling, that kind of stuff. Um, so I think that it just it became a a part of the culture to connect folks with other folks who are similar, and I mean, to this day, the Slack community for XOXO is still up and running and will forever be so. Hundreds of Slack channels, thousands of people connecting across that it's it's one of the most active Slack communities I've ever seen. Um, but, yes, it became. That became a part of how we curated the experiences too. You know we started putting together we by the end of the time it hasn't. We haven't done it since 2019.

Um, we also had like rooms for folks to go that were like sensory deprivation rooms, essentially like very quiet, music, tons of soft places, beautiful lighting, like that, where it was just like, hey, if you need to get away, here's a place for you, not just like, oh, you know, you can leave if you need to go. Like no, we've created a space for you. And um, and then again, responding really quickly to folks who had concerns and things that they wanted on Slack, like just the fact that we would respond to them was also a way that we met folks where they were, with triggered moments and that kind of thing. Um, so, yeah, it is. It became a part of the culture of that event to think of folks from a culturally humble perspective and to respond to them in a respectful and meaningful way and not just, you know, say well, only one person said this, so we'll just chalk it up for next time, but to say like no, this was a triggering experience for someone. We're going to address it, we're going to discuss it, or and or in the moment, like, for example, say, someone had a listen to a talk that was that hit them in a particular way. Well then it was.

We took it upon ourselves to then look at the talks that were coming up, add more context to the website and say, hey, here's some trigger warnings, content warnings for what might be in these. If you have any questions about this, let us know. You may see nudity, you may see whatever it like. Give a little bit more context. We were always pretty tight about what the talks were really about, but we we tried to work a little bit harder to just give folks at least some context around content if we felt it would be triggering. So yes to all of that. It was an incredibly, incredibly thoughtful Event. It was so cool.


I do think that XOXO stands out as kind of a beaming example of an event created for a distributed community that has then turned into a community of its own, and and lose onto the state.

I mean, you talk about this slack group that's still active. I also think about your work with design week Portland, which is is different in that the community you were building was a distributed community of designers within a geographical area. Right and creating a unifying purpose for them. Beyond that, we talk about a lot about community building. We have been talking a lot about community building lately. What, what did you see, through both XOXO and design week Portland, that contributed to building those communities out in a sustainable way?


Yeah, so it was interesting about design week was that we were not as focused on attendee experience as not so much as we were focused on Event planner experience, because we were essentially the hub To organize and promote all of these distributed events across the city. So there were 300 events that were organized Outside of our purview, right, but we still were the ones who brought everyone together, created the website you know, helped promote and channel attendees there, like we were the ones who created the hubbub and the kind of like the vibe around the whole week. But, with that being said, we still had to understand those people quite well and understand what they needed and what they were trying to get out of the experience. So the curatorial part of it still held true. What we did with the, with those folks, was we. We did our our level best to first of all, set up best practices across all of the events. So like, here are your here's how to run a great open house, here's how to run a great event, here's how to run a great Workshop, here, you know, those kinds of things, and we brought in experts in all of those fields and hosted town halls and made sure that people felt really empowered to, you know, to Run the best events that they could.

And then we were just like, incredibly supportive of them as they went through the process. You know, like we held their hands through how many attendees should we have? We held their hands through. Should we charge for drinks? We held their hands through all of those things so that they felt deeply supported.

And In that, what we trusted was that they knew their attendees the best. We, we trusted that they had an audience in mind and and they knew what they would like and what they would want. And we were just the I like say the Fred Flintstone feet under the Steak, you know. I mean like they're like running through. So that's what we were for them, and we made sure that people came right like we advertised it, we marketed it for them, we made sure that they were reaching the people they wanted to reach. But I think a lot of that is just Understanding who they are and then giving them the best framework that you can possibly give them. I get heck is the same thing for attendees really understanding who they are, building a framework that works best for them and then being available to support when, when things are in flight, I say it's like, this is so easy.


I ask you again a second time.


Because I mean, it takes it takes a Like an extreme level of listening, like it can't just be that you listen well, it has to be that you understand the next five, the reason why they're asking the question and the next five things they'll run into if they don't listen to your answer. Well, like someone says oh well, should I charge for drinks? And immediately it's like you certainly can charge for drinks. If you charge for drinks, you need an all-seed, you need a special permit to sell those drinks, you need to have someone who can run the bar, you need to understand what you know infrastructure you need in order to keep drinks cold and serve them in a quick way. How many people are gonna be like there are.

There's a whole cascade of questions that come down from this single one. So you have to be able to listen and uncover what their actual needs are. You know, if someone says, should we charge for drinks because we're hiring a bar service, then you're like, yeah, you should charge for drinks if you want to and you don't have to think about that next level of questions Right, that bar service is gonna handle all of that. But if they say we have a couple kegs, someone wants to bring and sell this beer, then you're like okay, slow down, let's unpack the 95 questions that go along with the legality and logistical lift of Someone dropping off kegs that you want to sell. It's just not that simple. It's like sounds great and let's not get you arrested in this process so that that level of listening is like it requires a ton of experience and knowledge and Also patience and humility to listen properly and get the info that you know that you need to answer the question properly.


Operations and I think that this is like ever since you started this job. I'm like, oh, this is like perfect for Rachel. It's fantastic, you're taking a lot of your event experience into this world. Yeah, we've been.

We've been talking a lot to people about how much our Culture and work in general, this whole concept of the future of work Dun-dun-dun, how it's becoming very Antihuman, and I think part of that is this unhealthy obsession we have with AI. I think part of that is how much the tech industry controls our economy and there's a lot of other factors, and so what we're trying to examine through these conversations is how we can actually make events and Experiences with other people more human, where we can be more pro-human, right, mm-hmm, what you were saying earlier about Understanding attendees and understanding they are. To me, a lot of that is rooted in Empathy, and I would love to know how you take that experience and how you're wrapping it into the work that you do now, where you are essentially working Internally to support the creative teams that the that the company has on staff, to make sure that they are seen and heard and valued.


Yeah, you know a lot of it is a one-to-one like Get to know people, understand their intentions, understand their needs from an accessibility or a cultural perspective. All of that rings very true, but the thing that I've run into recently in my work is also this idea of honesty, because when you work for a company of this size worth 350 people do incredible digital work, branding, campaign, product development, apps all kinds of great stuff the company is one of the most thoughtful I've ever seen in action and I've seen a lot because of design week Portland. I've seen a lot of agencies of this size and kind of how they treat folks and it's very different from instrument. I think they're best in the biz as far as people are concerned, like their people work is concerned. But when you, when you boil it down, we are a capitalist company and most companies are. So when you start thinking about working for and let me preface this with I was an independent for almost 10 years, ran my own stuff, did my own thing.

I was a terrible boss to myself, but that's for a conversation for another day but I had managed my own. Everything was me, but there were some huge, huge sacrifices that came with that steadiness of work, paying for my own health insurance, not having a great work-life balance because my work was everywhere and all the time, forever. So when you work for a big company, those things change. You have steady income. You have steady healthcare. You have someone paying attention to whether or not you're making enough money. It's not just you, everything doesn't fall to you. So there are some major major benefits. The work you do is so cool. We work for huge clients doing huge campaigns. It's so cool, it's very exciting, and I think sometimes making people feel seen and feel heard is the first step. But then you also have to be really honest with them about the fact that this is a company. This is not a romantic relationship, this is not a family and, when it comes down to it, this company has to make money. So it's not something where you can just give someone six months off any old time. That's not the way that it works. Or it's not something where it's like, well, sure you can just work 20 hours a week, or sure you can work whenever you want to. You don't have to work during collaboration hours.

There's this level of honesty that I think sometimes gets lost when you try to be brutally empathic, like I think you have to do, like there's a balance of this, like you want to be. So you want to understand someone's situation so beautifully that then you can explain to them in the context of reality what's possible. It is a disservice to tell someone I hear you and we will do whatever we can to meet you where you are, because that's not always true. Like we will do whatever we can. And here are the things that we can do, because at the end of the day, we still have to be a company that makes money, and here's the truth of it.

Sometimes that leads to a breaking of that relationship because that person needs something beyond what can be given. But if you're honest with them and you don't set an unreasonable expectation, you don't say, no matter what you need, we'll provide it, but you say here are the things we can provide. And this other thing that you're talking about, let me see if I can work on that and like, flex our system a little bit and be nimble there. But these other things that you're asking for don't fit into the context of this workplace. That's the most kind thing that you can do in those situations.

So it's this constant balance of me being a major people pleaser, I will do anything for you know me, isaac, like I will do anything for anybody anytime. Like, oh, you need me to meal plan for you for the next six years? Let me bust out a spreadsheet. Like that's just who I am. That's my natural reaction to people having needs and then also understanding that there's a structure in place that doesn't always support every single last request. So it's a balance. Balance every day, every conversation is a balance of those things.

So it is different in the sense of I'm not just at a one, you know, I'm not just at a motorcycle show and someone is like, hey, I need an extension cord. And even though I'm balancing 75 other things, I go and I run and I grab that extension cord for them and I get it. It's not that same level of flexibility. I don't have that same endless supply of resources or energy that I can give to a situation. It's a different structure. But, boy, when I can do something and when I can change someone's entire experience in their work because I'm able to put in the right effort and I have the right resources for it, it almost has like a bigger feeling of satisfaction because I know, I understand the context I'm working in.


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 GetEventLabcom to take our free 30-minute training called Community Event Mastery. That's GetEventLabcom, 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 Kick Ass Conferences, an event strategy and design agency serving leaders of growing communities. Thank you.

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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 host

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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.