Episode 15

Published on:

2nd Nov 2023

Shifting Priorities and Event Engagement

After our conversation with master improviser Gary Hirsch we sit down to discuss our biggest takeaways and how we can use that to create better community experiences.

Some of the topics we touch on this episode:

  • how event dynamics have dramatically shifted in the post-pandemic world
  • how evolving priorities have affected interaction with events and how that is shaping event logistics
  • how online events have paved the way for synchronous social engagement, a feature often missing in traditional in-person events

Key Topics and Takeaways

11:32 - Leadership Failures and Ignoring Community Impact

We talk about the problem of seeing people as numbers rather than unique individuals. We share a real example where an event organizer didn't think about the audience and added an interview with a political candidate that didn't fit the event's theme, causing a bad experience for everyone.

20:18 - Introverts, Networking, and the Importance of Acknowledgment and Connection at Events

How are introverts coping with events nowadays? We address the challenges introverts encounter during networking and talk through some tools and conversation starters to use. We also highlight the advantages of creating relaxed opportunities for attendees to connect without overcomplicating things.

25:45 - The Changing Landscape of Events

We discuss how people's expectations are evolving as people re-invest in live experiences to rekindle a sense of connection and excitement in their lives. The key message here is the importance of adapting to these shifts, whether you're an event organizer or an attendee, to create more meaningful and fulfilling experiences.

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

Next episode: Dance and Connection in Community with Jordan Hayles

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 kick ass together. Hey everyone, thanks for joining us again. We are back with a little bit of a follow up conversation from the episode just prior to this, where we interviewed Gary Hirsch from On your Feet about how improvisational techniques are can be incorporated into events. If you haven't listened to it, please go back and listen to it first, because this conversation isn't going to make all that much sense. But I'm here with Nessa and we just had a couple things that we wanted to revisit from that conversation. Lots of ideas, lots of things to relate to the work that we do. So, Nessa, what stood out for you? What was one of the biggest things that you heard Gary say that you were like, oh yeah, that's it.


Yeah. So I think what really stood out for me was when he started talking about the objectives phase of planning. You asked the question, I think it was. You asked the question about like what mistakes do you find that people make? And he really brought up a great point which is something that we're always talking about of like people come to him already with an idea of what's going to happen, but they haven't really thought about why they made all these decisions or what it actually means to do these things.

Yeah, and I was like, yeah, like I totally connected with that, because I feel like this is a conversation that we, again, we're always having on the podcast or like with clients of like okay, take a step back and let's think about why you are making these decisions right, it's the point behind this.


Yeah, that, um, keeping that. Especially if you're like making decisions up front, uh, to like set the framework for what the event's going to be or what your vision is, it can be really easy to let stuff get in the way of that vision without realizing it. Right, You're like, oh wait, what about this? Well, did you check that against the stuff that you already decided? Or, uh, in his case, and what he was talking about with the, with the objectives for the attendees? Uh, making sure that you're thinking first of the people you're doing this for, before you sit there and define all of the logistical details of things.


Right, because and we've seen this people do this where the event isn't actually about the audience. The event is is about the executive who told the planner what to do. Right, it's actually an event for them, and then they run wonder why they they didn't achieve their objectives. There was no good return on investment and it's because, yeah, you didn't think about the actual attendee, the person that's gonna experience this event.


Exactly, um. So one thing that stood out for me, um, that that really echoes with the conversation I had. Uh, I was interviewed on a podcast called access ideas recently, um, and I was thinking about, like, the difference between in-person events and online events today. Um, and this, this whole thing started because the host of access ideas, uh, yana Stam, she was asking me uh, well, she wasn't asking me. I was going on and on about how great in-person events are, how there's this like special something and whatnot, and she said, well, now, hold up, online events still have their place, right, um, and that I had to examine that a little bit. And Gary touched on this a little bit with what he was talking about with, uh, an online chat and like how a group can share stuff.

And I was thinking about, um, yes, in-person events, you can feel energy.

There's like it's this multi sensory experience.

You can pick up on little snippets of conversation from other groups, um, but when it comes to consuming the content of the program, that's a very solo, very individual thing, right?

The social contract when you enter a meeting space and the program begins, is that you are quiet, you are listening to the presenter, it's very top down, uh, and outside of maybe some you know, live tweeting or whatever the new version of tweeting is, now that Twitter's um is, um is, is that you uh?

That it is very much an individual thing, and I think one of the beautiful things about online events that still holds true is the ability for a group to share and experience a little more synchronously, right? So you, if you have a live chat with a live video going on, people can comment and add their own experiences and share in these moments in uh, in this kind of real time thing. You don't have to wait until a break to then go and talk to somebody else about it and then you're only talking with you know the person immediate to you. So it allows for this like much more social experience from a consumption standpoint, which I think is really valid and really interesting, and I don't know that there's a ton of uh parallel in the live event world. Uh.


I mean, I'm always going to be an advocate for online events, because I get so frustrated where I'm like don't blame the tools for, like, your lack of imagination, because good online events have been happening for a very long time. Right, it's just that I feel like the overall quote unquote events industry or conference industry has not caught up because for as long as there has been like any sort of live streaming, there have been live events and there are huge communities behind them and they're super profitable and then people feel super connected. Like you know, this is about me. I follow Twitch streamers and I'm like part of fandoms on Twitch streams and I know there's people I've met. I've known them for years and I consider them friends and we hang out like when the streams are happening and it's a super.

I feel connected to those people because it's super engaging and super um, fun and in the moment. But it works because of the people behind it and the work that's put in to make it work, Whereas I think it's easy in the business sense for people to be like, oh, it doesn't work. It's not that it doesn't work, it's it's they're not, they're not willing to put in the humanity, the work, the human work to make the online event work. So it's just easier for them to say you know, let's go back to a person and be done with it.


Yeah, I'm glad you brought up the human thing, and this goes again back to something that Gary was talking about. He used the acronym ACE ACE, which is Acknowledge, connect and Explore. What was it that stood out for you about that in relation to how we can be more human with each other?


Honestly, it's the Acknowledge part, because I feel like we have lost the ability to acknowledge reality, to acknowledge each other, to acknowledge the moment, to acknowledge like context, and we expect people to connect and grow and explore with each other without acknowledging the reality of the moments that we're living in, be it COVID, be it political, economic. You know what I mean. So that really stood out to me because it's I hadn't really thought about it that way, but it's true, Like the successful moments, the successful events happen because they take the time to acknowledge the moment that we are in right now and the context with that.


How, if somebody's looking to better develop their skill around acknowledging others and developing a more human approach to this, do you have any thoughts on how they might approach that or some ways in which you can acknowledge other people?


Oh well, we could. Just we could talk about this all day, because there's so much.


Three more episodes go.


Because it all comes back to, though. You have to be fearless If you're not willing to acknowledge the moment, because you're worried about excluding someone, because you're worried about someone's going to get mad because I mentioned, like, the SCOTUS decisions, you know.

I think about, like with you know, affirmative action and all that stuff. Like if you're having an event in the realm of education, with that just having happened, like how are you not acknowledging that? You know what I mean, but there's plenty of people who didn't, because it's the fear of I don't want to. I don't want to rock the boat, I don't want to make drama right.

So there's a fearlessness that you have to have and a clarity of these are the people that I'm trying to bring together, and this is what I'm trying to achieve, regardless of, I don't know, street cred maybe. I think that's that's kind of the issue.


What do you think about that? Well, do you think it? I think that's absolutely valid, and I know that some people will go so far as to acknowledge to the point of performative behavior, right, like. I think that there's a risk of performative acknowledgement, right when you are saying it, to say it without really meaning it, I guess. How do we tow that line?


Well, that's, that's where you get to that second part of the acronym right Of acknowledge and then connect, like you can't just acknowledge and then be like ah, that didn't happen. Yeah, it has to be part of the conversation, the part of what you're doing, and it's super obvious when people do this, when they do like these types of acknowledgments at the beginning of an event and then like two hours later they have a panel that is so tone deaf and so not acknowledging the moment that you're like, yeah, yeah, this is great, right, and audiences see through that.

But it comes back to this issue we're having of not seeing humanity anymore like we're we're become. They're so anti human thing in the air, like it concerns me a lot, to be honest, how I, how I see the conversations that we're having constantly step away from um, oh yeah, we're people. You know, like, at the end of the day, we're people, not machines, not not generations, not target audience. You know what I mean. Like we're just turning into statistics instead of people, and that's where that's where we get into trouble.


Yeah, I had the unfortunate experience, or unfortunate opportunity, I guess, to experience that kind of um faux pas in real time last year when I attended event that, an event that had had done ostensibly a fantastic job uh, curating a diverse lineup of lots of perspectives, that we're tackling some really great issues uh, at an inspirational conference, and someone in their leadership made a last minute decision to insert a, an interview with a political candidate a politically independent candidate that was actually, who had come from conservative roots and and a candidate whose record on gun laws and and their stance on protecting the Second Amendment was in direct conflict with not only some of the content that was curated to be on stage up there but also was completely tone deaf because of a shooting, mass shooting that had happened just days prior, that was still resonating within the community and it just it spiraled and it just it went out of control and it completely destroyed the entire experience.

And that, to me, right there, is like you cannot say that you are acknowledging the people in the room and then make a decision like that.


Right. And what do you? What do you think that happens? Like what, why drop the ball? Because I do remember that it was a super last minute choice. Like what? Why? How did they get to that point where they dropped the ball, like right at the goal, you know?


I think it was a. I think it was largely a case of ego and arrogance. That Was not questioned. I think it was a leadership team who just felt like they had the power to do that and didn't really have the foresight to think about why. Again, going back to what you were saying like, why are you doing this and how does this impact the rest of what you're creating? They didn't sit there and ask those questions. They instead got wrapped up in kind of the sensationalism of it and Just went forward and it bombed, completely bombed.


And and so going back to this idea of Feeling more human with each other, which Gary I think addressed really well, and I think through improv it's a great way of doing that, like I really like the activity he did with us, where that really works, like think of things he like. And something I noticed there was that in that type of exercise he didn't allow space or time to overthink. Yes right, and I think that's that's why, for me, it's successful.

Because, you're getting people to do something but you're not giving them enough time to think, ah, this is awkward, or whatever it is that we get up into our own heads. I want to see your thoughts about doing that. I will fully admit that I tried to cram as much over thinking as I possibly could into that tiny space he provided us, am I?


am I picking the right favorite things? What am I? What am I gonna choose? So, oh, he said food, I'm gonna pick my favorite food. That'll work. So that's my brain. But I think For me this goes with this, this notion of creating space for the unknown, and what I love about that, even though, like it's so funny that he chose to do that with us, because I, I literally did feel the same like fear of fear and dread, when he was like, oh, we're gonna do it real quick.

I was like, oh shit, but he acknowledged it and and but. And here to me is the magic of it is that he, he acknowledged it. We connected and we explored that together. He was facilitating it, but he was there with us, right, trying to trying to figure out. He gave us an example, he led us along the way.

But something to me and this is similar to other experiences that I've had is that there's when you can add a little bit of structure around what you're asking people to do, apply some constraints and Nudge people outside of their comfort zones, either through not enough time to overthink or, you know, using a little healthy peer pressure or FOMO, or like you can leverage some of these motivating factors, you can actually create these really magical moments and open people up to Vulnerability, and I think that that's what's really great about, especially about in-person events, because there's a lot more opportunity to do that.

I've had experiences with this in trying to create networking type activities that are introvert, friendly, and what I found is that if you can either Turn it into a game or put some constraints around it by doing it as a speed networking thing, or use a Very different kind of online platform that helps encourage conversation or or what not like there are many different ways you can do this, but Applying just a little bit of structure, pushing people just over the edge of their comfort zone, it gets them to play along in a way that can be really productive both for them and for the people that they're interacting with.


Right and looking at what he did, so that activity that he did with us. It is very simple on the surface, right. It was just like a very quick little thing. He didn't have us do anything complicated or take a long time. However, there was work put into creating that activity and there was a reason for each part of it, right, and there was a goal for each part, you know. So he's created this moment of unknown that we can have like a special spark, a special thing happening, but their work goes into doing that.

That's not just going to happen because you put us in a room together, right, like he did the work to create that space to push us, but in a way that was comfortable and I think we have. We need to acknowledge that that there is work in creating spontaneous moments.


Well, and to me there's a difference between making space for serendipity to happen, which is this organic connection, which is important, like we should not ignore that at all giving, making people feel safe and giving them an opportunity to connect with each other in a natural way. But there is also that labor to facilitate those connections, to be more intentional about creating those moments and finding ways to connect people to each other more assertively, I guess is a way to put it where, where you are saying, ok, you are going to do this and you are going to do this, and hopefully you will meet each other and make a connection, and that, to me, is is just as important as making space for serendipity and and chance encounters.


But even, even, still, like when we talk about serendipity and we especially talk about, like the, the conference hallway conversations that's usually like the big example. So, but even in that moment in the hallway if there's a couple of chairs, boom. That's work that was put in to create space.


Yes, yes, do you know what I'm saying?


Yes, like signage telling me where the snacks are. Boom, like that's work being done, to kind of like guide me to to an opportunity for spontaneity. Does that make?




So even in, even in what we're talking about like luck and spontaneity there, there is still at some molecular level like something needs to be done by the organizer to make that the thing, because a venue in and of itself that doesn't do anything right it's what we're putting in there and doing in there.


That makes it work Absolutely, I agree.


It's talking about introverts. Like I'm an introvert, I will talk if we have a topic, but I am never going to just walk up to and run a person and start talking about the weather or you know, just other stupid crap Like that's just not who I am, you know what I mean. Yeah, so for me to have like a networking session work, I do need something. Give me something to work with, you know.


Yeah, it can be as simple as a as a prompt card on a table, or if we've used online tools that that offer up questions as conversation starters, like it. It, I guess that's the thing is like. It doesn't take a lot of work to do it. Well, you can put a lot of work into it if you want to, and some people create these amazing experiences in doing so, but it doesn't take much. You still have to do the work.


You just have to stop for a second and think like that. That's talking about being anti-human, like we forget to stop, breathe, pause and think before anything, for whatever reason. But so, lastly, I wanted to touch on something that Gary brought up, where he referred to this period post COVID.

I don't even know if it's post COVID, but he talked about the awkward fade out and I felt like that was such a that's so accurate to this period of time that we're in and I want to get your thoughts about the effect that that's having, that, that we don't have a clear cut, like it ended and you know what I mean Like what were your thoughts on that? That awkward fade out.


I you say awkward fade out, and of course I think of like a. So so DJ that's trying to mix two songs that really don't belong together and you have that like weird lilting moment where the two beats are kind of fighting each other as they're transitioning. I feel like that's what we're in right now and I forgot what you actually asked me question.


Because I think that's such a perfect way of expressing that idea of the awkward fade out and I think that that is having more of an impact on return to in person events than yes even realize, like consciously, like it is absolutely having an effect, but we're not talking about it enough. That's how I feel because Going into person events and like you can feel it that there there's still this feeling of what is this right Like? Is this the first song or the second one Right?

So I want to get your thoughts on that, like what will now, what then, what? Yeah, what do we do?


There's so many factors at play here, and I think this is part of why it is so complicated and why it's so awkward right now. We, culturally are tired.

o be like how did you fare in:

I think that our shifting priorities around what family is where we find our happiness and our joy is laying bare these notions that work. Travel, for example, like to go attend a conference that's still work. It's not the fun that we thought it was, for example. So I just think that there's a lot of figuring it out that we're doing and, as that's happening and I think it's probably going to happen for another year or two events are figuring out how to navigate that, like what are people actually expecting? How can we create an experience that provides good human connections? Are we even still like our awareness of self and of each other? It's just awkward. It's awkward and I feel like this transition between these two songs is going to go on for a while.


Yeah, and I wonder are people looking for the same things now than what they were looking for before, and do they even realize that that change has happened? Because I feel like people are attending events but they don't feel like they're getting what they were looking for. And I wonder if it's because we're not looking for those same things. We think we are right, but there's a need to reanalyze. Yeah, yeah.


And I think it's really.

I think one example of this is seeing the resurgence in music tours and shows.

Festivals and shows are popping off this year as artists are going back on tour and people are dropping a lot of money to travel and to attend these things, to have these, like there are almost like these super extra event moments, right, like they just want to feel something again, right, yeah, and I think that I think that that's part of it.

I also think of a lot of the things that we talk to attendees of our conferences about as they're getting ready to go to an event, which is setting goals, thinking about who you're trying to meet and why, taking time to maybe it's a little journaling, or there's specific things that you are hoping to learn. Looking through the schedule, making sure that you're making space for yourself. All of that is really important pre-work that should be done to to prepare for an event, especially for a conference, right, and I think I think in a lot of ways, people are forgetting to do that kind of stuff and I think if we can continue to encourage that, they're going to have a better experience, because they're going into it with intentions, they're going into it knowing what they're going to offer. Going back to what Gary was saying, they're going into it being a little more open to certain types of connections over others, and I think that that will help as we continue to navigate this.


Thanks for listening to this episode of Make it Kickass. 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 Kickass 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 Kickass 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 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.