Being part of a young industry accelerated by the pandemic, we, the professionals at the helm, sometimes overdo things and miss the obvious. We complicate our lives because we want to speed up the process of proving results and getting resources. By doing so, we fall into several traps — one of which is forgetting how the most simple and obvious things are often the foundation of our work.
When it comes to running events, we often lose what I call ‘the gatherer mindset’. Many community builders are obsessed with the technicalities and miss that they deal with people with feelings, moods, interests, fears, ambitions, and the rest. A gatherer focuses beyond the operations of an event — they invest energy in designing an experience and helping people feel in a certain way, depending on the event's goal. A gatherer pays attention to creating a layout where specific moods are welcome and celebrated so that he obtains the desired outcome.
Priya Parker's book The Art of Gathering and her brilliant newsletter are excellent sources of inspiration in how to run meaningful events where the people attending find real value. Whether we're talking about a small gathering of 20 people at a birthday party, a niche community, or a massive community of thousands of folks spread all over the world, the DNA of a gatherer is the same.
Here are a few ideas for how you can enter this mindset at your upcoming events.
Many community builders, especially those at the early stage of their career, put too much pressure on what's happening at the event and forget to start at the beginning. From finding a pain point your event should address to the creative concept, agenda, and communication actions, every single piece of the puzzle should fulfill the event’s purpose.
Before jumping into the event's content and the activities you want members to engage with, make sure you know:
This will help you set the purpose and be intentional about the entire event experience while planning.
We've been part of dozens of events throughout our lives — birthdays, baby showers, funerals, company celebrations — so we think we are native to being hosts. But that’s not always the case. Remember the last time you went to a local meetup and the atmosphere felt sterile, even a bit awkward? Me too.
Being a host isn’t necessarily natural and intuitive, nor is it a personality trait that, if you somehow lack, you can't foster. Quite the contrary. You can attend events and take notes about what you appreciated about the host, and even chat with hosts afterwards and ask questions about their methods and experiences. You don’t have to limit yourself to community professionals. You can even talk with family and friends about their experiences. Read about what a good host looks like, how they behave, or where are the most fragile moments when this role can genuinely make a difference in an event's life. If you’re looking for more reading material, I recommend Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead and Joseph Michelli’s The Airbnb Way.
We've all been to events where nobody knew why we were there, our intention, who the other attendees were, and so on. They suck. In a world where the most precious currency is time, we cannot long afford to lose it. That's why, as community builders, we need to create events that leave a mark on our members and respect their time.
One way of leveling up our game is to start shaping experiences da capo al fine. This means that we no longer invest all our energy in making sure operations run smoothly. Instead, we start thinking of the entire event as a story where the characters go through certain stages and, in the end, learn and feel something powerful. Builders who embrace the gatherer mindset go from being obsessed with technical stuff to fully focused on how members feel along the journey. To create a sense of belonging, we need to go beyond the ordinary and put our intent of shaping an experience at the forefront.
By authentically embracing the gatherer mindset, we can show members that we are thoughtful of their journey and that they’re in safe company where they can express themselves. Otherwise, we will continue to run events that lack significance. It will be just a matter of time before our members feel disappointed and leave the community for a place where they feel seen and accepted to the fullest complexity.