This past weekend was the the culmination of months of hard work to pull off a regional conference focused on Experiential Education. About 100 educators from around the Pacific Northwest gathered together to STRETCH, CONNECT, & REFLECT on the shifts that are taking place in education, in their communities, their organizations and in the world.
The theme of the event was SHIFT HAPPENS - New People, New Energy, New Direction. Throughout the conference planning there were a lot of "shifts" that happened and even during the event, we had to be flexible, make adjustments and "roll with the punches" so to speak.
The feedback we received from people who attended was that it was "the best conference I have ever been to" and "this experience was exactly what I needed." and "this conference exceeded my expectations and wildest dreams" - maybe not the last part - but we are sure that it rocked people's worlds :)
Reflecting on this experience, I wanted to get to the essence of why people felt this way and what the key ingredients were to creating a conference that was truly inspiring, eye-opening and life-changing.
Here they are:
KEY #1 - Be a Good Host
Have you ever showed up to an event, workshop or conference and immediately didn't feel welcomed or that you were in the right place? This happens all the time and it doesn't need to. Hosting a conference or an event is like welcoming people into your home - into this experience you have created and designed for them. Treat it as such - shake their hands, look into their eyes, say hi, and tell them you have been waiting for them. This can make all the difference for people.
Welcome everyone at the door - make sure that people know you are glad they are there and that they have made the right choice to come. Janey and I made it very clear how happy we were to see every single person who was there and I think this helped to create a warm and welcoming environment for everyone who decided to attend.
There is a lot that people are giving up and leaving behind in order to attend any event, no matter the length and helping them feel as though they have made the right choice to be there helps them to be present to the full experience and get the most out of it.
KEY #2 - FOCUS on the Participant Experience
During the planning of this event, my partner in crime, Janey Chang and I focused a lot of our energy and attention on the participant experience. The difference between reading a book on the topics presented at a conference and going to one are the PEOPLE - being in the same room with others who are passionate and engaged in their profession, career, craft, whatever it may be and learning with them - connecting with them.
Many people I talk to dislike the concept of "networking" - but what about "community building"? This is what it is really about. It is about not feeling alone, meeting other people who are "doing the work" and who you can learn along side with. They KEY here for event planners is to CREATE INTENTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES for people to CONNECT with each other. They may or may not do this on their own and it is essential to help people feel a sense of belonging to this new "tribe" they are a part of.
On Friday night of the conference, we decided to create an experience where everyone would get an opportunity to meet and greet every single person that was in the room and share their "gifts" with each other - the things that they are bringing to the conference experience to share with others - passion, energy, humility, smiles, whatever it is - we all have something to give. While this took quite a long time and it was hard to get people to stop talking (which is a good thing), it was an AWESOME experience for people to really connect with each other right off the bat. This built a sense of belonging, community and an overall sense of feeling welcomed which created the space for people to engage with each other in more meaningful ways throughout the rest of the weekend.
KEY #3 - BRING IT!
Bring your passion, your energy, and your enthusiasm to your event. Energy is CONTAGIOUS and what you put out there is going to permeate the entire conference experience. Although there was a lot going on to deal with an respond to, we made sure to stay positive and keep the energy level up throughout the whole time.
Surprise & delight your audience - this one is from Chris Guillebeau. We wanted people to walk away feeling moved and empowered - so we wanted to surprise people with an awe-inspiring opening ceremony with Swil Kanim and an incredible performance by the New Wilderness Project. On the last day as the conference came to an end, we put together a meaningful closing ceremony complete with music and a walking reflective meditation.
Throughout the weekend we BROUGHT IT - 110% with our passion, energy, enthusiasm and...
OUR SECRET SAUCE...
For anyone that was there this past weekend, they will tell you that it was a POWERFUL experience, because of our secret special sauce which was INTENTION. This is a word that has been coming up for me a lot in the past few months. With planning events, workshops or programs it can be easy to get lost in the details and to spend all your time on that. What was different or us in planning this weekend-long experience was our INTENTION - which was to build and create community, to leave people feeling moved and inspired and ready to take action to make "SHIFT HAPPEN" in their communities and organizations.
We know that all of those things happened because of those key ingredients plus some secret sauce and I know if you take these ideas into planning your next event, workshop, program or conference that it will make a huge difference for you as an organizer and those who choose to attend.
So, go out there, make shift happen and create experiences that move and inspire others!