MPI Perspective - Summer 2012 - (Page 10)

Emotionally Engaging Events by By Greg Fuson If you study the most successful, revered events—rock stars of the meetings world, like TED, The Nantucket Project and Renaissance Weekend—you’ll find that they do two things exceptionally well: create vibrant communities that people are drawn to, and deliver adult learning in a way that’s experiential, memorable and moving. It’s interesting to note that these are not at all novel concepts. “Creating community” and “adult learning” are so embedded in our meeting planning vocabulary that they’re essentially cliché. We all say we’re doing them. But few of us are doing them well. Community engagement— it’s a relationship Before getting into the how of community engagement, I think it’s important to address the why—not because you need convincing, but because there’s a good chance your boss does. I’ve worked with, and for, a lot of smart, successful people who simply don’t see the value of online communities and social capital. The results are difficult to measure, they say, plus doing it well requires a significant commitment of time and resources. Well, yeah, it is sometimes fuzzy and it is a lot of work—because it’s a relationship. Would that same boss put his kids up for adoption because they sometimes misbehave? Of course not. You invest in relationships for the long term, and you don’t abandon them just because you’re not seeing short-term results. Shift the selling proposition So a community is a relationship, and engaging in relationships with your customers completely shifts the selling proposition. Here’s why. If the thing you’re trying to sell me is a discrete item—as in, registration for an event that occurs in a specific location during a fixed set of dates—I’ll tend to evaluate it on a practical, emotionless level, and it’s easy to come up with reasons why I can’t be there. The dates conflict, my boss won’t approve the expense, travel’s a hassle, it means time away from my family, etc. But if you’ve engaged me through an active, vibrant community … and in that community I can connect with smart, interesting people who share similar values … and those connections develop affinity and rapport over time, then your in-person meetings become the culmination of something I’ve been investing in. In the first scenario, which is interruption marketing, you’re saying, “Buy this from me!” In the second scenario, which is invitational marketing, the community is saying, “Come join us for this.” A community builds relationships over time. Chris Guillebeau, an author and blogger who leads a passionate community of his own, observes that “trust isn’t built in a single action but rather through ongoing presence and reliability.” Flip the model A lot of meetings have added online elements (blogs, forums, webinars, video channels) in an attempt to build engagement, although usually just for intervals— pre-event hype and post-event recap—and usually just for marketing purposes. What I’m suggesting is that you flip the model. Be a robust community that holds in-person meetings, not a meeting that’s trying to add a community. Hybrid engagement It’s a model of hybrid engagement, using online tools and resources to enhance and extend the value of your in-person events. You can’t just treat it as more channels for marketing to people, though. You want to give your participants a chance to connect—with each other, with speakers, with you—and then do something with that connection. DESIGN For example, make your sessions more “open source” by facilitating dialogue between speakers and attendees, with the expectation that speakers will then tailor their presentation based on what your audience has identified as its most pressing concerns. Give attendees the means to self form affinity groups based on shared interests or disciplines, which can turn into professional or social circles that meet during your events. A friend of mine did his seminary training through a university that conducted its courses online for most of the year. Midway through each term, the students would gather in-person on the university’s campus (flying in from all over the country) to discuss and digest the material they were covering. My friend describes those midterm gatherings as “magical,” an experience you wouldn’t miss because it fulfilled all of the effort you’d invested over the course of the year. That’s what you want your events to be like. Engaging events stand for something  that matters Of course, you can’t simply build an online forum and expect the world to adore you for it. You have to draw people in. The good news is you have DNA on your side: humans are hardwired to connect, to associate with others, to form tribes. The challenge is that affiliation alone doesn’t create an engaged community. Simply declaring, “We serve the interests of [insert your industry here]” is not going to win you any passionate fans. Consumer research shows that our purchasing decisions are increasingly linked to our values—we buy things because of what they say about who we are. The most engaging events (or organizations, or people) stand for something that matters, are passionate about their values, articulate those values clearly and persuasively, and aren’t afraid to polarize people 10 | perspec t ive | View this and past issues online any time at w w w.naylor net x t .

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of MPI Perspective - Summer 2012

President’s Message
Getting Emotional
Emotionally Engaging Events by Design
MPINCC 2012 Gala!
My MPI: What MPINCC means to…
Thank You! 2011-2012 Sponsors
Destination Spotlight on San Diego
Student Corner
Index to Advertisers/

MPI Perspective - Summer 2012