A commonality of vibrant, thriving communities is a robust calendar of events that create shared experiences for attendees. Whether your community meets online, in-person, or both, creating an event strategy is the key to fostering engagement, building relationships, and leaving a lasting impact. This article from seasoned community organizer, David Good, provides a high-level roadmap to success, offering invaluable insights, practical tactics, and proven methods for every stage of the process – from planning to execution to thoughtful evaluation. Applying these best practices can transform your events from mere gatherings into vehicles for lasting connections.
Before Your Event
Focus on your community members
In case you’re brand new to building your community, let’s start here. A community should always focus on providing the members with as much value as possible. Leadership ultimately is a position of service; members’ needs should always come first.
When planning events, consider what will excite and engage your members, from topics of discussion to the locations you choose to meet. For example, if you plan to educate members, think about the best way for them to learn; if your event is about socializing, make sure there are lots of opportunities for conversation.
Once you have decided on what you will do at your event, you need to determine whether you will meet in-person, online, or offer a hybrid option.
Select your venue for in-person events
Keep your group size and capacity limitations in mind when finding a venue. There are always a lot of local businesses that are looking for more customers, and you can approach them to find out what night of the week is typically slow for sales. That way, your group can bring them business while pretty much having the place to yourselves. For social events, I tend to pick coffee shops or bars that are quieter and where people can freely socialize.
Another idea is to poll your members to see what sorts of activities they would enjoy or if there are any venues they would like to visit or have a connection to.
Select your platform for online events
Online events help unite our members in various cities around the world. As with a physical venue, what platform you use to host your event is up to you. That said, a wise business mentor once told me, “Don’t reinvent the wheel; use what people know.” For this reason, I use Zoom for all my online events. It may be more expensive than other platforms like Discord, but everybody knows how to use it.
Your target market may be more familiar with a different platform. The best platform to use is the one your members use. Discord may be the best fit if you’re going after gamers or younger people. Again, the key principle is using the tools and platforms your community members want you to use.
Other considerations for selecting a platform include:
- Capacity: How many people will be joining the event online? If you have a free Zoom account, for example, you may max out on the number of people that can enter the Zoom room.
- Functionality: Consider whether you’re hosting a lecture, a panel discussion, will you have breakout sessions, etc., and select a platform that has the functionality you need to do those activities.
A note on “Zoom bombers” – If you are using Zoom and are doing free events, you will tend to attract “Zoom bombers.” These are usually younger people who are there to do something offensive so that they can record the reaction. Just be ready for this to happen, don’t react, don’t freeze, right-click, and remove these offenders from your meetings. The critical thing is to control your reaction and to remove the offender quickly.
Consider both venue and platform for hybrid events
Hybrid events have both in-person and online elements. For example, you could book a meeting room for a lecture and have 20 people attend in-person while streaming it online to another 100. Even your speaker or panelists can join virtually!
Perhaps it goes without saying, but be sure to carefully select both your physical and virtual venues based on your needs for your hybrid events. Consider capacity for the folks joining in person as well as seating arrangements and views of the screen(s), especially if there’s a presentation, or a speaker joining remotely. Pay special attention to audio quality and volume as well.
Finally, while in-person and virtual attendees will no doubt have different experiences of your events, think about ways to keep both audience types involved and interacting with the content and each other. For example, for small discussions, you could put virtual attendees into breakout rooms while having in-person attendees discuss at their tables.
Communicate with your members
I send many reminders to my membership about upcoming events. My philosophy is that you can’t over-communicate; most people have the problem of not communicating enough.
Some people are afraid that if you send too many reminders, people will unsubscribe from your notifications. While this can happen, sending many reminders has only increased turnout for my events.
During Your Event
Focusing on how you make your attendees feel during an event is most important. We want to make them feel welcome, and we want to trigger those happy and positive feelings. If we can do this, that will keep the members coming back.
Some ways that I do that:
- Greet everyone individually and ask their name,
- Be friendly to everyone who shows up,
- Ask what their profession is (especially for business events),
- Ask about their interests,
- Ask how they learned about your community of the event itself,
- If it’s their first event, share an overview of the agenda and what they can expect.
As you learn about your attendees, think about who you can introduce them to. If someone comes to one of my events and can make a friend, a new business connection, or learn something new, I have provided value to them and know they will keep coming back.
Are you ready to organize events like a pro?
Before we discuss the after-event steps, let me introduce, Meetup Pro, a platform that has everything you need to take your community events to the next level, with tools to grow your email list, build your brand, and expand to groups across the globe. You can create an unlimited number of groups around the world, host multi-group or hybrid events, send cross-group messages, and get insights to find the trends that drive engagement.
After Your Event/Maintenance
Communicate with your members (again!)
After each event, I send a thank you message to all new attendees. This is another tactic I use to keep people coming back.
If people signed up but did not attend my event, I will usually send them a message of concern asking them if they are okay, telling them that we missed them, and saying that we hope to see them in the future.
Evaluate your event
It’s critical to take time after each event to evaluate the outcomes. Make a list of what went right and what went wrong. If you had quantifiable goals for your event (e.g., number of RSVPs, attendees, sign-ups for your email list, etc.), note whether you achieved them and plan to make adjustments for your next event. For example, if your RSVP-to-attendee ratio was not as good as you were hoping, think about how you can encourage or incentivize people to show up to your events.
While some members will seek you out to share their opinions, others won’t share until you ask them, so consider sending a survey to attendees or using your event platform’s functionality to collect feedback about what they liked and what they thought would be improved.
It’s important to note that I never see anything going wrong or negative feedback as a failure. If it is something that I cannot predict or control, I will know to be more aware of that happening in the future and can make a plan in the event it happens again. If I or one of my organizers made a mistake, I see it as an opportunity to learn and improve our abilities for future events.
Host events consistently
Generally, a community can take six months to take off. During this time, you need to host events consistently, whether it is one event per week or a couple of events per month.
If you want to build a genuine community rather than just an organization that does events, you need to have a way for people to make genuine connections and facilitate interacting with each other on a regular basis. This is true for both business and personal connections!
In addition to creating space for individuals to connect, hosting events consistently also cultivates a sense of trust between community members and you, the host, because you set and deliver on expectations again and again.
Identify a mentor
Author John Maxwell has a principle called “the law of the lid.” It states that the size of your organization will be limited by your leadership abilities. Your leadership abilities are the most critical abilities when creating and managing your community. I believe one of the greatest things you can do for your community-building and leadership skills is to get a good mentor. One thing I’ve noticed about the most successful people is that they have gotten the best mentorship along the way.
Don’t give up
As I mentioned before, it takes time for a community to build steam and take off. As long as you maintain your focus on providing value for your community—which includes meaningful events, clear and consistent communication, and making adjustments as you go—you will surely find success.
David Good founded the International Friend Connection in 2014, a community that does online and in-person events with 47 chapters in cities all over the world. Over the past nine years, his endeavors have been acknowledged with three medals from the President of the United States. He has gained international recognition in 39 countries through the Points of Light Foundation, established by President George H.W. Bush. His commitment to fostering connections has led to his appointment by David Siegel, CEO of Meetup, as the founding brand ambassador for Meetup. His passion is solving the social isolation and loneliness crisis, and aims to connect one million people in ten years.
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