by JoAnn Peroutka, VP Strategic Services, Level5 Events by The Expo Group
“Your work matters when it matters to people—when THEY deem it relevant, not you.”
Nina Simon’s fascinating book The Art of Relevance, and her message that relevance isn’t something “an institution can assign by fiat,” resonates strongly with our ideas about events and campaigns, particularly at this time.
In times of uncertainty, we’re all tempted to fall back on what’s worked for us in the past, to stay within our comfort zone.
But you only plant the seeds of relevance when you’re ready to look at the events you do every year in a different way.
So as you begin working on next year’s slate of events, we encourage you to tap the rich, creative energy and disruptive thinking that already exists on your team.
By bringing together different generations and different segments of your community, you create the opportunity for connections that couldn’t happen anywhere else. And you lay the groundwork for the leaders who will carry your institution into the future.
As you strategize for making up ground on postponed or canceled ideas, events and celebrations, here are some guiding factors for your team conversations.
Rule #1: Put Diversity on the Table
If it isn’t an agenda item, you’re signaling that it isn’t a priority. If you’re lucky (or wise), you’ll already have someone at the table who will push it forward. We worked with just such a visionary recently on a year-long tour. At every planning meeting, she asked, what does this say about us as an internationally-focused organization, what does it say about our culture?
But don’t count on luck (or innate wisdom) to deliver an event that speaks to a truly diverse audience. Something magical happens when making diversity a priority comes from the top. And that magic comes to life when individuals who are plugged into all areas of your community are empowered to help shape events.
Reach out to the leaders of different groups to ensure that the interests of the full range of collegues are considered early and often. Make sure there are voices at the table who will challenge the planning team to expand their view and consider the full breadth of your institution’s program and core values in your event’s program .
Rule #2: It’s Not About You—It’s about Them
From the food, music, and venue to the line-up of speakers, build an event that reflects the interests, concerns, and experiences of the audiences you’re hoping to reach. We know that a capella group is always available (and we love a capella as much as the next person), but are there other veins of creativity and programmatic excellence that you can tap?
When you’re casting the event, make sure your speaker line-up is diverse—in age, gender, ethnicity. And in the current political climate, it’s important to dig a little deeper as you consider your roster of experts and celebrities to make sure you know their resume and are aware of any hot-button issues so you won’t be taken by surprise when somebody else surfaces challenging information.
Rule #3: Curate the Guest/Attendee List
Start not with who’s on your mailing list, but with these questions:
– Who matters to us now—and why?
– Who will be important to us in five years, ten years?
Rule #4: Be Welcoming
This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of this on a global scale. If you want your guest list to represent your entire community, make sure that your scheduling, location, and program signal that you are aware of and care about what your guests care about.
This can be as simple as paying attention to religious calendars and not scheduling a major event on Rosh Hashanah or during Ramadan. It can mean tapping into diverse groups not only to shape the event, but to create buzz and encourage participation through social media and informal networking. Invite Millennials in ways that make sense to Millennials.
So often, it’s not the glitz and glamour of an evening, but the small, authentic moments of connection that are the markers of a truly exceptional event. Through many years and much trial and error, we’ve learned that these moments can’t be manufactured. But they can be nurtured.
Rule #5: Ask for Feedback
Return to those voices you brought to the planning table to ask how you did, and how you can improve. If these are groups you haven’t reached out to in the past, let them know you want to continue the conversation. Keep relevant by sharing relevance.