The experience starts
before anyone shows up
The moment a participant commits to attending an experience, they begin to build a story in their mind about what it will be like, who will be there, and what they will get from the experience.
Like most things in life, the beginning is the most important part and how you open an event sets the tone for the entire experience. When people are in a new situation, they are on alert and more perceptive than usual. The brain is a meaning-making machine, and it is constantly interpreting the signs and signals to figure out how this universe works and to determine if they are safe or not.
As the designer you have an opportunity to set these expectations and create safety for all participants.
Pre-event communication via emails, newsletters, webinars, or pre-work can help prepare attendees and set proper expectations to arrive accurately primed for the experience you plan to deliver.
This is where you can set all the expectations of what’s to come, so be intentional about the content and delivery of your initial messages to your participants.
Be Intentional with your Arrival
Arrival is about setting the space and making an intentional first impression.
This includes parking, greeting, registration, and setting the physical space to create the ideal energetic container.
All the micro moments, signs and signals communicate on our behalf before the event officially begins.
This is the orientation, the initial threshold that you cross as you enter the mini-universe of the event.
In a virtual setting, this can be the type of music being played, a prompt for people to respond to in the chat and the energy of your facilitators as people enter your virtual room. We play often play upbeat music without slides and encourage movement upon arrival into our virtual space to help participants become present in the space we are creating.
In an in-person setting, this can be smiling greeters outside by the parking lot with programs and big “Welcome” signs, grasping people’s attention the second they get out of their car.
You want to capture the essence of your intentions the first chance you can. For us this means making sure we are projecting this initial message: “We’re happy you’re here. This is a place to have fun, connect and let your guard down.”
Setting Your Stage
Setting the stage correctly in the beginning of an event will help to create the foundation, expectations, and guidelines for participants’ to engage in the experience as intended by the designer.
For example, if vulnerability is an important quality for your event to be successful, you’ll want to start getting people in vulnerability mode early on.
This way participants realize this will be “the way things are around here.”
If you want your event to be interactive, and be a vehicle for creating community, you’ll want to have participants connect with each other within the first 15 minutes.
If you wait longer than that, you will have missed the opportunity to set that tone, and it will take more time and energy getting people into that mode later on.
This should also be done in a safe, introductory way so that people aren’t intimidated, while still being able to establish the expectation that this is a critical part of the event.