If you are new to organizing and hosting events, or have tried in the past, but feel your skills could do with some fine tuning, here are some of the biggest lessons I learned over the years.
Psst: The Facilitation Course starts on September 27th. Details + enroll.
Since 2017 I have been hosting events and workshops - at first only in person and then also online. I already had years of experience with a background in teaching, training, hosting a video series, and organizing events in person, but since 2017 creating events has become a much bigger part of my work. And I learned a lot.
We have all attended some great events, and some not so good. Before the internet made all sorts of information and content available, going to an event was often one of the very few ways to learn about new ideas. Now that we can search for everything online and watch an infinite amount of video and audio recordings, why are live events still such a great way to learn? In one word: people.
Events are a great way to meet and interact with others. There is something that happens when we get out of our head and in the present moment. And when a highly skilled facilitator or planner carefully creates an experience, something magical happens that is not possible to replicate when you are on your own reading information or consuming content.
With that in mind, if you want to make a difference by bringing people together (in person or online) it’s important to understand that your role as event planner and host or facilitator will be crucial to the success of the event. In that spirit, I want to share here a few lessons I learned over the years that will help you design and host more effective events and/or workshops.
1. Clarity of Purpose
Before you plan any event, workshop, or gathering, it’s important that you are clear about your intention for creating it. Is it for people to meet each other? To exchange ideas? To learn from you? To learn from a guest speaker? There are many reasons you might want to bring people together: once you know your Why, you can more easily design the How.
2. Treat people like human beings
One of my pet peeves is how often advice about creating events encourages manipulation, even in fields such as coaching which should aim for the exact opposite. You can recognize a manipulative approach because the emphasis is always on things like making an offer at the end, withholding information while making attendees feel they really need it from you, asserting yourself from a place of power, etc.
Look, that stuff can work - but I think it is poison for the soul. Treat your event and workshop participants as human beings and if you have something helpful and they need it, it will be easy for you to talk about it.
3. Be here now - especially online
When we come together in person there is a certain way of settling into the space and with each other: we feel that we are with other people, that we share an experience. We do not want to be rude, or seem distracted; we remember that our behavior has an impact on fellow participants.
On the other hand, online meetings/events are often a s***show: some people turn off camera and mic and go do something else, there is a constant flurry of messaging in the chat while the presenter is talking, everything is recorded (so God forbid you say something wrong)… Whether you are hosting a meeting online or in person, make sure you set clear expectations and create an environment that pulls for presence, not distraction.
4. Slow down
Before I embarked on my own journey of deep transformation, I used to be busy, value ambition, and I was constantly trying to accomplish things fast: all to numb myself to the unresolved pain inside of me.
Once I learned how to really feel my own feelings and to spend time in quiet stillness, the energy of more, more, more! and fast, fast, fast! stopped feeling good.
There is inside each of us an ever-replenishing source of wisdom, peace, and love. When we slow down and quiet the mind, we can hear it. When we get in touch with it within ourselves, we know it is present in everyone else as well, and we naturally start to move towards honoring it by slowing down, so other people too can get in touch with their own wisdom. Next time you plan an event or workshop, ask yourself: how can I slow down and be more present to my own inner stillness?
5. You are like a filter
When you are hosting an event or teaching a workshop, people pick up your energy at a very subtle level. If you are judgmental, have insecure thoughts, constantly question yourself, feel a lot of resentment, try to manipulate them into buying stuff, or are very easily distracted, the participants’ ability to be present will be negatively affected. This is why it is super important for you to work on yourself, both practicing self care and working with a coach to become aware of your own patterns. We all have patterns and no one will ever be perfect. But when you understand how your mind works, you are much less likely to get caught up in your own crappy thinking.
6. Practice, practice, practice
Whether it is a career change, starting a business, making money, or creating a workshop, there is no way to learn but by doing. You might be afraid of making mistakes, but you have to resist the impulse to do nothing unless you know for sure that it will work. The future does not exist yet: as much as you plan, things might go wrong or be wildly successful. The more you get in the game and practice creating and hosting your events or workshops, the more you will learn how to handle unpredictable challenges. At some point you will discover for yourself that you have an innate ability to deal with what comes your way. Do not wait too long, take the first step and start.
7. As you change, your events will change with you
Human beings are amazing: at any point we can change our minds. As you deepen your craft, explore new topics, come up with new ideas, and get better at what you do, your events and workshops will also change. And that’s a good thing. So do not try to get it all perfect now: the best facilitators are the ones who stay curious, keep learning, and have fun on the journey. In other words, they never feel perfect either.
8. Online events can also be very connective
If you always took pictures and now could only paint, you would not expect to make art the same way. You could have the same feeling of satisfaction, you could aim for self expression and joy, but you would understand that different tools would require a different or modified approach to your process of making art.
The same is true for online vs. in-person gatherings. Online events are a lot less engaging when the host does not understand the constraints and possibilities of creating online. When you embrace online events and workshops, not as a poor alternative to in-person events, but as a different tool with its own advantages and disadvantages, you can create a truly connective gathering that leads to transformation.
9. Plan for Flow
There is a difference between planning enough that you can let go and flow with what is, vs. not planning vs. trying to control too much. Highly skilled facilitators make you feel like they are doing very little, and that it’s easy to just go with the flow. In reality, it is because they have done deep work on themselves and created specific conditions that can hold such a flow, that they can let go. So plan your event - but know how to plan for Flow.
10. You will probably forget something
Last, but not least, there are so many moving pieces, especially during live events, that chances are you will forget something. After the event is over, that thing you forgot will seem so obvious that you will wonder how you could possibly not have thought about it ahead of time! It’s ok, it happens to the best of us. As one of my teachers says “Bless yourself!”
Start a document to take some notes after each event or workshop and create a checklist of things to remember and plan for. As you keep hosting your own events and workshops, you will learn what you need and what works for you and it will be easier to plan accordingly.
There is something magical about gathering with other human beings, being in the presence of an inspired facilitator, and sharing insights with fellow participants: if you are passionate about building community and bringing people together, consider learning the skills needed to plan and host your own events and workshops. Join me from September 27th to November 8th for The Facilitation Course. Find all the details and how to enroll here.