7 Ways to create a highly engaged community

Jillian Richardson · June 17, 2018

Looking to boost attendance and enthusiasm at your office events? Speakizi expert Jillian Richardson has some groovy tricks just for YOU!


“After all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this: How are we going to be when we gather together?”
-Peter Block, Community

Hi there!

I want to thank you in advance. You’re the type of event planner who deeply cares about your audience. You understand that the most precious gift that someone can give you is their time. And you want your attendees to feel appreciated, heard, and understood. That’s beautiful–– and rare. A big ol’ Internet high five to you, my friend!

Of course, that’s also easier said than done. How do you actually create an event culture that people are excited to experience–– and return to? More importantly, how do you create a genuine community around your creation?

Yes, YOU can create a vibrant community of like-minded…dinosaurs.

Enter: me. My passion is creating spaces for people to connect and have vulnerable conversations. As the founder of Hustle Fest, a conference for people who want to go from full-time to freelance, and the co-creator of Balanced, a meditation and conversation group in NYC, I’ve led hundreds of people in conversation and organized dozens of events. And as the creator of The Joy List–– a newsletter that features events in NYC that promote connection, vulnerability, and playfulness–– I’ve also attended hundreds more.

After all this time in event land, I’ve learned a few simple ways to make sure that your guests feel appreciated. And that, I’m assuming, is why your eyeballs are on this article.

1. Know your goals

Please forgive us, our copy editor is very literal.

“If you can dream it, you can do it!”

Of course, you actually need to know what your dream is in order to make it happen. As a result, the first step to creating an amazing event is knowing how you want your attendees to feel. If you don’t have that vision, then creating the right atmosphere will be impossible. But don’t worry. This isn’t as big of a task as it sounds.

Simply ask yourself these questions: How do you want guests to feel before they arrive at the event? How do you want them to feel during the event? A week after? A month after? If you’ve had this event before, or been to something similar, what has prevented this atmosphere from being created in the past? What has worked well in the past to create this type of atmosphere?

2. Create a Code of Conduct

We give you permission to plan your Code old school – with pen & paper.

A Code of Conduct is the perfect way to let your guests know what your values are–– and how you plan to uphold them. To see some great examples, check out the two links below:

3. Put your values on display

That’s a pretty damn good value.

Make your values prominent on your website. It should be clear: Who is this event for? And more importantly, who is it not for? Show that you did the work to think about this, and deeply care about your audience.

Highlight your values–– and code of conduct–– on your Facebook page, Facebook group, event page, website, and anywhere else you think it’s appropriate. Your audience will feel like they’re cared for, and that becoming part of something with a mission.

4. Create conversation agreements

Whaddya wanna talk about? – I dunno, whaddYA wanna talk about?

Your attendees should have a shared understanding of how your conversations will be run before they walk in the door.

A simple way to communicate your facilitation style is to create a list of conversation agreements. Have your ‘agreements’ listed on your event page. When people buy a ticket, make it mandatory that they opt in. This way, you can set the space before people set foot in the door. Plus, attendees will feel more comfortable, because they all jumped over a hurdle together to get there.

You can find a great example of conversation agreements, created by CTZNWELL, at the link below:

5. Invite connection beforehand

The best event planners help their community feel connected before they even walk through the door. That way, when people arrive, they already have some connections. No one is entering with that awful, “Who am I going to sit with at lunch?!” feeling.

A simple way to do this is by inviting attendees to a Facebook group before the event. (Alternatively, if you have a really active event page, simply post on that page.) Create a post where you ask people to introduce themselves, and provide an example using one of your team members. Bonus points if you have a community manager who intros people to each other in advance in the group.

This process is made easier by making the group private, and requiring all attendees to answer 3 questions: what’s your name, what are three things that you love, and what are you currently thinking about?* *Credit to Mike Macombie of Open Mike Night for this idea!

6. Provide “asksand “offers”

This is my ask! This is my offer!

Every event should have one primary goal: to have your guests leave with new connections that they’re excited about.

An easy way to make this happen is with an “Ask/offer” wall. This is a place for attendees to ask for help with a certain problem, as well as offer their assistance to others. Have your volunteers put a few of their asks and offers on the wall before people get there, so that attendees have a visual example of how the wall works.

A good setup is to have one half of the wall clearly labeled “Asks, ” and the other–– you guessed it–– “Offers.” Each listing should be on a separate Post-it note. Anyone who is interested in helping or giving to another attendee can write their name and contact info on the same piece of paper.

  • Sample ask:
    “Looking for someone to help me create a stronger sense of community at my events. Contact xxxx@gmail.com.”
  • Sample offer:
    “Can provide event promotion for anything that creates playfulness, vulnerability, and connection. Email xxxx@gmail.com”

7. Set the vulnerability bar

As the leader of your event, you need to model the vulnerability onstage that you want to see between your attendees.

Some great ways to do this include:

  • Sharing how you genuinely feel
    Are you nervous to be onstage? Moved that so many people showed up? Let your audience know! Your guests will respect you for it, and see you as more human.
  • Acknowledging your mistakes
    Are one of the mics on the fritz? Did you mispronounce someone’s name? Don’t ignore it–– that will only make things more awkward. Instead, name the elephant in the room. This will make it much easier to get everyone’s attention back on you.
  • Speaking from the heart
    Think about feels a little edgy or scary to share… and share that. If you want your guests to feel safe going deep in their conversations, you’ll need to do the same. It’s your responsibility to create a feeling of safety and intimacy. Offering a vulnerable share is a perfect way to do that.

Jillian Richardson is a community-building whiz. She’s also a phenomenal copywriter and improv artist!

To meet Jillian in person and book her workshop, “How to Write Better Content,” click here!