Last night I had the pleasure of moderating a conversation with some of Austin’s coolest community builders in a General Assembly event entitled, “Creating Community Through Offline Experiences.”
As an event planner, I thrive on the unique opportunity Alchemy Events has to design physical spaces and unique experiences with the intent of empower connection. In a world that is becoming more and disconnected through technology, and an independence-focused society we get to build a world where people can leave their everyday lives behind and are transported to a time and place where only the present matters, laughter lingers a little longer and the connections endure long beyond last call.
The panel — featuring Ben Thoma (co-founder of the Austin Creative Mornings chapter), Courtney Bianchi (founder of Whiskey + Pearls), Ikechi Nwabuisi (founder of Tribl) and Moby Hayat (host of The Fire Show) each brought a unique perspective to the power of creating community and cultivating community through in-person events. Here are some of the biggest takeaways I gathered:
Communities offer important benefits for our wellbeing. Each panelist shared experiences from their own lives where they felt welcomed and accepted by a group that ultimately formed the confidence and helped them identify their strengths as an individual.
Especially as we leave family and trade our childhood for the workforce and/or college, it’s important to replace the warm feelings of home and love with people and environments that nurture us and help us to become our best selves. If you are craving a sense of belonging: there are numerous meetups, associations, clubs, church groups, hobbyist communities, and events. Look for your people, and join them.
Communities allow us to build deep, meaningful connections. One of the crucial and obvious truths about communities is that they empower us to . More than one panelist was able to share a story about how their participation in a former community provided an opportunity for personal growth. Ikechi, who saw a need for more diversity in the Austin tech sector, formed a meetup for minorities in tech. The connections he formed here led to introductions that have supported his current business and opened the door for his acceptance to the Techstars accelerator.
For organizers of community events, it is your job to facilitate connection by introducing people who might benefit from knowing each other. Let them be the ones to figure out exactly why or what that is, but be willing to tee it up and create a “soft opening” to help people feel comfortable.
Community builders are leaders. Leaders solve problems and build bridges. Moby, who moved to the US with an H1-B visa, attended several events when he arrived as a way to connect with new people. Over time, he started to notice that many of these events lacked a tactical approach to starting and marketing your business. As a response to this, he launched an informative podcast (The Fire Show) and panelist series offering entrepreneurs tools for success.
Have the vision to see where you can provide value, and be vulnerable enough to share it with other. Chances are, you’re not the only one feeling the way you do.
Listen to your audience. I love that this advice applies to those seeking to build a network, but has parallel applications for those building businesses, managing a team, raising a family, and cultivating relationships with friends. I believe that listening is one of the most powerful gifts.
Leaders should understand the WHY behind building a community. What are participants missing? What are they hoping to gain by being a part of what you are creating? Courtney speaks to this idea of intentionality — by specifically asking for feedback and regularly reiterating her intention to her members, she has been able to continually refine the experience for everyone.
Give first, give often. It’s a marketing commandment preached by thought leaders such as Seth Godin and Gary Vee — because it works. Each of the people sitting on stage is so generous with their ideas, time, connections, and the fruits of their love are obvious. CreativeMornings, for example, is a completely free organization with tens of thousands of members around the world. Despite the very real challenge of funding their events, Ben’s team in Austin (as well as the hundreds of hosts + organizers around the world) are dedicated to donating their time as volunteers to give valuable content and connection to their community. Furthermore, many of the 190+ chapters record their interesting and entertaining monthly talks so CreativeMornings has seemingly endless valuable content which they generously share with the world online.
Ikechi summed it up best with the (paraphrased quote): “Give generously. Whoever values it most will come back to you.”
Whether you are actively working to build an audience, or simply looking to participate more purposefully in your community, we are all searching for a sense of belonging, one of the most powerful and basic human needs. I believe the most powerful version of that is found in (the sometimes uncomfortable, awkward) in-person encounters with those who are willing to connect on a personal level and truly see us for who we are.
Thank you to each of the speakers for being brave enough to build spaces that foster connection and to General Assembly Austin for hosting us!