A couple of months ago I started a workshop with 16 event organizers from a top international organization by asking the question “If you had a magic wand*, what would you like to obtain with your event?”. Surprisingly, most answers were a variation of “I would like the participants to be happy”, “I want to change the world [with this event]”, “I want people to be smiling”. “I want to provide hope and solutions”.
The loquacity of those attending my workshop ended though when I made my following question: “In your organization, who is responsible for the participant’s happiness? Who is the Chief Happiness Officer?”.
Silence. If “happiness” was such an important outcome for an event (in this case they ranged between big conferences, seminars, workshops and training sessions), how come no one was responsible for it?
It’s Not About “Ha-Ha” Happiness
We’re not talking about making people laugh or having speakers telling funny jokes (though it sometimes helps).
In fact, Happiness is defined as “a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy” (source: Wikipedia). Countries like Buthan have put into practice a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index that measures a mix of quality of life, social progress and economic status in a more holistic way that a purely economic indicator like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
We’re talking about events – be them about business, hobbies or a simple school meeting – which are designed to create or reinforce a happy environment where people feel comfortable, stimulated, protected, entertained, safe, are encouraged to meet their goals and connect with others.
Designing For Happiness
I don’t have a specific formula for this but the first step is always to care.
- Care about your attendees, care about your speakers, care about the staff, care about everyone involved in the event in a specific way.
- Identify why people attend, what they expect to obtain from the event and what are their aspirations. Design the experience to help them achieve this.
- Provide value. Relentlessly focus on providing value throughout the whole event – from digital communications before the event takes place to follow up communications after it happened.
- Design for the human interface. Design for the real needs of people, not to satisfy some fancy – but short lived- fad.
- Ask them what makes them happy. It might feel as an out-of-place question in a registration form but the insights you can gain by just asking are immense.
You probably don’t need a formally appointed “Chief Happiness Officer” but if no one takes care of that responsibility, it’s difficult to craft an experience that produces/allows/encourages/supports happiness. It’s the event manager’s role to take care of this.
* I learned the power of starting a creative process by asking “What would you do if you had a magic wand?” from BJ Fogg, who runs the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, at one of his Persuasion Boot Camps.