Killer Tribes Conference isn’t as scary as it sounds. I know, it seems like it might be a symposium on homicidal anthropology, but Killer Tribes is actually a friendly, nonviolent experience for bloggers and entrepreneurs who want to build and lead tribes, or communities of people around common interests. To be honest, this is one of only a handful of events that pique my interest enough to lure me out of the friendly confines of Dallas, where I live with my family.
At this point I should mention I’m biased about Killer Tribes because the event was created by my friend Bryan Allain, a savvy and humorous guy who has made the leap from spare-time dreamer to full-time entrepreneur. Because I’ve known Bryan for a couple of years, he knew my first book was going to be published three weeks before his 2013 conference. He figured I’d be a good fit for the authors’ panel he was assembling for the event, and I jumped at the opportunity.
That’s how I found myself in Snellville, Ga., in March, in a corner of the country where the people are friendly, the accents are distinctly Southern, and the Chick-fil-As are everywhere. In both the green room and the main room at Killer Tribes, I found that Bryan had assembled a fascinating mix of folks who were all passionate about their tribes. There were bloggers, authors, web developers, designers, event planners, social media consultants, extreme couponers, ministers and nonprofit leaders. There was even a dentist. And yet, Killer Tribes appealed to and served them all.
Behind the scenes, I found an interesting dynamic at work. Killer Tribes is still a new event (this was just the second year), so the conference hasn’t had a chance to find its rhythm yet. If you’ve put together the same event year after year, you know what I’m talking about. Eventually your calendar comes together—deadlines, price breaks, hotel deposits, merchandise orders, pipe-and-drape confirmations, and all that jazz—but it takes a while. So it was fun to watch my friend learning and improvising on the fly, making silent adjustments and notes as his event unfolded.
Another behind-the-scenes note: Killer Tribes wasn’t in Snellville last year. It wasn’t even in the Atlanta metro area. No, the inaugural Killer Tribes Conference was in Nashville, Tenn. But unfortunately, Nashville wasn’t an option this year. So while Bryan and his team had to do the hard work of establishing a location last year (venue, maps, hotels, restaurants, volunteers, etc.), they didn’t get to reap the benefits of all that effort in year two. Rather, they had to start again from scratch: new venue, new maps, new hotels, new restaurants, new volunteers. I realize some events, by their nature, move from city to city every year, and that’s great if it serves your context, but I always took comfort from proven relationships with a venue, vendors and local entertainment options. With all that in mind, I’ll be interested to see where Killer Tribes 2014 takes place.
Having experienced Killer Tribes as a speaker and attendee this year, I think I learned a valuable lesson about planning events. The reality is that planners, staffers, volunteers, vendors, speakers and attendees all experience the same event in different ways. They have different responsibilities, hopes, fears and expectations. They have different goals, obstacles and pet peeves. They bring something different to the table, and they take something different away from it.
As an event planner, my mind is full of details. I’m thinking about all the moving parts—the people, the places, the program and the clock. This is because as the planner I have answers, even if only in a broad sense, and I’m simply watching and waiting to see if my imagined answers materialize.
As a speaker or attendee, however, my mind is full of questions. When it comes to all the moving parts of an event, I’m left wondering: How long will it take to get to the venue? Will it be difficult to find? Where are the restrooms? Who else will be there? How long will this last? What’s next? What’s for lunch? All of these questions represent stress, to some degree or another, for speakers and attendees. (And yes, I know event planners are stressed, too. Believe me.) As I see it, there’s only one appropriate response from us, the planners: empathy.
Empathy can be difficult to muster when you’re wrangling interns, caterers, creatives and teamsters, but those of us who are determined to facilitate the best possible experience for our speakers and attendees have no other choice. The first step into empathy is recognizing what we’re asking of someone when we invite them to an event. We’re asking them to leave their world, even if only for a day or two, and step into something unknown. This cloud of questions besets our guests and shapes their experiences.
The second step into empathy is, of course, to answer the questions. We must attempt to answer the questions long before they’re even articulated, long before they take root in the questioner. In doing so, we must be friendly, timely and sincere. After all, there are answers that make guests feel like outsiders, and there are answers that welcome them to the table.
Content—speakers, training, topics, networking, etc.—is what most often draws an individual to an event. But it’s empathy, extended from us to them, that has the hidden power to shape the individual’s experience. Empathy, as expressed through an event’s schedule and communication, tells our guests that we know them and that we value them enough to design something just for them.
What we’re talking about is the difference between “You have a ticket, so I guess you belong here,” and “You belong here, so here’s your ticket.” I think we all know which experience we’d enjoy more and which experience we’d return to again and again.
Scott McClellan is the communications pastor at Irving Bible Church and the author of “Tell Me a Story: Finding God (and Ourselves) Through Narrative.” Visit him online at scottlikes.com or follow him on Twitter @scottmcclellan.