Making The Case for Connections Over Content in Events

Virgil Wadhwa
• December 21, 2022

(3 min read)

This recap blog includes top highlights from Airmeet Evention Episode 6: From Content-first to Connection-first Events. Watch or listen to the full event below.

You want your next event to have a lasting impact on your attendees and drive revenue. 

To do so, you don’t need the flashiest content or coolest keynote speakers.

Fostering connections between participants just might be the most powerful thing you could offer.

Airmeet’s CMO Mark Kilens assembled a team of heavy-hitting community experts: Banu Kannu, Co-founder of Uncommon Conferences, Christina Garnett, Principal Marketing Manager of Offline Community and Advocacy at Hubspot, and Liz Lathan, Co-founder of The Community Factory. 

During our recent live Eventions episode: From Content-first to Connection-first Events, they dove deep into how events and community go hand in hand and why you need to put connections first.

Did you miss it? No worries! Checkout all the best takeaways or dive into the full episode.

Listen in here:


Watch the full episode here: 

How events and communities are similar—and how they’re not

In our live poll, we found that over half of our audience will prioritize community building in 2023. In fact, community building beat out both content creation and customer advocacy. 

Liz says that you don’t have to offer a 365-day-per-year community like a moderated forum or membership site to build a successful community. You could host one big event per year to spark connections and relationships that will last year-round. 

On the other hand, Banu imagines the relationship between events and community like a PB&J sandwich. The shared challenges that your community face are the peanut butter and jelly. Events are top slice of bread, and content is the bottom slice.
All of our panelists agreed that events only count as community building if you offer opportunities for attendees to connect with each other.

Communities can be born out of events. Events can be breeding ground for communities.

How to build loyal communities through connections

In a post-2020 world, people are looking for connection more than ever.

If your events fail to provide opportunities for connection, they’ll fall flat. Attendees want to grow their network, chat with like-minded individuals, meet their idols, and have a good time.

Everyone always talks about the hallway moments. They talk about who they got to have drinks with afterwards, who they took a selfie with. An event should create those connective bonds. Are you fostering opportunities to connect?

To actually drive those connections, try scheduling them in. Liz recently helped to produce an event in the Bahamas. Her team scheduled all of the content sessions before 10AM and after 4PM. During the day, people could forge new relationships and strengthen old ones during structured networking activities.

The right emotions to evoke during your events

Most event marketers aren’t just trying to drive brand awareness and loyalty with their events. They’re trying to drive pipeline and revenue. To do so, you need to cultivate the right emotions with your event environment.

Liz shared a Harvard study that uncovered the most important emotions to evoke in attendees:

  1. Hopeful
  2. Adventurous
  3. Active
  4. Accepted
  5. Motivated

When people feel accepted, they’ll be more at ease and comfortable sharing their challenges and goals. And when everyone is hopeful, they’ll come together in positive dialogue and walk away ready to implement new ideas. 

All of these emotions matter, so consider how you can adjust your events to satisfy all five. 

When to go big VS when small events are better

What’s the right fit for your next event: big or small?

Our panelists agreed that while small events can be easier to pull off, they can be harder to get approved because the effort might not produce as much ROI.

In most cases, the higher the KPIs the better. The more people involved, the more money it brings in, etc. Smaller events are harder to get buy-in and convince senior leadership on why that small event is worthwhile.

Small events can be great for account-based marketing campaigns, but if you’re looking to drive a higher volume of new customers, large events are probably a better fit. Make sure you have event organizers in charge of creating micro-events and smaller community experiences.

Christina says that in small events, it can be harder for attendees to find their people. But with a big event, there’s more opportunity for each person to feel represented and find someone to connect with. They can experience the intimacy of a small event during breakout sessions or optional activities—all housed within a larger event. 

And don’t forget that you can (and should) use small virtual events to build up anticipation for your mega in-person event. 

What event formats will grow your unique community?

Whether or not you should opt for virtual, in-person, or hybrid events really depends on what your audience needs. Through advanced participation features, virtual events have gotten a lot more human. They allow your team and customers to connect without the hassle of travel, and they’re excellent for forging relationships in between IRL events.

However, the amount of serotonin that floods the human brain when we meet in person—especially if we’re used to working digitally—can’t be met. So consider using in-person events for experiences that are meant to be all about having fun or building individual relationships.

I think you can be so incredibly human virtually. We use the screen as a portal, not a boundary.

Ready to host a connections-first event? Keep in mind that the events industry is still in the transition phase from a content-first mindset to a connections-first mindset. If you’re concerned about buy-in, try pitching your main event content and then working connectivity in. The more moments for connection you create, the better.

Our Eventions series is full of actionable content and fresh ideas to help you host events that are exciting and impactful.

Register for the Eventions series. 

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