"DFW Unplugged" hits House of Blues, offers 5 takeaways for engaging a community

Last week we hosted the first ever “DFW Unplugged” event at the House of Blues in Dallas. The idea behind the event was simple: get the technical community together and give them an opportunity to interact with each other, get to know each other better, and learn something in the process. Conferences happen all the time, and people are constantly going to networking and social mixers. This was an event that somewhere in the middle of those two things. With a live DJ from our friends at i Entertainment, great drinks provided by Deep Eddy Vodka, one of the coolest atmospheres in Dallas, and some absolutely amazing speakers, we wanted to do things a little differently than your average tech event. And based on people’s responses on our #DFWUnplugged hashtag, I think we were successful in our attempts.

As with every event, we should always look for the lesson that we, as event planners, can walk away with, and there were several for me. Here are just a few:

Let Go

When we started planning this event, one of the major things I was concerned about was choosing the content. We knew that we didn’t want it to be like every other conference, where people sit and learn things that may or may not be of any interest to them, or hear from speakers as they bloviate incessantly about themselves. We really wanted this to be an opportunity for the community to connect with and learn about each other. So, we asked each speaker one simple thing: to not talk about themselves. Every speaker was given this sole directive. They could talk about anything they wanted to, so long as it wasn’t just about them or the organizations they represented. And the responses and presentations were amazing as a result. Once we asked speakers to unplug themselves from their respective organizations, it forced them to think outside of the things they would normally speak about and ended up providing us with topics that spoke to the good of everyone.

There is no box

Years ago, a mentor and friend of mine challenged me when I made a comment about “thinking outside of the box.” He said simply, “what box?” Most of us try desperately to make our events different, using the all-too-popular adage of thinking outside of the box in our efforts. My challenge was simply that there never was a box to begin with. Each event is an opportunity to create, and save being limited by time and space, there is no limitation that creativity and ingenuity can’t overcome. We were faced with some significant challenges in getting this event to feel different than any other—from the fact that people are busy living their lives and may not have time to network, to the fact that many people normally associate only with those in their same spheres of influence (which makes real networking difficult). But it wasn’t until we started to think as if there were no limitations to the event or the group that these problems became actual opportunities to redefine what events look like.

Source the Crowd

It is a bit of a cliche in today’s day and age, but it’s true: the crowd can and will rally around you to make an event come to life if they truly believe in it. If you give people the opportunity to own the event and really tap into their desire to be a part of its success, you will be amazed at how easy it will be to get the word out and really make an impact in the community. About a week out from the event, we started to get worried because we didn’t have enough people registered to really make the impact we wanted to, so we reached out. We asked each speaker, as well as the key influencers in the community (people with a platform or a bullhorn that others listened to) to talk, write, blog, tweet, and Facebook about the event. Within days, our numbers literally doubled and we were gifted with a great crowd on the night of the event. Remember that people want to be a part of the event’s success: we just have to give them an opportunity.

Give

Every event is an opportunity for the greater community to be impacted, and for every attendee to be a part of giving back. We went out and found an organization that would resonate with the hearts of our attendees, in this case a nonprofit that helps men and women in Zambia start sustainable businesses, and donated the proceeds to their efforts. While each event will be different in what you can offer to those affecting change in your community, there is always something that we can do to be a part of making a change in our world. Look for opportunities to give back because they matter just as much, if not more, than your opportunities to sell out your event.

Relax

Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and there are fewer times when this is true than in events. Something is going to be overlooked, something is going to go wrong, and you will experience some element of the event that isn’t 100% of what your vision was, but… let it go. For us, it was something as simple as forgetting to alphabetize the registration list, which led to the name badges being out of order. It created a bit of a hassle during the check-in process, but it was quickly surmounted and people had a great time once they got inside the venue. When we first realized the oversight, we started to stress out about it, but we quickly realized that there was nothing we could about it and let it go. Besides a few brief comments, no one even noticed.

To see more pictures from the event, check us out on Facebook.