To experience the power of the ripple effect in action, event designers need look no further than your favorite music festival. Call it research as you spread your blanket on the hillside and watch the scene unfold:
The first chords ring out as the sun starts to set on the horizon.
Pink and purple hues tinge the sky, and the stage lighting begins to mimic nature’s beauty.
As the headliners emerge through a billowing fog, you can feel new electricity in the air.
Excitement flows through the crowd as the elements coalesce, the sound amps up and thousands of people simultaneously reach for the sky.
So many of the spectacles you see at play in the sea of concertgoers relate back to the elements of effective event design. It all builds to creating an environment for “collective effervescence,” a term coined by sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the synchrony associated with communally shared experiences.
Standing ovations. Roaring laughter. Dance parties. Get-out-your-glow-sticks moments that bring a group into rhythm and cadence together are known to create greater emotional closeness and rapport. Amplifying organic attendee-created moments at your event and orchestrating collective experiences can promote feelings of goodwill toward your brand.
Identifying the Influencers
Creating an inspiring environment has a role in kindling ripple effect, but people are the critical element. Music provides the beat, but you need someone to start dancing. Then someone else will tap into their energy and join in, sparking the dance party. We see the phenomenon of the “first follower” illustrated in this classic (under-three-minute!) TED Talk, “How to Start a Movement
Some event marketers look to hire outside influencers to build buzz at their events. But there are attendees already on your invite list who hold the capacity to inspire others. As you’re building attendee personas, look for those who have high social energy and are willing to embrace novel experiences and share their experience with others.
Engage these attendee influencers through the obvious avenues (event app gamification and leaderboards) or design a journey that taps into their unique skills and goals. Invite them on stage to engage with the entertainment. Encourage them to kick off a Q&A session with questions that will pave the way toward deeper insights. Be intentional in offering opportunities but make the ripple effect feel natural.
Layering in Meaningful Moments
We know attendees crave connection to a deeper purpose and cause. And brands who want to build loyalty see embracing corporate social responsibility as a winning approach. At two events we hosted, planned experiences sparked powerful organic moments, creating key memories for all involved:
- Participants collected toiletry items for a local homeless shelter as part of the event give-back component, an activity reinforced when representatives from the shelter came to present at that night’s dinner about the impact their donation will make in people’s lives. The shelter’s message created such an emotional response that attendees jumped to launch a spontaneous “pass the hat” moment, collecting cash for the cause. Management added energy to the moment by pledging on the spot to match donations from the crowd that day, creating an even greater impact on the community.
- On an incentive trip to Tanzania, the company donated to a local school to buy enough workbooks for all students to have their own. As part of the welcome event, the principal of the school and the children came to perform traditional songs and dances as thanks for their act of kindness. (And, let’s be honest, to create an unforgettable experience for the attendees). Following the inspiring performance, the attendees asked to give up their safari tour the next day to go visit the school instead.
Engagement is also driven by social contact and bonds between the participants. In each example, a mix of planned and organic activity coalesced to create a kind of “collective effervescence” that led to deepened connection and a sense of shared impact. Attendees want to feel that they’re part of something special. Building an emotional bond can mean letting go of some of the control and trusting participants to bring their authentic, positive energy to fuel your event.