How to design events and build communities today: a reading list
We read to know we're not alone.
We gather for pretty much the same reason.
Words by Sabina Fratila
In today's world, we happily spend money on digital tools to help us create events and bring people together.
What we should spend more time on, however, is understanding the very analog nature of human behaviour, group dynamics and how people share an experience.
We know at least two great ways of doing that: by experiencing it ourselves, and by reading about it. This article will help with the second method. Without further ado, here's a very diverse list of books that will help you understand how to create meaningful gatherings and sustainable communities.
Author Joseph Luft was a renowned psychologist. Together with Harrington Ingham, he developed the Johari window, a tool and technique used to analyze interpersonal relationships and group behaviours.
This book is not about events and communities, but understanding how human interaction works is a prerequisite for being able to facilitate it. And what are events all about, if not human interaction? The important challenges we face in designing events are not logistical in nature, but human. Dealing with AV equipment and floral arrangements is one thing. Dealing with helping strangers connect and have transformative conversations, that's a different story.
Seth Godin's bestseller is a much lighter read than the previous recommendation. The premise of the book is that “human beings can’t help it: we need to belong”. The author offers his take on how to gather people around a shared idea, but also around a leader. Whether that leader is you, someone else, a collective or an abstract character, leading means creating the feeling of trust and belonging. While that's not easy, it's sooooo worth it, and you'll learn all about it in this book!
How We Gather is a Millennial-led spiritual startup collaboration between Harvard Divinity School, the Fetzer Institute and the On Being Project. "How we gather" is also a well-known report in the community and social startup scene. The report discusses the decreasing popularity of religious communities and how millennials find spirituality and belonging in today's secular world. Even if your work as an event creator has nothing to do with spirituality, reading "How we gather" is crucial in understanding how younger generations connect on social and emotional levels, and the importance of communities for our personal and professional future.
Priya Parker likes to say that Martha Stewart's greatest crime was "telling a generation of hosts that gathering is about fish knives, flowers and canapés; that if you get the things right, magic will happen. [...] I wanted to write a book that shifted the focus away from the crudités and on to what actually creates magic between people." What she brings to the table is the perspective of an expert in group dialogue and conflict resolution. In "The art of gathering", we get an account of the dynamics behind traditional types of events and rituals, how they inform the way we design events today, and how we can bring back the focus on getting people to really connect rather than just attend.
Eric de Groot and Mike van der Vijver's book approaches meetings in a business and organizational context. Having facilitated meetings for 20+ years through their company MindMeeting, the authors have plenty of experience and use cases to share. You'll learn the processes behind productive meetings and and get inspiration for any kind of gathering you might be managing–even outside the business world.
If you're still not sold on the book, watch Eric de Groot's TED talk on how business meetings don't necessarily have to bore you to death.
As you can feel, we're finally getting more practical in this reading list. Ruud Janssen and Roel Frissen from the Event Design Collective first created the Event Canvas. This is a strategic tool that helps event creators map out every single aspect of event planning. Then came the handbook, which expands on the Event Canvas with use cases and testimonials from event organizers who have used this method.
When you study a topic, you should take into account as many diverse perspectives as possible, and tap into various areas of expertise. That's why, as our last item on this reading list, we're recommending an architecture book.
Herman Verkerk and his team at EventArchitectuur put into this book 20+ years of work in exhibition design and temporary architecture. Reading it will inspire you to see the setting of an event as an art form. Yes, we did say you should forget about floral arrangements or canapés and focus on human interaction. But sometimes it's just as important to understand how space impacts human interaction, and how time-based architecture can create a memorable narrative for the shared experience of your audience. Here's an excerpt from the book, just to get you curious enough to read the whole thing.
These 7 titles are a tiny fraction of all the available resources on the topic. If you found this helpful, let us know – we'd be happy to expand on it and incorporate your suggestions as well!