5 Ways To Build Community At An Event: Beyond the Hashtag

I’ve attended my fair share of technology conferences. If I told you how many I’d be showing my age. Instead you’ll have to take my word that I’ve been around a LOT of shows.  One thing I’ve noticed is that over the years conferences have gotten a little boring. They all have generally the same agenda structure, similar modular exhibit booths and while content is often compelling, delivery can get a little dull.  That’s why I’m so pleasantly surprised by some really cool community building things I saw at Velocity (#velocityconf)  – WAY beyond the event hashtag. Here are five of  my favorites that are inexpensive enough to be applied to any event you might be hosting.

#1 The Badge Bar: Attendees are provided the standard “trade show” badge. It displays my name, company and what type of ticket I purchased. They also post my Twitter ID which is a clever addition. But what really got my attention was the Badge Bar.  Dozens of expressive tags were put on an open table for you to customize your show identity — everything from Hacker to Community Wrangler to I’m Hiring. They even had blank tags for individuals to customize. I don’t think I saw one badge the entire show that wasn’t customized. Absolutely  fun, but also extremely insightful as a marketer. I learned a lot about the individual just by what badges they opted to share with pride, and they were great conversation starters.

#2 Birds of a Feather (for real):  If you’ve ever been to a conference you’ve seen “birds of a feather” tables at lunch. These tables are designed to bring people with like interests together for informal discussions and networking. In most cases there are a list of pre-determined topics and you select the table you want to join. Not at Velocity. Instead there was a huge board with 9 empty table slots. And guess who picked the topics? Attendees! What a great way to elevate the most compelling lunch and breakfast conversations. I saw everything from Womens’ Networking, to Scaling MySQL.

#3 Jazz Up the Entertainment – From New Relic’s Nerd Express to live music at Dyn’s Dyntini activities were a blast and spoke volumes about the culture of sponsoring companies. I love that these technology providers weren’t afraid to let their culture shine through. The conference even hosted lunch one day pool side. Perfect weather is a great way to Jazz up even a simple buffet lunch. It certainly sent a message – sit back, relax and enjoy some great conversations.

#4 The Feedback WALL – It’s amazing what a white wall and marker’s with a simple prompt will invite. Velocity attendees were invited to respond to a simple statement– Velocity IS….  What a great way to solicit feedback and tap into the emotional connection everyone had to the show community. I assure you by lunch on Day 2 the wall was full of funny tidbits.

#5 Encourage Innovation – Walking mascots, open demo night, and an innovator pavilion, featuring ParElastic and Percona, all sent a clear vibe – try something new. As web enthusiasts this crowd not only embraced new, they thrived on it.

I learned a lot about web optimization and performance management at the conference, but the thing I will remember most is how the community came together without feeling forced. Can’t wait to let these ideas inspire me at my next event.