Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Importance of Being Part of the Action

The simplest truths are often the most powerful.  In reviewing photos from the recent Super Bowl Village here in Indianapolis, I was reminded of a very important one: people just want to be a part of the action. 

We’ve got fancier words and concepts for it nowadays, focusing in associations on member and volunteer engagement, in the workplace on employee engagement according to Gallup, and in higher education institutions on student involvement But for the feet on the ground, it’s even simpler:  I.  Was.  There. 

It’s easy to forget how deeply people value simply being part of a special experience overall and then having micro-moments of interaction that make it even more memorable.  Here are some ways that Super Indy, Super Bowl XLVI, helped people be a part of the action that could be transferable to your own efforts.

Offer handcrafted welcomes.

For some they might be a bit cheesy, but I was touched that the hundreds of media reps attending the Super Bowl received scrawled and colored notes from local schoolchildren welcoming them to Indy and talking about what they like about our city.  These notes echo the way eighth graders had flown to each NFL team’s city and hand-delivered Indy’s Super Bowl bid to owners.  These kids got to be part of it all.

Spotlight personal stories.

Organizations and communities are comprised exist of individuals, and each individual has a story to share.  Indy spotlighted 46 faces and stories from our community in videos shared at a special website, XLVI Faces, and on banners displayed in the heart of Super Bowl Village.  Ostensibly designed to share local stories with visitors, they also share the diversity of the Indy community with those of us who call it home.  The more anonymous or generic your place or event may unintentionally feel, the more valuable it is to intentionally make it more personal.

Make it easy for individuals to contribute.

One of my favorite XLVI faces and stories is that of Bev Meska, the 82-year-old-woman woman who was one of the hundreds of people who knitted a special blue and white scarf for out more than 8000 Super Bowl volunteers.  She started out to crochet a single scarf; she ended up making more than 300.  Done on their own time (and I think, dime) these individual efforts that often occurred in isolation connected people to a larger and meaningful purpose and contribution.  Every time they saw a scarf they knew that someone just like them had created it.  Aggregating manageable individual efforts allows us to amplify the number of people having a meaningful connection to something special.  Ideas that seem impossibly large become incredibly manageable if we make it easier for individuals to contribute.

Connect small efforts to bigger purposes.

While the scarves were one of the most visible examples of how individual volunteer efforts were connected to a much larger shared success, I was struck by the smart approach Pepsico’s Dream Machine's uses to do the same for individuals who might otherwise trash a recyclable item.  It’s one thing to throw your plastic bottle into a typical recycling bin, it’s another to contribute it to a receptacle that (1) increases the donation Pepsico makes to a charitable organization, and (2) offers individual recyclers redeemable points for every item that they contribute. 

Help people share their story.

One of the best parts of mobile technology and social media is how they  enable individuals to share stories in real-time with their communities.  Several stations in the Super Bowl Village included video booths where you could record a quick message about your Super Bowl experience and email it out to friends and family.

So the next time you got to plan an event—a staff meeting, a convention, dinner for friends and family, or a neighborhood celebration—remember the importance of people feeling part of it all, incorporate several simple ways for them to do so, and think about who may not feel particularly welcome and look to correct the root causes.

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