Hugh Lashbrooke

Community builder by day, tabletop game designer by night.

The Five Principles: Shared Experiences

This post is part of a series looking at what I believe to be the five key principles for creating long-lasting community connections at scale. You can read all of the posts in this series in this archive.

The third of the five principles for creating community connections at scale is shared experiences. This plays out in many different ways, so let’s have a look at what it entails.

It is only by being honest about how we bring people together that we can begin to see tangible results.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this is included here – we all understand that meeting together is a great way to form connections and build rapport with each other. With that in mind, what I’m going to talk about in this post isn’t so much why we meet but rather how we think about and plan these shared experiences for our communities. It is only by being honest about how we bring people together that we can begin to see tangible results.

Be intentional about outcomes

The first thing to remember when planning shared experiences for your community is to be thoughtful and intentional about what you organise, how you do it and what you intend to be the result. Keep your outcomes in mind, be clear about who your audience is, and make sure the experience is relevant and timely. It’s easy to organise a social activity, either online or in-person, and it’s even easier to do it in a way that doesn’t really have any lasting impact on your community. If you aren’t intentional about working towards a particular set of outcomes then people may have fun, but it won’t leave much of an impression.

This doesn’t mean you have to turn all of your shared experiences into learning experiences with deep moral lessons, but you do need to think about what you want to get out of them:

If your goal is to create some space for meaningful conversations, then think about seeding them by providing targeted questions that draw people into the discussions you’re hoping to see.

If you’re looking to help community members learn more from each other about topics they care about, hold a Lean Coffee or unconference event.

If you want to have fun solving puzzles, go through an escape room together.

Whatever you do – think about what you want the experience to achieve for your community and be intentional about working towards that outcome.

Ensure diversity

Make all of your events the same and your community will remain homogeneous. Focus on diversity when creating shared experiences for your community and you’ll find a wealth of intricate differences amongst members. If you keep this in mind when bringing your community members together then you’ll go a long way towards cultivating a robust, diverse community.

There is plenty to think about here – event formats, venue accessibility, types of events, venue considerations, and lots more – but I don’t want to dive into all of that in this post as this isn’t about event organising. I do, however, want to focus on one area that requires careful consideration, especially in today’s context:

Online, offline and hybrid experiences

I have previously spoken and written about hybrid communities as a way to be truly inclusive – that linked post includes some practical ideas in this regard, so I would encourage you to read it. If you’re going to ensure full representation in your community then your shared experiences need to include as many people as possible. Considering online, offline and hybrid experiences is an important part of this thinking.

That being said, you need to make sure you cater to the needs of your community. Sometimes a hybrid experience can detract from the in-person experience or maybe an online gathering works best if you don’t include an in-person element. The point here isn’t to be prescriptive, but to encourage you to (once again) be intentional with how you plan shared experiences within your community. Keep your stated outcomes in mind and the optimal format and location will become readily apparent.

Follow up

Finally, when an experience is over, you need to come back to the outcomes that you thought about do hard at the beginning and follow up on them. Think about what you were hoping to achieve with the experience and focus on any tasks that would make that more meaningful and achievable. There are a few ways you could do this and it all depends on what the experience was and what you were wanting to see happen.

If you organised a social experience for community members to get to know new people in the group, then ask them individually if they were able to do that.

If you organised a training session, send out a short quiz to test their knowledge of the subject.

If you brought people together for a book club, make sure they know what the next reading is and provide any additional resources to help them.

It’s difficult to be prescriptive here since it all depends on what you’re doing with your community, but if you remain intentional about your outcomes then a timely and relevant follow-up will always be a part of your strategy. Not only does it provide you with direct feedback from your community, but it provides a space for your members to reflect and solidify the experience for themselves.

Focus on the outcomes.

Shared experiences can do good things for your community even if you don’t put a lot of effort into being intentional about what you do with them. They can, however, do absolutely life-changing things if you go that extra mile and make sure you know how you want your community members to grow and what you want them to achieve at the end of it. Focus on the outcomes, make sure you are always working towards them, and you will find your shared community experiences create long-lasting and deep connections no matter the size of your community.

Read on to the next post in this series that covers the fourth principle of Social Learning.

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