5 things successful event organizers can learn from The Burning Man Festival
This months Burning Man festival is a momentous year for the event. The yearly gathering of the burning man tribe builds a temporary city in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. This years event is its largest ever for the event planners. If you haven’t heard of the festival take a quick look at the Wikipedia page The Burning Man and you will get a plethora of information.
Event organizers can learn a few things on how to build a successful event from Burning Man which has grown in huge numbers since 1986.
1) Set up your event principles.
Conference organizers should set up a list of things, goals that they want to happen at their event. Take aways from attendees. This also is a good time to set up a few archetypes of your attendees, so you can build your goals. When making decisions look at what these attendees will want. The Burning Man has The Ten Principles which drive the community. Burning man looks and listens to the community and these archetypes. It is a good idea to know who is coming to your event or meeting and give them what they want for content and experiences.
2) Be careful when ticketing.
This years Burning Man had a large fiasco trying to accommodate the growing community. Last years event was a sell out and this year they held a lottery to sell the tickets . Many long time “Burners” decided not to go just because of this. So make it easy for your attendees to get tickets, and make sure your community can afford them. Also think about who you want in your community. Burning Man has some tickets set aside for lower income folks. Maybe think about students that might be interested in your conference or industry. For corporate events take the time to figure out good dates for your attendees that way they will be able to more readily attend. Think about vacations, other industry events, what else is going on in the city or venue, religious holidays and depending on the audience large sporting events.
3) Capacity and Production Elements.
This years Burning Man will be well over 61,000 people so infrastructure will be a huge obstacle for making it work smoothly. Bathroom locations, medical, power, water, ice, art installations, theme camps. The actual Burning of the Burning man which brings up line of sight issues, crowds etc… For your meeting think about the capacity. Is your venue holding your attendees comfortably? Is it too cavernous or crowded. Can everyone hear and see the content. Has the audio visual been vetted? Is the temperature comfortable? Are the bathrooms and breakouts sessions close by?
Being out in the middle of the desert the communications for Burning Man with the outside world is pretty dismal. But the volunteer community takes over. To unplug, create and collaborate. Burning Man is an experiment in a temporary community. Communication is done differently. The Burning Man has Rangers who are volunteers to help people get answers, they have a radio station BMIR 94.5 which can give emergency broadcast information, they do have a computer system so people can find theme camps and send messages, (but no internet access) and a central place to find information at the Playa information in center camp. Meetings and conferences are also small communities. Good event planning delivers your attendees as much information as they need and in different delivery methods is a good way to keep them happy. New technologies come to mind, event apps, games to distribute content but dont forget printed materials which are not very green but essential depending on the demographic of your attendees.
5) Spectacle and emotion.
Obviously, burning man is the spectacle of all spectacles of events. The whole event revolves around burning a giant wooden man in the middle of the desert. The burning man is not the only spectacle. The attendees are. The temporary city also enjoys fantastic art installations and the attendees dress the part: post apocalyptic to the just plain nude. Emotions also run high at burning man. Some make a pilgrimage ever year. They call burning man their church. I met a man yesterday who told me he was going because his neighbor committed suicide and he wanted to just go and be part of the community. Event organizers should keep spectacle and emotions in mind when designing events and meetings. At Grass Shack Events & Media we have produced large opening corporate theatre or engaging opening videos to set the tone for the event or meeting. In past years these spectacles were welcomed by audiences who want to feel part of something. It builds the community for attendees. If you can infuse as many emotions into your creative throughout your event you will build something memorable. If you don’t have a large budget consider storytelling. Work with presenters to build spectacle or emotions in their presentations. I promise this type of work will will drive attendees to do some sort of action. Even if it is just going home and telling your spouse. “That was the best meeting I have ever been to.”