Event Intimacy & Vulnerability

I’ve started writing this post SO many times that I’ve lost count. I’m struggling with how connected moments of vulnerability are to intimacy and active learning. And I’m energized by the conversations and experiences I’ve had with others over the last week around needing to move events in this direction. But, on the flip side, I’m witnessing a cultural norm that scares me. Statistically, we chose to learn passively over actively because of the risks. As a result, I see organizations investing in and participants lining up for passive learning, like large auditorium simulcasts and speaker-focused events. This production style offers networking in addition to information distribution. Still, networking is inherently transactional. We choose those to connect with rather than unite with others that can place us outside our comfort zone. We select the conversations we want to engage in rather than follow a designed conversation to create learning moments.

Thanks for staying with me. The connection between our desire to remain passive relates to vulnerability and intimacy. Active learning opens us to sharing at levels that can help us grow and make us uncomfortable. Doing so in a large group compounds the stress. So as event owners, how do vulnerability, intimacy, and active learning relate? And how can we use this understanding of the interaction between these design elements to create high-impact learning experiences for our audiences?

Three people sharing with each other.

Event Intimacy

Intimacy is a matter of interaction design, not audience size. The ideal number of participants for intimate group work is an entire article. At MYNDDSET, we typically design interactions around groups of three, whether the audience size is 1000 or 30.

How an emcee, expert, or instructor engages with an audience impacts event intimacy. For example, it is possible to “feel” a deep connection with someone on stage if they create the impression of having a 1:1 conversation with you. Therefore, coaching anyone who takes the stage for your event is vital to ensuring intimacy at scale.

The last aspect of creating event intimacy is time. Cycling through group work and moments of exploring ideas with an expert presenter is a balance of minutes, not hours. Plan and communicate the rules of engagement for interactions. Ensure your speakers know what you expect from every hour. We recommend that speakers take center stage for 1/3 of their session and dedicate the remaining time to small group work.

Creating intimacy can seem tactical, so let’s explore its relationship to inspiring human vulnerability.

Participant Vulnerability

Intimate small groups allow orchestrated time to share and acknowledge what each group member offers. The small size also provides a platform for all voices to surface. When groups surpass three members, louder, more confident voices can dominate. The keys to consider are allowing everyone to share, respond, and have equal time to do both. But this is not enough to bring about moments of vulnerability.

Asking questions that require participants to think deeply and share openly, even if it means sharing somewhat in-depth personal stories, is vital to hosting high-impact learning experiences. Asking participants to share their pains and problems related to your topic is a great start. The goal of the emcee or speaker is to model the level of sharing needed to move the group forward and describe the rules to ensure dynamic and equitable conversations. If you missed our article on asking great questions, check it out.


Active Learning

Active learning can seem intimidating. However, we can lessen intimidation by considering how to produce and lead sessions offering intimacy and safe vulnerability. Giving participants the right environment to share and not be judged but be heard and acknowledged prepares them to try bolder actions with more risks.

Thanks for spending time with MYNDDSET.

Mark Burke
Founder and Lead Experience Designer