1. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

A Community of Community Builders – Part 1

If you build it, they will come.

One of the best things about working with incredible people for the last 30 years is that they are now working across the events industry — some as corporate clients, some as event organizers, some leading amazing associations, and some working with me right here at Freeman. Most of us have been in the biz long enough to have a true sense of our prime directive. I mean, sure, we have the actual event to produce and KPIs to deliver. But beyond the tactical work, I’ll bet that each of us can point to a time or place when we realized that our real job was — and continues to be — community building.

The first time this became crystal clear for me was when I was invited to join Jonathon Seybold as the 17th employee of his Seybold Seminars organization. From an old mansion in Malibu, our team created conferences and trade shows focused on the use of digital technologies in publishing. No one asked Jonathon to do this. But his father was a pioneer in developing computer-based typesetting systems and he saw a need. Jonathon was a visionary in understanding the power of bringing people together around a shared purpose.

He created a community out of disparate tech groups by offering a forum for discovery — the latest and greatest information and innovations — at events that made it easy to share ideas and even collaborate. We quickly built up a portfolio of properties that attracted a Who’s Who in the nascent digital technologies field.

That was my first experience with community building, and from there things expanded exponentially. With each new event and each new team I worked with, I discovered brilliant people who today are part of our own network — a community of community builders.

If you are lucky enough to be in the events industry, or if your life affords you the opportunity to help build communities, consider yourself privileged. And obligated. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer makes it clear that our society is becoming increasingly fractured by polarized groups suspicious of each other’s agendas. I believe the polarization is based largely on accidental ignorance — a default to defensive prejudices formed without first-hand experience.

Blasting people with data and expecting them to become suddenly open minded just doesn’t work. However, Freeman’s own research with Edelman makes it clear that attendees rank live events as the most-trusted source of information.

This suggests that community-building events are our best hope of creating meaningful connection and collaboration. When people work together, sharing a common passion or goal, those unfounded biases and assumptions begin to fade. The actual differences don’t matter as much. The chasms don’t seem as deep.

I have 30+ years and hundreds of friends who can bear witness to how well community building  works. And how fun and rewarding it can be. Seize the moment. Join the community of community builders.

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