To say that emotions have been running high in the U.S. over the last month since the election of Donald Trump is possibly the understatement of the new century. Whatever side you ended up on, whatever your political affiliation, you are probably exhausted and ready for a break from the election's divisiveness as well as the media's continuous barrage on our senses. (You may also need a drink or two ... or twenty.)
However, as event professionals, we will be faced with the repercussions from this election over the coming months as attendees of all political persuasions will be coming to our events and interacting with each other. Granted, some of you may be holding events that may appeal more to one particular mindset or political leaning, but even in these cases you may have guests that widely differ in their reactions and level of attachment/detachment with the issues of the day.
So as you plan and launch events during the Trump Era, here are a few rules to follow to ensure that your events remain on track and your attendees stay engaged with each other ... not enraged at each other.
1. Provide a "safe haven" for your attendees
Whether you are hosting a fundraiser, organizing a meeting or planning a party or wedding, you may have attendees with positions all over the political map. And one thing that can intimidate attendees and put them on the defensive is if they feel they or their ideas are being minimized or attacked. And when people feel cornered, they tend to lash out, which could require you to diffuse uncomfortable situations and even derail your event.
So from the outset you should make your attendees feel comfortable to be who they are and let attendees know that their role is not to judge each other but to try and understand, listen to and learn from each other. Yes, this may sound very "kumbaya", but by setting this precedent at the outset, you can hopefully diffuse any eruptions before they occur and begin your event with a low anxiety/aggression baseline.
One suggestion for setting this example is for you or your first speaker to openly acknowledge the potential differences of opinion in the room and to reiterate the purpose of the event so everyone can stay focused on it and not on defending a position that may not have anything to do with the event.
2. Offer positive solutions
Every election season has a fair measure of negativity, but this season has subjected us to something more like an avalanche of negativity, followed by a tsunami of vitriol, finished off by an apocalypse of animosity.
Of course this is cause for concern as to what it says about the state of our government, but it also sets an unfortunate precedent in that this dark mood bleeds into our daily lives and interactions with each other. It's as if we now expect negative interactions and outcomes in all facets of our lives, and to be honest there are many, many things in our lives to be thankful for and to embrace.
It's one of your responsibilities as an event organizer to rise above the fray and focus on positive solutions and outcomes for your events. The events you create can be a path forward both for your attendees and for your cause, company or organization. And if you are celebrating an occasion, this can be a moment of reflection and a reminder of the common ground we share. Embracing forward-thinking themes and constructive ideas will not only unite your attendees but it gives them hope and purpose as they leave your event and return to what many feel is an uncertain new world.
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3. Don't contribute to the noise and misinformation
As we have witnessed in politics over the last 20 years, saying extreme things and speaking in constant hyperbole often works wonders and gains lots of ears and eyeballs. The media has picked up on this and used it to spin ratings at the cost of our sanity. Marketers even stir up fake controversy to attract attention. And social media is usually the rank cauldron where all this activity brews and builds, where misstatements, exaggerations and even downright lies go unchecked and take on the semblance of truth and normality.
In the end, we all end up feeling duped by our culture, like everyone and everything is trying to pull one over on us and trick us into believing or buying something. So we approach every message and look at every messenger with suspicion.
This is why it is vital for your outreach and your message to attendees to be honest, heartfelt and sincere. Sure there's still room to be clever, creative and even edgy. And maybe your topic or approach is controversial in and of itself. But if you think playing on people's fears or relying on shock is now normal behavior in getting people's attention, then you may discover that we are all getting pretty desensitized to it, and you will most likely alienate a segment of your audience that you will never get back. Don't stoop to the level of our political discourse (or lack thereof) ... rise above it. Your attendees will appreciate you all the more for it.
4. Encourage and create opportunities for dialogue
Politically, our country is as polarized as ever, and more than ever Americans' identities are wrapped up into party affiliation. Unfortunately this has created "siloed" populations where like-minded people only seek out information that reinforces their beliefs and only interact with people who agree with them.
As event professionals, we have both an immense challenge and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an open dialogue among attendees so we all can start finding common ground and understanding each other better and what motivates each of us to think and act. This is where the events industry can take the lead in creating forums where dialogue is encouraged and where people can listen to different ideas and come to respect different points of view.
The key word here is "respect", in that Trump-Era events need to encourage a respectful demeanor among attendees in which people are less inclined to judge, react or withdraw and more inclined to listen, participate and interact in a positive fashion with one another. This is the best way to ensure your attendees leave your events satisfied and inspired ... and the best way to ensure they continue to attend future events.
The Donald Trump administration may well bring a fair amount of change and controversy, but by following these four rules you give your events the best chance of success in the era of Trump.