Unconference Basics — Step 7: Begin Personal Invitations

Inviting People To An Event

Now that you’ve got a lot of the key ingredients for your unconference nailed down, it’s time to open event registration and have people commit to participating!

In his book “To Sell Is Human,” Daniel Pink says,

To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.”

personal invitationWhen you extend a personal invitation for someone to participate in an unconference, you’re attempting to convince them to part with their time (a valuable personal resource) in exchange for a worthwhile experience and their personal take-aways from the event. To be successful in that sales pitch, you need to understand:

  1. What experiences and take-aways the unconference offers.
  2. What event experiences the invitee will find enjoyable and worth their time.
  3. What take-aways from an event will convince that person to “spend” their time at it.
  4. Whether your invitee groks the benefits of the event to which they have been invited.

In the hyperconnected, overscheduled, short-attention-span, 24/7 American world of 2016, people need an effectively-communicated and persuasively-designed invitation if you want them to participate in your unconference. If they enjoy participating in events relevant to their personal interests, they are likely bombarded with information about, or invitations to, a plethora of events by emails, texts, social media, word of mouth, and maybe even snail mail.

About the only thing that will make your communication about an unconference stand out in their personal barrage of incoming information is one or more of the following:

  1. It’s perceived as a truly personal invitation from someone who understands the invitee’s interests and actually cares if they participate in the event.
  2. The invitee understands the experiences and take-aways they can get by participating in the unconference.
  3. Something in the communication is interesting enough to the invitee to motivate them to find out more about the event and consider participating in it.

What Isn’t A Personal Invitation?

not a personal invitationIf you Google for “personal invitation,” some of the search results will be from marketing companies or from other resources offering marketing advice. Marketing companies don’t send out, or help clients send out, personal invitations. Putting my first and last name in a bulk mailing flyer doesn’t make it feel personal — it just makes it annoying. These large scale marketing products are more accurately termed “personalized’ invitations.

The real issue here is that personal invitations just don’t scale. If the person receiving the invitation understands or feels that the invitation is more about the sender than the receiver, they are likely to hit the Delete key. Or they’ll quickly forget the conversation which felt a lot more like a sales pitch than a caring request to participate in an event the person extending the invitation thought would be of genuine interest to the invitee.

A personal invitation isn’t:

  • Received from MailChimp or XYZ Marketing, LLC.
  • An email that has 48 people in the To: or CC: fields.
  • A conversation which doesn’t attempt to understand whether the unconference would be fun or worthwhile for the invitee.
  • A conversation which doesn’t attempt to confirm that the invitee has a good understanding of what the event is.
  • A request to come to the event which also asks you to invite lots of other people (and is thereby focusing more on the event than the invitee).

What Is A Personal Invitation?

So what is a personal invitation?

A personal invitation is a conversation or digital communication which makes you feel like someone truly cares whether you are at that event.

A post titled “The Power of the Personal Invitation” on sla.org says:

“…Think back to times…when you were personally invited to join the team, join the organization, write an article or post, render an opinion, edit a document, brainstorm, manage a project, research a complex issue, or lead.

  • How did the invitation make you feel?
  • What did you think when you were invited?
  • How did you respond to the invitation?

…perhaps, there is no connection more persuasive than the personal invitation. Recognizing a spark, talent or skill in another person and then inviting them to be involved honors the invitee and inspires them to get involved…Establishing relationships is the key to gaining insight into kevin kellysituations and opening doors to opportunities to learn and to become involved. Personal invitations are a way to initiate and strengthen relationships.

As Kevin Kelly so aptly put it, “The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.” The human attention given through personal invitation is very compelling indeed…”

So show the other person that you consider them important enough for you to share your scarcest possession — your attention — by extending them a genuinely personal invitation.

Personally Inviting Friends, Acquaintances And Coworkers

You most likely are comfortable with personal invitations to friends, coworkers and acquaintances you know through frequent or periodic contact. Because you’ve interacted with them before, you’ll know whom to invite and how to invite them.

The key to inviting these people is to make sure they (and you) know why you care if they come, and to focus the majority of your “invitation” on listening to their reaction and feedback. If they’re undecided about accepting the invite, understand how you can help them decide. If they definitely don’t want to accept the invite, accept that graciously and:

  1. Confirm that you understand their reason(s) so you don’t extend future invitations they won’t accept.
  2. Give their feedback to the unconference organizers so it can be taken into account when planning the next event.

Personally Inviting Someone You Don’t Know Well

You should consider personally inviting to the unconference people you don’t know if, and only if, the following three statements are applicable to them.

  1. Your event has unique aspects which you think will be of particular interest to them.
  2. You have reason to believe they will thoroughly enjoy the unconventional format of an unconference.
  3. They will make the event better for other participants because of their particular expertise, especially if it is in an area of rapid innovation or if they can help other people see issues from a different perspective.

As a starting point for personally inviting people you don’t currently know, research the general topic of the unconference. Additionally, learn more about several specific subtopics you know are of interest to committed participants or that you feel will be of very high interest to most participants. Identify high profile and cutting edge people in those topics. After making an “extensive” list of people doing cool stuff in areas relevant to your event, research those people and their work to determine what aspects of your unconference will be especially compelling for them and why they would be likely to enjoy the unconventional meeting format.

The number of people on an extensive list depends on who is making the list. If you’re an enthusiastic events wrangler with plenty of available time, and you’re personally passionate about the unconference topic, you might develop a list of 50 to 100 people. If you have limited time or feel there’s a low probability of the event being made better by you inviting people you don’t know, your extensive list might have only 5 people on it.

My personal expectation is that if I do an appropriate job of personally inviting people who don’t know me, one person in twenty will commit to participate. Another one to three people out of twenty are likely to be interested in communicating further and possibly in developing a relationship with me or others from the unconference. That low success rate might sound to you like a waste of time, but I’m positive that if I don’t invite those twenty people whom never eat aloneneither I nor other event participants know, none of them will show up for the event and none of them is likely to initiate a new relationship with unconference participants.

As Keith Ferrazzi says in “Never Eat Alone,” building relationships “should not be about getting something but instead about how you can help someone else.” Your personal invitation to someone you don’t know will be most effective if you can identify one or more ways that you can “help” them, ways in which they will definitely benefit if they’re a participant in the unconference.

Those people I don’t personally know are being invited because they’ll enjoy the event and to make the event even more awesome than it already would be. So I don’t mind a success rate of only 5%. I have fun and learn a lot just from researching whom to invite. If any of my unlikely invitees shows up and makes the unconference fantastic for even one participant, rather than just ok or good, my time researching and inviting the “new” participant was well spent.

Got an unconference coming up???

Extend some Personal Invitations! 🙂

You’ll be glad you did…


Posts in this “Unconference Basics” series:

Events Wrangling Basics For Unconferences
Unconference Basics — Step 2: Build Core Team To Get To Next Level
Unconference Basics — Step 3: Confirm Key Participants And Supporters
Unconference Basics — Step 4: Work On When
Unconference Basics — Step 5: Work On Where
Unconference Basics — Step 6: Start Publicizing
Unconference Basics — Step 7: Begin Personal Invitations” — today’s post
Unconference Basics — Step 8: Organize Equipment
Unconference Basics — Step 9: Organize Supplies
Unconference Basics — Step 10: Run The Unconference
Unconference Basics — Step 11: Follow-up After The Unconference


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