Posts in Community Management
My very first Thanksgiving. In Paris. In the company of an 85-year-old man.
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On Sunday, I hopped on a plane to Paris to join a Sunday gathering at Jim Haynes’ atelier where I would also stay for two nights. It’s not that I knew James. As a matter of fact, I had not heard about him until I googled “Conversation Salons” and stumbled upon a video posted on the Guardian just a few weeks prior to my visit. I knew he was the sort of person I really needed to interview for the book I’m currently working on. Yet, I must admit, this was the first time I flew somewhere for an in-person interview.

When I arrived at the atelier on a dreamy Parisian street, I entered the door code, pushed the heavy gate open, and found myself in a leafy backyard with beautiful brick buildings with large windows. I quickly found the door I was looking for and when I knocked, I pushed it open and fell straight into the kitchen. A woman who immediately introduced herself as Mary and a man called Michael welcomed me warmly, even though they didn’t quite know who I was. Jim, the man I came to visit, was tucked under a blanket in the corner enjoying the slightly ridiculous scene I caused. Both Mary and Jim were cooking in what must have been 20l pots.

Jim, who just turned 85, has been hosting Sunday dinners for the past 40 years. Every Sunday, and even if he wasn’t in town, he’d arrange for the dinner to happen. Over the years, it’s become a regular gathering of expats, tourists, and locals who’d mingle and enjoy home cooked meals and as many glasses of wine as they wished to drink.

The hospitality of this man, and also his assistant, Christian, knows no boundaries. Upon my initial email request, more or less the same one I have sent to everyone who I ever emailed wanting to feature them in one of my books, this has been the first time someone asked me to come in person. “Given the subject matter, we believe you should come to Paris.” And given Jim’s age, I knew I should and also would love to. For a small contribution, they also offered for me to stay at the atelier.

Knowing about the dinners, I thought the space would be large and would have tables of some sort. Yet I quickly learned that the two-story building was the actual space on which these dinners would happen. Downstairs and within the maybe 35-square-meter kitchen (without a dishwasher!), the gatherings took place. Often, up to 90 people would gather there in the winters and during summers, thanks to the backyard, it can be up to 120 guests.

The dinners start every Sunday at 8pm. Forty years ago, these gatherings started as (flea) markets initiated to help support the creative community. There, one of Jim’s friends, a dancer, offered to cook. The event grew in popularity. It was Jim’s ask to always bring someone he didn’t know that made the community grow organically. From a retired dominatrix to a conductor or a young poet, you’d never know who you would get to meet on Sundays. The crowd is indeed quite eclectic.

Jim’s always had a thing for gathering people; he’s one of the founding figures of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the cofounder of the International Drama Conference, and the creator of the Wet Dream Film Festival, which pretty much is what you think it is. :)

Once the crowds started pouring through the door and a queue would build to snatch some of the incredible Thanksgiving dinner, I felt incredibly grateful for the possibility to move freely between the countries in Europe and stuff my face with a few slices of turkey, a proper American filling, brussels sprouts, carrots, pecan pie, and of course, a piece of pumpkin pie with cream served by Paul, who’s been in charge of cutting the festive turkey for the past eight years. I felt grateful for the opportunity to connect with people outside my age group and my social bubble in a city far away from home.

Often, they start cooking on Thursdays. Jim has always had someone cook. When Cathy, the first chef of Jim’s dinners, couldn’t make it as she had to go to a rehearsal, she organized someone to cook instead of her and that’s when Jim knew this was a thing to stay. Somehow, he’s always had people who offered to take on the task, gather friends to help, and cook up a meal for the people who’ve requested to join the meal via email or telephone.

For Jim, it’s always been about connecting people. During the communist time, he’d publish books filled with names, addresses, and telephone numbers of people living in countries, such as Romania, Czechoslovakia, or Poland, you could call up in case you were visiting and wanted to meet someone local.

Even though the format’s different, the spirit in all his work is sort of the same; people who join on Sundays are a curious crowd with a lust for exploration. One of the guests, David, recited parts of Shakespeare to me. Leslie, a woman in her 60s who’s left the USA for the first time, laughed so wholeheartedly I forgot to ask her how she felt about her first international trip to a country where she didn’t speak the language. You really never know who you get to talk to here on a Sunday, yet when you ask Jim, he’ll say many marriages, friendships, and babies have been a result, and one baby who is now in her 40s was even conceived upstairs in one of the rooms.

I admire Jim for his dedication to show up each week. For his hospitality to welcome a complete stranger in his house and have me stay for two nights to conduct an interview. I admire Jim for the community he’s created. And I really do wish for more spaces where I’d get to talk to such an eclectic crowd more regularly.

The past few weeks working on this new book has been a journey; I got to think about dinners as theatre performances, dinners as platforms for political activism, dinners to inspire meaningful conversations, and also dinners to give you the platform to peak outside your bubble and speak to a poet from Nepal who somehow also happens to be here, on a Sunday, at Jim’s party.

Many have asked me what the angle or format of this new book is going to be, and even though I’ve already conducted 14 interviews, I still don’t quite know what I want to make out of it. A how to guide? A coffee table book on gatherings? A collection of short stories about how I got to experience these events and what I admire and love about the people who host them?

What would you say you’d be interested in? Or is this not a topic you care about at all?

What makes gatherings feel extraordinary?
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What do you consider are some of the elements of a memorable gathering?

Great food?

Interesting thought starters?

A beautiful surrounding?

Mind-blowing conversations?

All of the above?

Yes, probably.

Yet how does one go beyond just having another evening filled with small talk? And how does one go from that to a mind boggling dinner you and everyone else who sat at the table will think about, and possibly reflect on, for days or maybe even weeks?

What does it take to create an evening that doesn’t just help you learn more about yourself, but also helps you discover things about your friends you’d usually not think to ask?

Travis, the founder of Norn, a Berlin and London-based salon for meaningful conversations, told me he found these sort of conversations needed to be “ritualized.” In a way, the moment of a meaningful conversation needed to be elevated to allow for the conversation to unfold. The gatherer or host, however you’d like to call this person, needs to create a space, a platform even, where people feel safe. Then they need to gently guide the conversation without over-facilitating it; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a party of two or a larger group. As a host, it’s one’s task, and even one’s responsibility, to take the lead and create such a space.

The real question is, how do you start asking meaningful questions? How do you create such a platform?

If the (first) question comes out of nowhere – if you just ask – you might overwhelm the person you’re with.

It might make you come across as too forward. Too intense even.

I’ve been experimenting with meaningful questions myself. Last year, I bought a deck of cards with questions that help people self-reflect. They’re wonderful conversation starters when you’re out with a friend and want the conversation to have more substance. The card deck is very useful for group gatherings too.

It might be that it’s the cards that are professionally printed that create such a space. And maybe it’s also the reason why Norn prints a beautiful Conversation Menu to elevate the moment of the meaningful conversation. I know when I tried with a handwritten note featuring interesting questions, it didn’t feel the same way unfortunately.

If you’d like to experiment with such conversations yourself and are looking for good questions, you could get the cards from soheresone (which are the ones I carry around in my bag at all times). Look up Norn’s Instagram or subscribe to their newsletter or wait for the one’s Holstee is currently working on releasing. I’ve found the ones from the School of Life aren’t as good for groups, as they might be for when you want to reflect for yourself. Something that might also be worth elevating as a ritual with a good meal and maybe a glass of wine is an evening of meaningful conversations with yourself. Worth a try, I’d say.

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LifeStartFest: A case study about organizing a careers event for students
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What would you say are the ingredients of an exceptional event? What has to happen for you to go home and feel like attending an event was worth your time?

To me, it’s always been about the connections I’ve made and the people I’ve met. The conference or networking event could’ve been just average, yet my experience could be elevated if I met someone worth meeting again. In my opinion, it’s something that can’t be fixed with great catering or good speakers. I firmly believe that how we feel at an event is what creates a lasting impression.

Now, let me turn the question around and ask from an events organizer’s perspective: how do you make sure that creating moments of connection isn’t serendipitous and only experienced by a lucky few? How do you help your audience make meaningful connections?

On my latest assignment, I thought about this a lot. I thought about how to make it my mission to help as many people in the audience meet someone and have a conversation that goes beyond small talk. I thought about how I can make sure attendees of the event, which I got to program, feel encouraged to talk with someone they just met again, all while making sure as many attendees as possible have a fun time they’ll remember fondly.

When I was first asked to organize a careers festival on behalf of the organization I work with, Student LifeStart, in Bangor, Wales, I was wondering if that was something I could pull off easily. My first question was: how will I ever get speakers when the budget doesn’t allow to fly some key people in? I knew I’d have to have some speakers, but I also knew I’d have to think of alternative ways to fill an afternoon in a way for students to feel inspired and encouraged to think about their careers differently.

Technically, one could say the event was “branded content.” Sponsored by Virgin Money and Virgin StartUp, the business objective was to create a space to build a positive relationship with the Virgin brand. Given Virgin brands are exceptional to work with, we had a lot of freedom and were able to approach a career event more like what I’d like a career event to be. Those who know my story, and how I went from studying interior architecture to working in digital strategy and writing three books on going freelance on the side, will realize that I’m hardly someone who would tell students to decide early on what to study and how that determines the rest of their lives. If anything, I always tell people to follow their curiosities, be open about their passions, and connect with others who care deeply about the same things. (Probably what Richard Branson would also tell people he meets. :) ) In my belief, there are many ways to making a career, and the more diverse things one knows and is interested in, the more exciting their career can become. Knowing this event was about creating a branded content experience, the feeling the students would leave with was key to how we thought about this experience.

When thinking about careers and the vicious circle students face of having to have work experience in order for them to get work experience, I knew I had to invite speakers who demonstrate different aspects of how to get into the doors of a company and land a job. Simultaneously, and as someone who’s now worked for several years, often it’s the people we meet and who we studied with and have developed a meaningful relationship with that will help us get ahead in life. The students might not yet realize that who will really help them get ahead are the people who sit with them in class or at an event, such as the LifeStartFest. Thus, my personal objective was to help as many attendees as possible make new connections. In the ideal scenario, I wanted all attendees to find a new friend and someone they can collaborate with on future projects, or at best, submit to a LifeStart Challenge as a team.

We had five hours to fill, and I decided to spend more than three of them helping students connect with others in the audience. When you think about it, there’s a lot of content online and at everyone’s fingertips. In my opinion, events nowadays play a different role. The role of an event organizer is no longer so much about curation as it is about facilitating connections.

To give you some background on the framework for this student career event, which we organized under the umbrella of the Student LifeStart Project;

LifeStart is a website and a growing community for students to take real business challenges, evolve their professional skills, and receive mentorship directly from associates who work in top UK companies. The platform’s concept is grouped around multiple pillars, and there are business challenges for students to solve, which can unlock great prizes. It’s insightful content to help understand the world of work, and most of all, it’s the community LifeStart has been created for (and with).

The LifeStartFest seemed like an opportunity to take all that makes LifeStart and bring it into the room. This is what we did and how the event was different from others...

The event started at 2pm. We were ready at the door to sign everyone in. My first goal was to break those apart who arrived as a group. I wanted to create a more inclusive environment and equalize everyone by making sure that they all start out alone in order for those who arrived by themselves not to feel left out. For that, we used 12-piece jigsaws that were all designed in different colors. That was crucial, as we wanted for the students to find their new group quickly. Each of the jigsaws featured a question for the students to answer. Questions such as, “If you could go on a holiday to any decade, where’d you go?” or “If you got paid in happiness, what job would make you rich?”. (Slightly provocative I know) With every new person arriving into the group, they’d have one more piece of the puzzle and would be closer to completing it. The challenge of this exercise to actually work out is that you need people to arrive simultaneously and also not give away too many different puzzles at once while making sure friends don’t have pieces to the same jigsaw. My tip after this event is to start with three to four puzzles and then introduce new colors, and not give away pieces from all puzzles one has prepared for the event. You want for people who arrive to have a welcoming experience and also make sure they can start the conversation you’ve designed quickly.

Once we had everyone in the room, the moderator, Cleo Anderson, set the tone of the event. We didn’t start with the program immediately. Instead, we focused on helping people feel comfortable by once again focusing on the audience instead of the speakers.

When we were planning the event, we were looking for an ice breaker that would work in such a large group. We felt like introducing yourself to the person next to you is something many event organizers ask for, yet you also end up saying the same thing over and over again. I can only speak for myself, but at 32, I’m quite bored by my own answers whenever I’m asked to do this. We decided to introduce the toilet paper game, which works as follows:

Right after Cleo welcomed everyone and explained the objectives for the day, she said we now needed to have a serious conversation. Another helper and I walked along the sides of the rows and handed out one toilet paper roll to the people sitting at the end of each side and per row. While handing out the toilet paper rolls, Cleo said everyone should take how much they usually take when they go to the bathroom. This is, of course, super awkward and everyone breaks out in laughter. The exercise is quite innocent because once everyone has their piece of toilet paper, the audience is asked to say something random about themselves for each tile they took off. Having set the tone of this exercise and making everyone laugh was key, and with this exercise, we knew we had them.

I happened to also be the photographer at this event (talk about wearing multiple hats) and can say there was a significant difference in everyone’s facial expression. I’ve hardly ever taken as many pictures of genuinely happy people as I have during this event. (You can look at them here.)

After the toilet paper game, Cleo asked the audience for the most interesting answers, which helped carry the tone that was set, and we expected for the audience to actively participate in the event. We wanted everyone to know they’ll be heard.

Then, the obvious part of the program began and Cleo introduced the first speaker. We had prepared four talks.

One on the dos and don'ts when applying for jobs online.

One about not having a set path, yet still making a great career.

One given by the former LifeStart winner, who happened to get a job after his work experience week, which was one of the rewards of the LifeStart competition.

And one on using social media and turning side projects into a portfolio to get the job one wants. (I gave that one as you can guess.)

I must admit, I only finalized the program and informed everyone the night before. I was so aware of the flow of the talks and how I wanted people to feel guided through the program that I didn’t leave much up to serendipity. Before the event, and given our speakers were doing this for the first time, we spoke with everyone at least once and helped them shape their story. In my head, the flow of the event went something like this:

Inform (Dos and don’ts...), make them feel safe and understood (No set path...), give them a challenge to solve as a group (to make them feel connected and invested), give them a break (and ice cream), announce the winners after the break (to ensure the students came back), have the last winner and Bangor alumni explain his journey from participating in three LifeStart Challenges and what he’s done to win (to take away the students’ fear), then announce the new round of LifeStart Challenges (the 10 minutes dedicated to the actual branded content), close off with an actionable talk on how to use social media and get the job one would love (which fulfilled the promise of the event), then finish off with pizzas to give everyone a chance to wind down and exchange contact details.

We planned about 20 minutes for all talks. Cleo introduced every speaker before their talk and explained what they did for a living, how we met them, and why we thought they had an interesting story to share with the audience. We made sure to contextualize before we handed over to the speakers. After each session, we opened up to Q&A. Cleo was instructed to have questions prepared for each speaker should no one from the audience ask anything. It was important to us to make sure all speakers feel valued and like people were listening to their stories. Thus, and in case no one would ask anything immediately, we didn’t just want to send the speaker off the stage without giving them a final opportunity to shine.

Given the platform’s main purpose has always been about challenges and proactive thinking, I wanted to recreate that experience in the room and have attendees work in groups by having them solve a mini challenge. This was also a great opportunity to give away prizes and demonstrate that solving a challenge isn’t too hard and that collaboration is key.

We had 50 minutes scheduled for this challenge: students had 20 minutes to brainstorm how they’d improve co-living communication between students who just moved in together, which we believed was a question everyone in the room had to deal with. While students were brainstorming in groups of four or five, we assigned them to a judge by giving them a balloon, asking them to go to the judge who had the same color balloon and present their ideas to them. We made sure each judge had four to five groups to give feedback to. For this exercise, we used the space outside the lecture hall and also in front of the building. We were lucky it was sunny and warm(ish). We asked every judge to select one winner from their groups, which meant we’d give four winning groups Virgin Experience Days Vouchers.

Given each judge finished with their groups at different times, we instructed the judges to let everyone off into their break, but tell the students when they needed to be back in the hall for the winner announcements. Breaks are usually when many students leave, so we wanted to make sure they were invested in the event and had a reason to come back.

The event went on until 7pm. After the last speech, Cleo came back on stage and contextualized and summarized the entire experience. She highlighted what she’s learned to help the audience reflect on what they’ve learned. It was important to us to appreciate the experience and appreciate everyone who joined us for the day. We then invited the attendees to join us for pizza, which gave the students an opportunity to approach the speakers individually and ask them the questions they weren’t able to ask during the Q&A. We also used this time to say thank you to our speakers. Of course, everyone also got a Virgin Experience Day Voucher :)

All in all, creating this event was a rewarding experience and something I’d like to do more often in the future. I’m grateful Virgin Money and Hanzo trusted me fully and allowed me to focus so much on connecting the audience, which also meant they waved off the toilet paper game, which I know raised many eyebrows when we first presented what we were planning to do. For that, I’m thankful.

Should you be organizing an event and want to work with a community strategist, please email hello@mkanokova.com.


The privileges of the underprivileged. The struggles of the privileged.

Here are parts of my weekly newsletter: you can subscribe to my newsletter to get the full articles to your mailbox. 

Today I’d love to share with you something I’ve been thinking a lot about in the past couple of years and discussed with my online friend Liz (Hi Liz!) over Skype last week: 

As you probably already know, I’ve always believed that anything is possible. Everyone is capable of reaching anything they want. At least, in theory. Because it’s not that easy to know what one wants. It’s not easy to point a finger at something and call it one's calling because to cut that whole theory short, what you want eventually needs to be on your horizon. "What" you want won't just be there waiting for you. You must have a rough idea of how to get "there" to be able to call it what you want without feeling like a fool. No one wants to feel like a fool because that would mean to show vulnerability. 

If someone’s from an underprivileged background, it will eventually take longer for them to figure out all their options and how to get to their choices. It’s not that things are impossible. It’s more that there are no shortcuts, and most people will discover what they are meant to be doing in a year or even a decade-long process. It’s like with reading books. You read one book that mentions another book about another topic and you realize you are also excited about this other book, about this other topic. You are curious and you want to know more, but you didn’t know you did until you read the previous book.

Also, let’s face it, you’ll only pick up a certain book if you feel like you’re entitled to read that title; you feel that you can grasp that topic.

Especially when we’re little, we seek permission and we’re dependent on what others give us "to read,” what they show to us, how they foster us. Either we get lucky or we don’t. If we don’t, there's the risk we’ll feel bitter because we’ll think we missed our chance. We’re too old. 

On the other hand, when you come from a privileged background, you’ll be presented with many more choices than someone who’s dependent on seeking these out mostly by themselves. Additionally, being from a privileged background doesn’t just expose you to different possibilities; a privileged background also helps kick all the doors to all these different possibilities open. Which is great, but again, difficult. 

When you’re from an underprivileged background, everything you do feels like a big adventure and every piece of information you acquire like a treasure you found, all by yourself. Every teeny, tiny step you manage to make that brings you forward gives you a feeling of (earned) progress. And the best thing about it; it doesn’t even matter how little the steps you make are because coming from an underprivileged background, every accomplishment helps you climb the social ladder, even by a little bit.  

On the other side, when you’re from a privileged background, you don’t experience that same sort of pride because deep down, you know it wasn’t you that pushed these doors open. The natural reaction, at least from what I’ve observed, is that people who grew up in a privileged background start seeking doors that haven’t been opened for them. Instead of climbing the vertical ladder, kids from a privileged background seek out horizontal ladders. They're busy finding something that hasn’t been claimed and that they could claim themselves. They fear they aren’t good enough and they question their purpose and how to establish themselves without being compared to others or having to deal with prejudice. They too are searching and in my opinion, their battle might sometimes feel even harder because they must, or they feel they must, prove they’re worthy.

To me, today and with the social net, it doesn’t really feel like the social background will matter that much in the future if we architecture the structure of it in the right way. At least, there's a chance we can create an inclusive world if we make the right choices. 

Technically, everyone has access to the same information. It’s democratic, so as long we all keep sharing what we've learned and make that information accessible to everyone, we might empower others to feel empowered and recognize different doors and different possibilities. 

But then again, it’s not that straight forward because the social web is increasingly being optimized for clicks, and it’s proven that you’ll only click what feels relevant to you, so what you’re being exposed to is what's within your horizon and your social reach. 

Your bubble might or is already becoming a filter to the “other world,” to the other social class. 

What I'm wondering about the most these days is what can we do to architecture the social web in a way that gives everyone the same chances, opens the same possibilities, and gives access to all doors. How do we create a social web where everyone, regardless of their social background, feels entitled to dream big and find the sort of information that matters to them? And how do we make sure that everyone, kids or adults, feel they have the permission and the ability to seek out the right door for them without long and challenging detours? In a digital way. In a philosophical way.

What do you think? 

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How you introduce people (really!) matters.
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Here are parts of my weekly newsletter: you can subscribe to my newsletter to get the full articles to your mailbox. 

I don’t know how you feel about this, but if there's one thing that makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable, it’s stepping into a room filled with people I don’t know, nor what these people feel excited about. I get bored by small talk, so I hardly ever know how to hold a conversation I don’t get bored of within five seconds. It’s terrifying. So the question is, what would change that? 

Last month, I celebrated my 30th birthday and invited a couple of friends over for dinner. They didn’t have much in common besides being the people I spend most time with these days. And so, to make this a family gathering instead of an awkward night filled with superficial conversations, I took the time to send everyone an email two days in advance where I wrote a short personal introduction mentioning how I met everyone and what I admire them for, and because I knew how much everyone likes to travel, I also mentioned where everyone was from or what country they visited in the past couple of months. What happened next blew my mind. People started asking where this and that person (who was delayed) was because they couldn't find them in the room. I realized I didn’t fill a room with strangers I liked. I created a room filled with interesting people who knew where to start a conversation.

After this experience, I started paying close attention to how we introduce people. Given that introducing people is what I do most of the time, I thought I should get better at it. I found the best way to introduce strangers is by describing in a few sentences what excites one most about the other.  

A couple of days ago, I got this after I sent an intro mail: "Thank you so much for kind words and I can’t hardly help to read your introduction over and over again to caress my ego.” 

Wow! 

I realized that the biggest favor we can do to someone (with literally minimum effort) is by spending a few minutes to think about why they stand out as people. Two lines are enough to tell why you appreciate someone. If done genuinely, the person who is just getting to know someone will feel like you’ve given them a box of chocolate. 

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The best way to conduct a Kickstarter campaign.

A case study

For Kickstarter, 2015 has been the year of international launches. Given I just finalised my own Kickstarter campaign and was on the lookout for new clients, the timing seemed perfect and I was fortunate to take Kickstarter on as a client to help them spread the word about the launch in Germany. (On another note, always do the projects you’re excited about because they’ll eventually lead to new opportunities.)

While my favourite part of the assignment was to help creative teams, such as TIO care, BuddyGuard, The Future Chronicles and Mellow Boards, create great campaigns and run them successfully, I’ve also given several talks on how to best do a Kickstarter campaign.

To me, the greatest strength of Kickstarter is the creative diversity that you’ll discover every time you visit the platform. People have mind-blowing ideas and many share incredible videos to communicate what their project is about. I really think Kickstarter videos are much more fun to watch than anything else you’ll find on the internet. Just check out Butterup, the Coolest Cooler or Makey Makey.

Based on my experience from running a project to fund This Year Will Be Different: The insightful guide to becoming a freelancer, when crafting the content of your campaign, generosity is the way to go. Explain what you want to create for the people who will support you and how they will benefit from your work. I would even say that you should first think about the rewards, even before you start writing the copy or making a video. When deciding on what you want to give away as rewards, always think about whether you would be willing to pay that amount for that reward yourself. Then, think if you would get genuinely excited about receiving such reward. On other terms, do you really need another T-shirt in your closet? Exactly!

Kickstarter is a place where you can open up about your creative process to people who are interested in participating. If you’re making a movie, why not collect photos from your backers and photoshop them into the newspapers you show on the screen, or if that’s too much effort, why not mention your backers' names in the credits? If you’re making garments, then why not embroider the backers' names on the inside of the clothes?

There are endless possibilities to make people become part of your work and that is why people come to support projects on Kickstarter in the first place.

Before I forget this, when calculating the costs of your rewards, please don’t forget to wrap the objects, go to the post office and make sure you know how much the shipping costs will be to different countries. This is probably the most important advice!

Of course, the video is pretty much the key to the success of a project. If the project is good enough, a simple video, such as the one I recorded to promote This Year Will Be Different, can also make the cut. Nevertheless, if you have the time and the resources, don’t be afraid to play. People love videos that are fun and unexpected. Independently of how big your team is, make sure that your video explains the features of your project; that it showcases how the user will benefit from using your product and in what situation your product will be relevant to them or why it matters that they get involved. The Coolest Cooler is a great example to learn from. What I really like about the Coolest Cooler video is that Ryan managed to explain why he was the right person to realise such a project, something that’s crucial given you’re asking people to support you financially.

When writing copy, use images to break up the long text. Visuals always win! If you already have photos of your rewards, don’t hesitate to show them too.

Once you’ve launched your project, it’s important to start spreading the word. In the beginning, you’ll need the support of your friends and relatives. If none of the people who know you personally trust your abilities to finalise and deliver the outcome of your project, strangers won’t trust you either. On Kickstarter, about 17% of all unsuccessful projects haven’t received a single pledge, which clearly shows that spreading the word among people who know you is crucial.

The majority of projects on Kickstarter raise between 1K and 10K, but if you’re planning to start a bigger project, you’ll need to take more time to prepare for your launch on Kickstarter. First, when launching a project, think about who might be interested in the outcome of your endeavour. These are the people to reach out to immediately after your Kickstarter project page becomes public. Sometimes, you might need the support of the press to reach more people. There are several ways to go about this. First, I’d always recommend to think about who you know who might know someone and who they can introduce you to. If your project is for your community, then don’t hesitate and reach out to your local newspapers. Let them know about your project. This is usually easier in smaller cities. If you don’t know any journalists or weren’t any successful with the local media houses, it’s time to do a little research. A simple hack is to go on the Google News search and find relevant keywords. When you find articles that are related to your project’s theme, reach out to the journalists who wrote them and let them know about your project. If they’re interested in your field, they might be kind enough to feature your campaign.

Once your page is up and running, you’ll have about 30 or 40 days to reach your goal. Trust me, you don’t want to shout across all your social media channels that you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign. Instead, this is a wonderful opportunity to tell people more about your work. Take the time and write regular project updates to invite people to check out your Kickstarter page. Don’t do the sales talk. Instead, talk about your progress and how your project’s evolving. Give people something to talk about; show them photos of your work space, or the material that you won’t show in the final piece. In the end, backers on Kickstarter want to be part of the creative process, so the best thing you can do is to share your work with them. It will be easier to regularly post on your other social media channels about your campaign without constantly asking people for their support. You’ll see that posting project updates will be valuable even after you’ve successfully funded your project. As I like to say, if you’ve done one campaign well, it will be easier to make the second campaign even better.

If you’re planning to setup a Kickstarter campaign and are based in Germany, Austria or the Netherlands, please get in touch with me so I can help you get up and running.

Why reading comments and reviews of your competitors' products makes complete sense.
customerexperiencedesign

A Case Study

How do you start building a product? How do you decide what’s relevant and what’s not necessary? Every time you develop a service or a product, you should always think about the user experience first. Mostly, when doing research, companies look at what’s been written about their potential competitors on various media outlets. Nevertheless, the really interesting source of information is somewhere utterly different.

Sure, qualitative interviews are great, but if you don’t have the resources to invite a number of people to discuss your competitors’ products or the features of the product you’ve developed, you should look for the relevant information online. I believe that where you can really learn more about your users is when you look through the reviews on the App Store or the comments on your competitors’ Facebook pages. Tweets, mentions and what people say on Instagram when you look for hashtags is helpful too!

While media research seems okay at first, you can’t really say if the content was sponsored. It’s much harder to recognise what people value a product for. When you read the sentences and look in detail how people talk about certain features of a product, you’ll learn far more about the relevance of certain features. You’ll also recognise quickly what it is people get annoyed by.

Sure, it takes time to go through hundreds and hundreds of reviews and analyse patterns, but it’s the user research that will provide you with more insight than a journalistic piece could ever provide.

For Badger and Winters, I’ve delivered reports to highlight a user-centric perspective on digital products to help prepare for client pitches. If you need an analysis of what your target group is interested in or who the target group is in the first place, please don’t hesitate and get in touch.

What really matters when you tell a story?
storytelling

Have you ever thought about why some people tell much better stories than others? And why some books are better than others? 

When I decided to start writing longer pieces, I first read the book, No Plot? No Problem!. The author asked all these questions that made me actively think about what stories I enjoy. As you can imagine, pinning it down took a while, but I now know that I don’t like to read long descriptions of surroundings where the author forces me to see ‘his' world through his eyes. Instead, I want authors to focus on the plot while giving me the freedom to fantasize about the setting.

It’s utterly different when I listen to people's holiday stories; that’s when I want to hear all the subjective judgements. I’m not at all interested in where a person went or what they’ve done. I want to hear about their personal impressions of the places and what they felt in the moments. I hardly ever know what or where exactly the places are that they’re telling me about. What I want to know is why I should visit. 

You might now question the professional context here; why am I trying to make you reflect on books and then talking wildly about people’s ability to tell a good story of their last vacation trip? Bear with me, I’m getting there. 

Yesterday I downloaded the book Talk Like TED, because for me, TED speakers are the most engaging storytellers. I did so, because I’ll be speaking at the re:publicanext week and will give a talk called "Community Power: From Prototype to Market.” For the first time I’m actually nervous. It’s not that I haven’t spoken at events before, it’s just that this time it feels different. So far I've analyzed three kinds of talks: the ones that teach something new, the ones you do to represent a company to explain what the company does, and the ones that are supposed to change people's perspectives on a topic.

The TED book mentions that when preparing for a talk, you should start asking the right questions. The right questions don't include, “What do you do?" It’s not even, “What are you passionate about?” The real question to answer when speaking at events is, “What is it about the industry/this idea/this company that makes your heart sing?” or in other words, “Why does it matter?” 

I’ll now go back to reading and preparing my slides for next week. I would love to hear from you and learn what makes your heart sing these days, what you’re working on and why it excites you.

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