Setting Precedent & Building Momentum | Part 1

This 3-part blog series follows a talk that I gave in July 2022 for CMX Connect Denver! The talk was about improving the way that you foster peer-to-peer conversations as a community facilitator by using the below 3 concepts! Click here to watch the full workshop!

The Challenge presented to us by Keystone Symposia: 1. Convert 65 events. 2. Keep the same dates & Times. 3. There's only 7 Net-skilled employees. 4. Train the rest of the company to help in 4 weeks.
Keystone Symposia provided us a pretty tall order…

For my prior community marketing role at Keystone Symposia, a 50-year-old nonprofit that planned and executed over 65 physical events globally, Covid presented a huge problem.

When Covid hit, we had to convert all 65 physical events into fully-functioning virtual environments. They had to include peer-to-peer networking and events had to nail community interaction if biological scientists were to ever trust virtual events post-pandemic.

But, with only 1 trained community professional and only 8 virtual event-savvy employees, how would we run 4 events every week and still give our scientific audience an amazing community experience?

The answer was to teach our physical events staff the bare minimum—3 chief things that they needed to facilitate and encourage interaction among chat and forum channels. I had only 1 week to teach people what to do, 1 event to have them observe me facilitating, and 1 event for them to take the reigns.

By week 4, I had successfully trained facilitators capable of embodying a truly-collaborative experience for our “industry leading collaborative virtual events.”

In this blog series I’m going to dive deeper into each part of this talk to break these critical concepts down. My goal is to make you and your team great community facilitators. With these skills, you can quickly skyrocket your event satisfaction ratings and infinitely scale your community events by training new facilitators reliably.

what we taught Our community facilitators

  1. Part 1: Set a precedent and then build momentum.
  2. Part 2: Understand and manipulate power distance.
  3. Part 3: Forge better conversation by encouraging opinion.

In This Blog

What does it mean to Set a Precedent & Build Momentum

Definitions Slide Test:
ALL Community Roles Do This: Your job is to set a precedent for a thing—a single tactic that relates to a broader strategy—and then build momentum for that thing until the community does it on its own. Then you’re freed up to plan and set precedent for the next thing.

We’re Starting off with a hot take. I don’t care what kind of community professional you are, these 2 things are the summation of your job.  From Advocates, Facilitators, and Coordinators to Heads of Community and Architects – all community jobs boil down to this:

A community professional’s job is to first set a precedent for a community to do a thing, and then build momentum for that thing until the community does it on its own, at scale.

The more successfully you build momentum for that precedent, the less you have to do it yourself. Eventually, it becomes a cultural norm, or universally expected behavior. Your ultimate goal is no longer having to do things because community members will do it for you. The community polices itself. With that precedent off of your plate, you’ve freed up time and resources to set another precedent.

Rinse and repeat, but critically also measure and maintain.

Setting Precedent & Momentum in Events

In events, chat channel conversations have a devastatingly drastic drop-off rate when the speaker begins talking or the event moves to the “value” portion of the talk. You start the conversation and the chat channel flips off. One of the main reasons voiced for this drop rate is that people are simply listening—they’re engaged in and absorbing content. This is true and expected. It’s going to happen and most community facilitators don’t even bat an eye. In the sciences this was initially our go-to excuse as well. The talks were highly technical and there was no way someone could absorb the content and participate in the community at the same time.

Once the viewer retention ratings come in a little too low, that Net Promoter Score comes back a bit lackluster, and the next several events’ ROI gradually reduce, we’re usually changing our tune and asking what we can possibly do to encourage higher quality peer-interactions. (As community managers, we like to tell ourselves very pretty lies.)

Unfortunately, when a lot of people are so laser focused on the speaker they only see the value of the content and the speaker – this is the antithesis of a peer-to-peer community experience. In fact bowing to that excuse meant failing to provide a peer-led conference experience for our earliest Keystone Symposia events. Continuing with this kind of reasoning meant we were already defeated in the first place.

Your event needs to set the precedent that you are providing peer-to-peer quality beyond that talk in that chat channel. You have to show them its worth paying attention to, and that they would get more if they participated. Then you have to build the momentum for that precedent by illustrating what you expect of them in a way that empowers them to follow your lead. You have to convince them to boldly fall in line.

One way to fix this drop off in chats is structural in nature. Allow cameras to be on, and dedicate some time to unstructured or grapevine communication before the talk starts, so you’re setting the precedent that we’re not on a “stage”, but a “support group circle.” At the start you should blatantly describe what you expect for engagement before the talk begins and specifically encourage bold behaviors because everyone is paying attention at the start.

But it’s not enough to say it. You have to show it.

You have to aggressively demonstrate what you expect as the talk goes underway. That is where momentum comes in. Be sure the speaker is on board with enhanced interaction and has formatted their talk to receive it. As the facilitator, you should also aggressively comment on and tag people of expertise. Do what’s uncomfortable to make it acceptable.

want them to open up a bit more in the beginning?

Breadth questions and icebreakers are fantastic. Don’t get me wrong. Ask them where they are in the world, and what they do for a living, sure. But don’t just add on a random ice-breaker. Instead, use a “selfish icebreaker” they can use to gloat about what they do and build their confidence to participate. Ask them how they learned about the speaker, who their biggest industry hero is, or to plug an awesome resource they use regularly.

If you’re in an industry willing to do so, break the professional-barrier right out of the gate like you would in a job interview. Talk about an intensely personal event that happened a few days prior such as the dumbest thing your cat did, or a mistake you made.

Side note: Comments can often elicit far better responses than questions. We’ll talk about why in Part 3, releasing in a few weeks! In the meantime be sure to join us in the Community Discord as we’re talking about this concept!

Want attendees to successfully connect with higher quality people of interest?

Clearly, people LOVE talking about themselves, but asking them to connect with others is a difficult-to-follow one-off that produces low-quality connections. Instead of inviting them to share simple LinkedIn profiles or what they do, ask them to share their latest quick win and how they did it in a tweet. Not only is this tweet fodder social proof – it makes them ask each other “how?” Alternativey, ask them what the lowest-hanging fruit for a commonly experienced problem is. Get them to share their experiese in a highly specialized, very opinionated kind of way. Laser focused comments, can break them out of a speaker-focused shell.

Regardless, You must set social and behavioral precedents for engagement and then foster that behavior yourself. 

Example: tagging/Indexing the chat As a group, instead of splitting it

Picture for setting precedent: If you set forward a behavior, and they see reward, they will continue doing it. I tagged my question, Joy commented on it, and Roger saw value and did it.
I labeled my question, Joy commented on it, and Roger saw value.

In low-attendance events like Keystone Symposia (10-500 people) questions are a critical part of a live event’s success, but sequestering them into a Q/A chat encourages others not to throw in their own views and opinions.

This is a big-event feature that sequesters most engagement to a speaker-only response. It leaves a lot of peer-interaction opportunities on the table. Only the MOST boisterous of your members will do this, so highly engaging behaviors go unrewarded. Instead, your facilitators now have to set the precedent for a less engaging structure and waste time convincing them to do it, when the immediate value is meh.

Take a tip out of the MMORPG’s format (below), and tag your chat with stream colors and phrases instead. Make sure that questions are not just for the speaker, but for experienced peers. Also make them easy to sort through, use keyboard shortcuts to auto-color them, or filter entirely. Simply “tag” Q: in the chat and watch others catch on and do the same. Soon enough, everyone will do so (pictured right).

The Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game or MMORPG, Guild Wars 2 uses a proximity/level system to divide chats, but still displays them in one stream as a singular color-coded conversation. To switch between each keyboard shortcuts divide actions and filters provide engagement customizations.

Ways to Set precedent & Momentum in Events

  1. Provide grapevine conversation segments and BS breaks for viewers.
  2. Have speakers ask questions about the ground rules and explicitly agree on camera.
  3. Make your ice-breakers “selfish” to get a deeper connection between participants.
  4. Walk the talk by engaging with content yourself. Comment on and ask questions.
  5. Have speakers use and pay attention to chat throughout their talk. Split up the monotony.
  6. Do not use separate channels for conversations unless it’s truly unmanageable. 
  7. Label or color-code your own contributions with Q:, A:, an emoji (🙏), colors, or the like.
  8. Focus on getting people to tell stories, and leave comments related to speaker chat.
  9. Encourage stories and examples from veterans, and let them plug!
  10. Always include a “happy hour” in the same channel as the talk if you can.

But, you might be thinking, What if it gets out of hand…? Well, that’s what understanding Power Distance is for!

We’ll be covering Power distance next week and going really in-depth on what it is. In the meantime, be sure to watch the workshop and join us in the Discord chat so you’re immediately notified of the next blog!

Watch the full CMX Talk on Socially Constructed Online’s Youtube Channel!

Venia will show you how to: Set precedents and then build Momentum, Understand and manipulate power distance Forge conversation through strong opinion …so you can train and host amazing conversations with your communities!

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Venia Logan

I’ve spent the past 9 years learning the diverse skills necessary to create strong stable online communities that put your brand’s services at their center. ​​I started my own YouTube channel in 2010, and RESCQU.NET in 2013. I worked for Constant Contact, and returned to college for a specialization in online community management. Then I attained all 12 certifications from DigitalMarketer and helped dozens of communities. Spend fewer resources advertising to cold contacts or buying paid media and get back to focusing on what you love by growing a community that is financially and socially rewarding for you.