You can’t please everyone. Get used to it.

During my workshops on participant-driven and participant-rich events I’m often asked “But what do you do with people who won’t participate.”

When we explore what’s behind this question, we find an assumption that if we don’t get everyone at our event participating we’ve failed in some way. Coupled with this assumption is a fear of how some attendees may respond if exposed to an event environment that’s different from what they habitually experience.

Yes, there will nearly always be attendees who, for a variety of reasons, don’t want to participate. And their reasons may be totally legitimate—I remember one attendee who completely clammed up midway through a workshop and we eventually discovered that he had just heard that his best friend had been lost at sea. Then there are people who are scared of being judged by their peers on what might come out of their mouths; people who arrive at events exhausted, unable to expend any more energy than necessary; people who are sure that they learn best listening to lectures rather than conferring with their peers…

Some people, when gently encouraged and supported to try participating, discover that it’s actually not such a terrible experience…in fact they quite like it! Often they become the biggest cheerleaders for increasing the amount of participation in events.

On the other hand, some people will probably never be convinced. In my experience they are a small but always-present minority (around 1 – 2% at my conferences).

But we cannot censor the use of participation-driven and participation-rich event designs because a few attendees are uncomfortable or resistant to them. To do so is to penalize the majority of attendees who benefit greatly from the opportunities they receive to create the event they want and to learn about what they want to learn from their peers during the event.

So the next time someone tells you that “some people won’t like” the participatory event design you’re championing, point out that the tail may be wagging the proverbial dog.

Because the danger of being fixated on creating an event that works for everyone, is that you are likely to end up with an event that works for no one.

Photo attribution: Flickr user meredithfarmer