The Science Of Transformational Events: Tips From The Party Scientist
Leave your guests asking, “When is your next event!” Get equipped with experience-design principles. Incorporate the science of human connection into your next event.
Some events stand out.
People don’t stop talking about them for years. People call them peak experiences. They are the rare ones that mark the beginning of new behaviors, mindsets, and relationships.
These are the events I am interesting in hosting. In this pursuit, I have engaged in years of research, experimentation, and immersion. Across 13 different countries. I have documented my findings across excel sheets, journals, and curricula.
In one sentence, here are my findings:
Focus less on potions, performers, and placethetics.
Focus more on facilitating joyful and meaningful human connections among your guests.
I am convicted. How humans currently gather is archaic. Technology and science have advanced but social norms for human gatherings have not. I believe conveners (yes, you) are leaving so much on the table worth exploring.
What’s being left on the table is years and years of social neurochemistry and positive psychology research… What…
What I mean is research on human happiness and brain health.
Conveners largely disregard this research and follow the script: book a fancy venue, fuel their guests with alcohol, and then let them schmooze. This is less exciting to me than the evidence-based approach, which I introduce in the Biosocial Hacker’s Manifesto — my manifesto for community-builders.
For context, what is a biosocial hacker? A growth-oriented human who applies evidence-based practices to unlock the health benefits of human connection for oneself and others.
From the manifesto: “Together, we, the biosocial hackers, are creating new standards for human gatherings. Together, we are changing the social norms that limit the depth of our connections. We are next-generation conveners.”
Consider this article your invitation to become a biosocial hacker. To start unlocking the full potential of human connection at your events. To start taking risks. To evolve from a passive host to an active one.
If you want to host transformational experiences, you have to grow out of conventional event production, which sabotages your guests’ emotional and social experience.
What are these conventions? There are two self-sabotaging behaviors that you must leave behind. They encapsulate the ideology of most event producers: chill hosting and PPP prioritizing.
Chill hosting is a term introduced in the book, The Art of Gathering. Chill hosts are afraid of intruding, so they just ‘let people socialize.’ They choose a lack of structure for their event. They let their gathering evolve organically. They wait for magic to happen instead of making it happen.
They often view their apathy as a sign of their growth and generosity: “I don’t force people to do things, I surrender to the flow.” Really, they are kicking themselves in the shin. If there’s anything that thousands of gatherings I’ve led have taught me, it’s that epic shared experiences require active curation. They require intervention. Why? Because…
Most humans do not possess the relational skills to produce powerful human connections on their own. Leaving it to them is a failing strategy.
The opposite of chill hosting is active hosting. Below, you’ll see what active hosts do that chill hosts do not understand.
PPP prioritizing is the misallocation of budget and resources toward three categories of event features: potions, performers, and placethetics. The average event producer thinks that these event features are essential for astounding guests. In actuality, they are unnecessary. What they do is put guests’ into spectator-mode. Oh, and they also annihilate your event budget…
Potions stand for fancy beverages and alcohol. Placethetics represents the venue, lighting, and physical décor. Performers are stage entertainers and high-ticket speakers.
PPP prioritizing is evidence for my main argument: how we design human gatherings is informed by archaic norms. Namely three. 1. Alcohol is how you have fun. 2. Big show production is how you entertain guests. And 3. Having people sit, drink, and watch is how you engage your audience.
If you want to become a next-generation convener, you must first reject these outdated ideas. Then, you can start unlocking more belonging for your guests by focusing on the science of human connection. Chill hosting and PPP prioritizing are less powerful than the tools I’m about to reveal in this article.
Here are my principles for actively curating magic in your gatherings. If you would prefer to be a chill host, then stop right here. These principles are not going to work for you.
Principle #1: Set the stage.
Tools — your event purpose, your event invitation, and your guest greeting experience
Active hosts know the purpose of their gathering and invite only guests that align with the purpose.
Active hosts design an invitation deliberately. Therein, they outline the agenda, they ask the guest to set an intention, and they build anticipation for the gathering.
Active hosts welcome people with focused acknowledgement and embracement. They introduce newcomers to others. They may go so far as encouraging everyone in the room to welcome new guests with applause.
Here’s why setting the stage matters. When guests know the purpose of the gathering, they can get into a different headspace. They can feel prepared. They can know what they are getting into.
This is necessary for guests to fully relax and access a different state of consciousness during the experience. For guests to leave their responsibilities and societal roles behind, and enter your new reality — where human connections are more playful, meaningful, and intimate.
Again, this is about building trust. With transformational experiences, your guests need a level of safety and trust to fully open their hearts and give up control; the state of surrender is an essential prerequisite of transformation. They need to know, like, and trust you as their host.
Here’s what my approach is. I set the stage by sending my guests a video or voice recording preparing them for liftoff. Within this message, I describe the activities they’ll do, how they can participate, what behaviors are encouraged and discouraged, and a checklist for having the best experience. I use video or voice instead of text because I want them to get a feel for my personality. I want them to trust me as a facilitator so that they can fully let go and participate in the experience.
Here’s the last invitation recording I made for one of my sessions. Listen.
Whatever you can do to create safety and trust before the experience is indispensable. Direct communication is one manner. Giving your participants activities to do before showing up is another. Yet another is what you do to open your event: the opening ceremony…
ps: Find the recommended actions at the bottom of this article.
Principle #2: Ceremonial-ize the opening.
Tools — energizers, psychological safety, and intention-setting
Active hosts begin their events with unity and energy.
Active hosts give their guests the opportunity to get personal with each other and to set intentions together.
Active hosts create permission for people to express the messy and real versions of themselves.
Having an opening ceremony has many important functions: 1. it establishes a sense of psychological safety; 2. it evokes a prosocial and relaxed state of mind; 3. it generates a sense of trust in you, the host; and 4. it connects guests to the purpose of your gathering.
The most important feature of the opening ceremony is the psychological safety. This is the shared belief that the group will accept mistakes, flops, and failures, instead of punishing them. When it is present, your guests are not afraid of being ostracized. They are fully open and honest. They are receptive to new ideas and humans.
You can create psychological safety by role-modeling ‘social risk-taking.’ For example, when you are introducing yourself to your guests, share something personal, make fun of yourself, or dance. The opposite of social risk-taking is trying to look good. This will make your guests more pretentious. You don’t want that.
You can also rely on your guests to produce psychological safety. Instruct them to connect with their neighbors and answer a vulnerable prompt. The simplest prompt could be — Why are you here, really? When guests witness each other taking risks and revealing their true desires and feelings, it reinforces psychological safety.
Dance and song are two social technologies that generate both positive emotions and psychological safety. They also unite the crowd by means of a nonverbal, primal mechanism. You bet, I incorporate song and dance into all my opening ceremonies. It primes people to take themselves less seriously and be more playful.
Here’s one song I recommend to open people up during yours. Music is a universal human language.
My approach is something like this. I form a circle with my guests. I give an unrehearsed, raw speech that outlines why I brought people together. Then, I invite my guests to connect with their neighbors with a prompt I prepared. Finally, I get everyone to speak one thing in front of the audience. After finishing, they dance and everyone imitates their movements.
Here’s an example of one of my speeches. Watch.
ps: Find the recommended actions at the bottom of this article.
Principle #3: Undergo and integrate powerful exercises together.
Tools — altered states of consciousness, authentic relating, and witnessing
Active hosts create a safe container for guests to try out new methods for self- discovery and development.
Active hosts leverage techniques of transformation such as meditation and authentic relating.
Active hosts invite their guests to share and be witnessed in how they want to change after undergoing an exercise.
Transformational experiences are transformational. People do not leave the experience with the same mental programs. They leave with a new mindset, behavior, relationship, or breakthrough. A profound change in their psychology. You don’t achieve this by having a drink and talking. You achieve this by participating fully and alertly in a developmental exercise. An exercise that induces an altered state.
Altered states of consciousness enable your guests to see their lives from the outside view, to identify their dogma and blind spots, and to discover new ways of being. That is, lifestyles and personal values they have never thought of adopting.
You can evoke an altered state easily by giving all your guests psychedelics and blind folds, but that’s not recommended. For audiences who may not be receptive to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, I recommend dance, breathwork, meditation, chants, or physical exertion.
Which one is right for your audience? It depends on the purpose of your event and for what your audience has self-selected. As I will explain, most audiences, regardless of their intentions, can benefit from certain techniques.
Let’s explore the most broad-application techniques. Meditation and dance. And authentic-relating for integration (more on this later).
This tool can be applied to facilitate self-reflection, relaxation, or goal-setting — all inward processes, where your guests find insight within themselves.
Guided meditations can produce many different states. Different themes include forgiveness, manifestation, compassion, and mortality. The meditation theme you choose will depend on your event’s purpose. However, most events can benefit from a love and kindness meditation or a gratitude meditation. These are known to make humans more openhearted and joyful.
My recommended meditation: 6 Phase.
This tool can be applied to facilitate self-expression, disinhibition, playfulness, or physical exercise. A very versatile tool. In my world, dance is the ultimate tool to create unity and psychological safety among my guests.
Dance is a primal form of human expression. A vulnerable form for most. Guided dance exercises, or the hippy-style ‘ecstatic dance’ can help people reach a state of selflessness — an absence of self-consciousness. You can use dance to help people access powerful feelings of joy and self-acceptance, or merely to energize your crowd. For all events, dance is a great tool to reduce self-consciousness and increase vibrancy.
I have a mentor who begins all her dance classes with 5 rules. One of the rules is ‘You can’t do it wrong.’ Prefacing a dance exercise with ‘permission exercises’ like this helps engage your guests who won’t normally dance.
My recommended dance exercises: Line dances.
This tool can be used to facilitate self-realization, behavior change, and the formation of deep relationships. All by means of empathetic and un-absent-minded human connection.
The structured practice I am referring to here is called authentic relating.
It is the best practice I know for integrating your guests’ experiences. Integration is the process of making sense of and taking action on the transformational experience you underwent. It’s about figuring out what you want to do differently. How are your priorities different, now? Who do you want to spend more time with?
Integration plugs ‘the leaky bucket of transformational events.’ Almost all the time, people attend an event, meet epic people, have a transformational experience, but they forget about all of it. They do not implement any behavioral change. They do not set an intention to build a new relationship. They take no action.
When you have someone outside your head paraphrasing you, witnessing your words, or asking you deeper questions, it facilitates deeper integration. It can help you (1) understand your own thoughts and experiences more deeply, (2) explore implications on your life you hadn’t thought of, (3) make a commitment or hold yourself accountable to your words, and (4) sparking mutually-supportive relationships.
The easiest way to leverage authentic relating at your event is by using the Think, Pair, Share method. Give your guests a question. Let them think about it. Pair them up. And then have each member take turns answering the prompt. The prompt I use in all my sessions is: “During your next [specific situation], what will you do differently?”
Another relating activity I recommend is advice-sharing. This involves creating a space where advice is consented. I have my participants think of a challenge they’d like others’ input on. I have them form triads. And then, they ask questions and share personal experiences or solutions related to the challenge.
Relating is about giving your guests the feeling of “I’m not alone.”
My recommended relating exercises:
Narrating your life journey (#7).
ps: Find the recommended actions at the bottom of this article.
BONUS: Train your hosts.
Active hosts are vibrant and alive.
Active hosts are not trying to look good or high-status. They may stutter, dance, and joke. They are goofy and messy.
Active hosts are there to serve the guests, not domineer over them.
You and your hosts are role-models for the behaviors you want to see at your event. Training them to be great role-models is essential for establishing a new set of social norms at your event. The more formality and pretentiousness your hosts (including you) demonstrate, the less your guests will express themselves, open up, and transform.
- Curate the guest list carefully. Make sure guests are aligned with the purpose of your gathering.
- Prepare and build excitement for your gathering. Create a video for your guests to watch before they show up.
- Welcome people enthusiastically when they arrive. Make them feel seen and loved.
- Design your opening ceremony intentionally. Give a speech, unite the crowd with energizing and relaxing exercises, or get your guests connecting with each other about your event’s purpose.
- Incorporate powerful rituals into your gathering. Encourage your guests to participate and interact. Do toasts. Invite speeches. Tell stories. Guide meditations. Lead 1 minute dance parties.
- Facilitate your guests’ integration process by incorporating authentic relating exercises.
- Train your hosts to be emotionally open, expressive, and human. Vulnerability begins with full emotional expression.
As an event producer, I want more of my guests answering the question “What was a formative moment in your life?” with “Attending The Party Scientist’s event.”
Applying the principles in this article will help you permanently change people’s lives. Wield this power responsibly.
Could you do me a 10 second favor before you leave? If you’re feeling thankful, could you like or comment this article? What wisdom do you have to share with other readers? We’d love to hear your additions.
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ps — I help innovative conference, event, & party planners unite and exhilarate their audience by applying the science of human connection. Do you know any who’d want to consult the professional party crasher?
Thanks for spreading healthier human connections 🧠
— Jacques The Party Scientist, BSc. Pharmacology