What really matters is getting people together.

A couple of days ago, we hosted the 50th Open Coffee event in Athens. It has been a wonderful ride since that June 2007 afternoon, full of positive energy and special gifts. I am taking this opportunity to take a step back and share some insights, which might stand for an alternative philosophy to event management that has been shaped during these years.

First, a disclaimer. Open Coffee meetings in Athens and across Greece have mostly been a series of gatherings, rather than traditional events in their strict sense. These are meetings of zero budget, free and open for everyone to participate, each time featuring a small number of speakers. They take place on a monthly basis, for people interested in technology and entrepreneurship to get together and talk startups. No matter the very limited resources that have been put in place (close to negligence in some cases I shall admit), things have kind of worked out so far, sometimes to the surprise of the organisers. So, keep in mind that there might be some bias in this post. Let me also take this opportunity to clarify that I do take full responsibility for not having put sufficient effort on the event per se to reach its full potential, whatever this might be. Now, back to this post’s topic.

What really matters at an event is getting people together. This goes far from an observation — it should be treated as the essence and purpose of the whole endeavor. I’ll try to go through some of the implications of this thesis below.

Together does not refer to a matter of status, but of action. For example, the same roof doesn’t suffice; the value lies in attendees being openly accessible and communicating with each other. Getting exposed to the same content doesn’t suffice either, if it doesn’t lead to social intercourse.

In this context, an event’s objective shall be to a) gather the right people, b) trigger the right conversations between them.

There are various ways to perform each of the tasks above. For example, one might filter potential attendees by invitations, recommendations, pricing or self-selection. She might stimulate networking by circulating profile lists, facilitating match making, hosting great speakers or caffeinated participants.

There are no generic answers, no universal rights and wrongs; one needs to go through the exercise and pick what works better per case. However, in my short experience I may argue that any decision which does not embrace the above understanding will probably end up doing a disservice.

This understanding turns out to be quite liberating at the same time. Most of the typical concerns for an event organizer become irrelevant. You might not need to bring the top-notch speaker, if he cannot get together and relate with participants. You might not prefer an expensive space if it’s not cozy enough to encourage friendly conversations. It goes on to challenge the most part of an event’s working hypotheses.

In the ideal scenario and, say, given a specific number of attendees, a host’s objective shall be to maximize the potential value of new or rewarmed connections that get facilitated under the event’s setting. This objective is of course elusive enough to be easier said than done, if being feasible at all. Yet again, its acknowledgement provides for a clear direction of value to decision making.

Finally, another interesting implication has to do with an organizer’s incentives. For people beyond the event management industry, events should not be treated as a target per se. It is shortsighted to optimize for the near term benefits one may have. Again, the value lies in people and, by genuinely establishing oneself as a peer and node with an event’s participants may lead to a variety opportunities that would not be formulated otherwise. Or, at least, that is what the humble path of the author of this post so far may testify.