The Art of the Invitation
I get this question all over the country. Leaders in schools want to get more people to show up to their events. To be more involved in your projects. To have more “school spirit.”
You spend hours planning in your committees and you brainstorm the perfect event and you make the long to-do list and you delegate in your group of 5 or maybe your class of 20 or 30. The duty board gets hung up and the check boxes get outlined:
- Come up with a theme
- Talk with administration
- Reserve the space
- Make the announcements
- Sell tickets
- Raise money
- Create advertisements
- Line up performers or vendors
- Create the decorations
- Market on social media
- Make more posters
- Put glitter on the posters
- Clean the glitter
- Set up for the event
- Clean up after the event
- Clean up the glitter that still exists a week later
Then, you get to work. It takes weeks and it’s a long, involved process that, in the end, leaves you without enough sleep and a feeling of resentment toward your committee members because you feel like you did more work than they did. Most importantly, you have a severe butcher-papercut and glitter forever under your fingernails.
Finally, the night of your event rolls around and you get there early and you are helping decorate and running around sweating because there is way more to do than you realized and the pressure is on to get it all done in an hour before doors open.
The event begins and you and your committee members have a great time, but walk away knowing that the people that showed up are a) the same people that always show up to everything and b) the people in your committee/leadership class.
“Why don’t more people get involved in our events? Why doesn’t everyone show up? We did an amazing job! If they just tried it, they might realize how fun it is!”
And, within their question lies their answer. The key words that I hear over and over again: “our events.” “My project.”
Why don’t people show up to our events? Well, exactly - because they are yours.
One of my favorite pieces of simple wisdom is, “people support the things they help create.” If I invest time or energy or thought or money or talent to an idea or event, I am much more likely to be interested or engaged in that event.
With the example above, who came up with the theme for the event? Who planned the details? Who booked the DJ or the band? Who created the marketing? Who spent hours getting supplies together? Who showed up early to set up?
Why did you show up to your event? Because it is YOURS. Because you were a part of the PROCESS and not just the PRODUCT.
What if we stopped working so hard on getting people to be INVOLVED in our PRODUCTS and worked on making them feel like an IMPORTANT part of the PROCESS?
What if we recognized that our committee or team of 5 or 10 or 20 might not have all the best ideas or the most suited skills? What if thought about the other 100 or 1000 people that go to our school everyday? What if my job as a leader wasn't to be the best project planner, but to be really good at seeing the best in the people.
As an example: there are people at almost every school I work at who love to draw. Sometimes they are quiet and keep to themselves - but when you get them to open their sketchbook, they are so excited to share their art. What if, as a leader, I spent a day looking for the artists of my school and I spent time introducing myself, learning their names, and listening or looking at them sharing their passion? What if I said, “you know Jenny, my friends and I are terrible at art - we can’t even color inside the lines. But your stuff is amazing! We have this thing coming up and we want to create really beautiful ads for it, but don’t have skills like you. Would you be interested in maybe teaching us a little about drawing? Or maybe even making a poster or two yourself? We are going to be working on them after school for about 30 minutes.”
Now, even if Jenny says no, we have still a) met someone new at our school, b) made a genuine connection with them and, c) made them feel valued for something they are good at.
If Jenny says yes…do you think Jenny is more likely to show up to the event that she helped make the poster for? You bet she is. And I’d be willing to bet she would tell a few of her friends about it too.
And guess who has less work to do? Yeah, you my little control freak friend (I mean it lovingly, I am among the control freakiest of them all). Take a deep breath, let go of control, find people who would are gifted or disengaged, invite them into the process, and watch as they do amazing things with your support, encouragement, and love.
Stop worrying so much about the product. Worry about who you make feel important in the process and, I promise, your products will get better. And good news! I've made a worksheet for you to reflect on this and get really good at it!
Let's build something incredible, together.