December 06, 2023

An Experience Worth Remembering

Pre S: Today, Ei’s Head of Engagement & Culture, Sara Loncka, is taking over Wednesday Words to share a special story and a few lessons. Let’s get right to it:

Last summer, I took a leap. I was accepted into a weeklong writing program at Oxford. Within a month of receiving my letter, I was on a flight to England.

From Fiction to Poetry

I arrived ready to pour all my time and energy into drafting my Young Adult novel. But within the first day, my attention flipped to poetry. I spent all of my free time holed up in idyllic British pubs geeking out on etymology.

Me with my poetry professor

The week culminated with a gathering of students and professors where students each read one of their pieces. At random, I was selected to go first, and when my poetry tutor arrived 15 minutes late, she missed my reading.

A New Stage

The next day, unbeknownst to me, the program's director decided I should have another chance to read my poem in front of my professor. It was the same poem and nearly the same audience as the previous night. But this time, I was standing in that ancient, Hogwarts-style dining hall where literary greats like C.S. Lewis and Oscar Wilde had gathered. Students were dressed in formalwear, while faculty donned their robes.

I had the entire stage to myself to share a piece I had created. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it was one of my life’s peak experiences. I still feel the electricity and nerves in my stomach as I recall it.

But what made it so special?

As a generally reflective person, I’ve thought about that question a lot. And as an experience designer, I’ve often asked, “How can I design powerful moments like these for our learners?” It’s still an ongoing question, but I’ve landed on a few key components that enhance meaning and connection in any gathering. Here they are:

  1. Know your People.
    Who is going to be in attendance? What is important to them? What is their relationship with each other? What values do they share? Consider some of these questions and design your gathering accordingly.

  2. Know your Purpose.
    My favorite thought leader on intentional gatherings is Priya Parker who says your purpose should be “bold” and “sharp”. Instead of starting with what you’ll do or what you’ll eat, start with the why. Ask yourself: Why am I gathering this group? Articulate something. Anything. Then, ask yourself why that “why” is important. And then do it again. And again. Find what lies at the core of your desire to bring people together– that’s your purpose.

  3. Build a Tri-Directional Experience: In, Out, & Up
    The experience created a moment to go in (self), out (others), and up (elevated). It mattered to me personally and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I shared it with a community of people I’d grown to admire. And it was elevated beyond a typical experience – hello, Hogwarts dining hall. How can you create an experience that encompasses all three directions for your participants?

Peak experiences don’t have to be left to chance like my Oxford moment. They can be intentionally created. Pausing to think through these three steps will jumpstart your ability to craft a meaningful experience or gathering for your team, friends, family – whoever your audience might be.

What has been a peak moment in your life? Let us know.

- Sara

PS: These notes were taken from a recent Ei Keynote and Workshop I led for a team of leaders at Microsoft. If you’re considering designing a team gathering or learning experience, and would like to learn more, reach out!

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